The Telegraph
Thursday , November 21 , 2013
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Minority group sets terms for votes

- Charity ties support to UPA to fulfilment of some promises within three months

New Delhi, Nov. 20: The country’s largest Muslim charity has linked support to the UPA in the general election to fulfilment of some promises in the next “two to three months” and a written assurance to deliver the rest if the coalition is voted back to power.

The Zakat Foundation of India has threatened to reject candidates of all parties unless a 20-point list of demands is included in the manifestos and followed up with the time-bound written promise.

“We have decided to reject the UPA and its allies as well as the BJP. Muslims would vote for carefully selected Independent candidates and state-level parties if they include the 20-point demands in their election manifestos and with a written promise to deliver it within a timeframe. If they don’t, Muslims have the option to reject all,” said Syed Zafar Mahmood, the president of the Zakat foundation.

He announced the 20-point plan in Delhi today in a meeting attended by 19 community and religious leaders, including some from Bengal. (See chart for highlights)

Mahmood asked Muslims to exercise their right to reject all candidates by using the NOTA (none of the above) feature on electronic voting machines. “If we cannot choose any, reject all…” said Mahmood, a former Indian Revenue Service official who had worked in the PMO in 2005-2006 under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

But the threat came with a rider from Mahmood. “If the UPA government delivers some of the demands in the next two to three months, we will vote for it. At the same time, they will have to give a written assurance to fulfil other demands once voted to power,” he added.

Mahmood claimed the Zakat foundation, a Delhi-based philanthropic organisation running schools, orphanages and health centres for poor Muslims in the country, had won support from other minority outfits. Two of these are the Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind, the largest Muslim organisation in the country, and the All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat, an umbrella body of Muslim organisations.

“I have already forwarded a copy of the demands to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and am awaiting his reply,” Mahmood, a PhD in public administration from Aligarh Muslim University, told The Telegraph after the meeting.

He lauded the Prime Minister for setting up the Sachar committee to find out the socio-economic conditions of Muslims during UPA-I.

“But the political valour and vision that appointed the committee was later not matched with the same conviction to build adequate response to the development deficits suffered by Muslims in this country. They failed to take concrete steps during UPA-II to deliver on its promises….” he said.

Former National Advisory Council member Harsh Mander said the Sachar committee had acknowledged the development deficit in the Muslim community, which required a far greater response from the government.

“There is no doubt that there is a huge discontent among Muslims and their demands are legitimate. But I think articulation of demands in exchange of votes is potentially problematic and has potential for communal politics….”

In June, Mahmood had taken part in a conclave in Gandhinagar organised by an NGO — Citizens for Accountable Governance — as part of Narendra Modi’s outreach towards the minority community. He had then raised critical questions on the BJP’s attitude towards Muslims through a PowerPoint presentation.

Mahmood had questioned why several articles on the BJP website appeared “anti-Muslim”. He had also claimed that one titled “Hindutva: The Great Nationalist Ideology” was “full of hate and provocations against Muslims”.

Today, he was skeptical when asked if he would have a change of heart if the BJP included some of the 20 demands in its manifesto. “They can’t… if they do, their basic existence will be at stake and they cannot take that risk,” he said.

Many leaders present at the meeting claimed that Muslims had generally been taken for granted by political establishments and agreed with Mahmood’s charter.

Community leaders have been asked to spread word about the charter in their cities and states. Mahmood is scheduled to interact with community leaders in Calcutta on December 1.

“No party has tried to uplift the community. Nobody talks about the community’s social and educational uplift. Now, Muslims will use their power to teach them a lesson…” said Adil Mohammed, a Hyderabad businessman associated with NGOs working for the betterment of Muslims.

Zafarul Islam Khan, the president of the All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat, said his organisation agreed with the 20-point charter.

But Mahmood Madani, who heads the Jamiat-Ulema-i-Hind, said he had not seen the charter yet. “Let me go through it first before taking the final call whether to support it or not.”