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HVK Archives: Terms of endearment

Terms of endearment - Sunday

Sharat Pradhan ()
February 15-21, 1998

Title: Terms of endearment
Author: Sharat Pradhan
Publication: Sunday
Date: February 15-21, 1998

Muslims have been treated as a major vote-bank by all political
parties in India. And in Uttar Pradesh, where caste, creed and
religion have traditionally played major roles in the making and
unmaking of governments, Muslim voters have been targeted by all
political parties other than the Bharatiya Janata Party, whose
radical views kept them at arms length.

Now, in a desperate bid to come to power at the Centre, the BJP,
too, has fallen in line with another parties to bait the Muslims.
So, if Sonia Gandhi is busy tendering an apology for the
demolition of the Babri Masjid, Ghulam Nabi Azad promising jobs
to Muslims during his recent visit to the Aligarh Muslim
University and Mulayam Singh Yadav repeatedly assuring them of
protection from communal forces, the BJP is not far behind in
promising the moon to the minorities.

Not only the BJP's prime ministerial nominee, Atal Behari
Vajpayee, regarded as the party's "saner and moderate face", but
even hardliners like Uttar Pradesh chief minister Kalyan Singh
are out to emphasise that the party is "not anti-Muslim".

Vajpayee, after filing his nomination from Lucknow, said, "I
appeal to Muslims to give us a chance and see how we work." Singh
went a step further by claiming to have resolved the decades-old
dispute between the Shias and Sunnis over a religious procession.
"Successive governments never even attempted a solution, while
claiming to champion the cause of the minorities," he said, nd
we who have been labelled as anti-Muslim have eventually achieved
the impossible." 1

The dispute, having its roots in Islamic history, caused violent
clashes between the two sects, claiming at least 250 lives since
1905, when the first major Shia-Sunni riot broke out in Lucknow.
Trouble arose largely due to the insistence of the Shias on
reciting tabbarra (derogatory remarks against Sunni saints)
during their Azadaari processions.

After much debate, the Janata Party government in 1977 tried to
rind a way out by allowing both the sects to take out their
respective processions (Azadaari by Shias and Madde-Sahaba by
Sunnis). The measure only resulted in a bloody riot that took the
highest toll of 52. The government was left with no choice but to
bail the processions.

Subsequently, every government paid lip-service in the name of
finding a solution which only heightened tensions between the two
sects, particularly during Muharram and Ramzan. Matters worsened
during Mayawati's chief ministership, when three Shia youths
resorted to self-immolation for lifting the ban.

Kalyan Singh, who had promised to work out a settlement, kept his
word by not only lifting the 21-year-old ban but by also ensuring
a smooth and peaceful conduct of the two processions.

So excited is the BJP over this achievement, that even Vajpayee
views it not only as a feather in his party's cap, but also as a
major step towards striking a chord with the Muslims, who have
traditionally been averse to the BJP because of its 'Hindutva'

And it seems to have inspired him to find a "negotiated
settlement to the Ayodhya issue as well". "When we could resolve
the long pending and sensitive Shia-Sunni dispute through
dialogue, I am sure we should also be able to ensure a permanent
solution to the Ayodhya dispute as well in the same manner," he
said in Lucknow.

Sure enough, the BJP leadership has already begun to see signs of
a softening Muslim attitude towards the party which is visible
largely among younger Muslims in the state, where the community
forms 15-20 per cent of the electorate.

Even though the drift may not be substantial, there is enough
evidence that a beginning has been made, and is bound to go a
long way in cutting ice with the larger section of the community
in years to come. While some of the Shias have not been as
averse to the BJP as the Sunnis, the lifting of the ban on their
Azadaari march has further endeared the sect towards the party.

Back in Lucknow's walled city, Haseeb Ansari, a young sewing
machine dealer, did not hesitate to admit, "I may not be in
favour of the BJP because of what they did in Ayodhya, but surely
I have nothing against them anymore; because if they were to be
blamed, then the Congress too must share the blame equally."

He also remarked, "Contrary to what we expected, there is no
particular discrimination against us under the Kalyan Singh
regime." For Anwar, a 25-year-old rickshaw-puller, "If there is
discrimination amongst Hindus on the bas is of caste, then there
is bound to be some discrimination against Muslims too, but you
cannot blame the BJP for it; this has continued under all

Significantly, some Muslims also seem no longer . impressed by
Mulayam's diatribe against the BJP. "By repeatedly calling the
BJP communal, effort is being made to terrorise us, but enough is
enough. We can see the political game behind it, especially when
we don't have any trouble on account of a BJP government in UP,"
remarked Parvez Abedin, general manager of a Kanpur tannery.
Raifq, an electrician, feels that political parties have only
been using Muslims as a vote-bank and do not mean any good for
the community.

In the temple town of Ayodhya, where local Muslims have been
victims of the communal fury on 6 December, 1992, when the Babri
Masjid was pulled down during the last BJP regime, they appear to
be as chagrined with the BJP as they are with others including
the Samajwadi Party, that otherwise claims exclusive hold over
the community.

The oldest litigant in the Babri case, Mohammad Hashim, who would
once swear by Mulayam, flayed the SP leader for "paying lip-
service". Mulayam, who had conveniently forgotten his assurance
for getting compensation for the losses suffered by local Muslims
in December 1992, donated generously to a Jam temple during one
of his visits instead.

Maulana Kalbe Jawaad, the young firebrand Shia leader who was
responsible for taking the demand for lifting the ban on
processions on a high pitch, told SUNDAY, "We are happy that the
Kalyan Singh government has kept its word."

According to Tooraj Zaidi, a young Shia businessman who has
decided to "serve the party (BJP)" along with a large number of
Shia youths, "We are not interested in the past. We must look
ahead and with Atal Behari Vajpayee as Prime Minister I am sure
Muslims in India will get a fairer deal than they have ever
received in the past."

Dismissing criticisms by the SP and the Congress of the BJP as a
communal party, he asks, "Are they not aware of the second-grade
treatment meted out to the Shias in Pakistan, which claims to be
an Islamic country," adding, "I am sure Shias are safer in India
than in Pakistan, where several Shia mosques have been pulled
down or damaged."

Even those who see a "political ploy" behind the move "to woo
Muslim votes" admit, "The Kalyan Singh government has surprised
us all by lifting the ban." Says Naseem Alam, a shopkeeper in the
Aminabad market, "There can be no denying that the BJP has not
been as bad as we were given to believe. By allowing both Sunnis
and Shias to take out our respective processions they have shown
that other governments too could have done it if they were truly
sincere to our cause, and we would not have been. deprived of our
legitimate right for two decades."

Much of the apparent change in the Muslim attitude can be
attributed to the projection of Vajpayee as the prospective Prime
Minister. As Shamim, a watch-repairer, quipped, "I do not
approve of the BJP as a party, but with a man like Atalji at the
helm of affairs, I am sure the party will also improve its ways."

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