The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sholay writer scripts lead role for ‘silent majority’

Bhopal, Sept. 25: In Sholay, Javed Akhtar, with Salim Khan, had scripted the character of a Thakur standing up for the cowering villagers against daku Gabbar Singh. Now, Akhtar is giving shape to another script: it projects him as an activist representing the “silent majority” of the Muslims against the conservative and fundamentalist leadership of the community.

Under the aegis of Muslims for Secular Democracy, Akhtar has invited hundreds of NGOs and Muslim intellectuals for a brainstorming session in Mumbai on October 1 and 2. After formulating a broad-based declaration, he plans to tour the country, hold interfaces with groups and individuals to strengthen what he described as the “social fabric of the country, rule of law and civil society”.

Speaking in Bhopal today, the poet-lyricist claimed that Muslim society was craving change. He said issues ranging from the Ayodhya dispute to the uniform civil code, the growing cult of fundamentalism to terrorism could be tackled easily if the “silent majority” asserted itself.

“It has been too long that the voices of reason have not been heard,” he said, adding that the likes of Shahi Imam Abdullah Bukhari, Syed Shahabuddin and other “hardliners” had no following within the community. Even religious bodies like the All India Muslim Personal Law Board were now sounding reasonable on Ayodhya as they had sensed the changing mood of Muslims, Akhtar said.

The poet said most political parties, including the Congress, treated Muslims as a “votebank”, doling out “phony appeasement” instead of attending to “real issues” like education, employment and health which, he said, are no different from the needs of an average Hindu, Christian, backward or a tribal.

The blame for keeping Muslims away from the national mainstream should be equally shared by the liberal, secular society and the media. “The fault is both ours and yours (media),” he said.

The average Muslim has been too caught up with everyday life to comment on matters of national importance, leaving the field to “fringe elements” like Imam Bukhari, whom he dubbed as a replica of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. “You (media) gave them a ready platform and made them a sort of Muslim leader whereas they were mere voices,” he said.

Akhtar claimed that his forum would represent “real Muslim voices and opinion”. He said he had been getting feedback from across the country that there should be a forum where the “real Muslim voice” could be heard.

He admitted that during the Shah Bano controversy in 1986, the conservative Muslim leaders had gained an upper hand by forcing Rajiv Gandhi to supersede the Supreme Court order of maintenance for divorced Muslim women. “But that was an isolated incident. In 1992-93, there was nationwide frenzy over Ayodhya. Does that mean that all Hindus in the country are hardliners'” he asked, saying that in the life of a nation, these incidents are “aberrations”.

Elaborating on what he meant by “real Muslim voice and opinion”, Akhtar cited the example of the uniform civil code. The conservative Muslim leadership was obsessed with the Muslim personal law, “whereas a majority of Muslims want the government to first come up with the draft uniform civil code before rejecting it outright”, he said.

Akhtar said he did not want to leave out prominent Muslim religious orders and schools of thought. “We will engage everyone who is open to the idea of a debate and discussion,” he said.

The poet, however, sounded unsure when asked if his forum would recognise the Shariat and the basic tenants of Islam as guiding principles. “We are in a secular country and we will be solely guided by the Constitution of the country,” he said, adding that as far as he was concerned, he was not “a practising Muslim”.

Akhtar’s critics here said his mission would not take off unless it takes the basic features of Islam into account.

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