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Arif's Chargesheet (Interview with Arif Mohammad Khan)

Arif's Chargesheet (Interview with Arif Mohammad Khan)

Publication: The Times of India
Date: November 21, 2003
URL: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/cms.dll/articleshow?msid=288106

He rose to fame for his fierce defence of Shah Bano, the destitute Muslim woman whose 1986 plea for maintenance irrevocably changed the course of Indian history. That defiance earned him the wrath of the Muslim clergy and cost him his job as minister. For long the liberal face of the Muslim community, Arif Mohammad Khan is once again in the news - this time because of speculation that he's joining the BJP. Khan talks to Vidya Subrahmaniam :
Q.: Will you consider joining the BJP should the offer come?
A.: I cannot comment on a hypothetical situation. However, I do not want to remain imprisoned in a situation where I have to evaluate the Congress vis-a-vis the BJP. How can the initiator of communal politics (Congress) be better than the beneficiary of that politics (BJP)? In fact, it is the Congress which by reversing the Shah Bano judgment and opening the gates at Ayodhya, plunged the country into communal chaos. Think of India's poverty, the state of its public health and schooling, and the status of the girl child. Yet this country can't seem to get out of the vicious politics of places of worship. We need to restore political sanity and come out of this frightening mire. But, we cannot do this by handing over the leadership of the country to the Congress - unless, of course, they come clean. Let the party introspect honestly and accept its role in setting back the cause of secularism.
Q.: What specific action do you expect from them?
A.: The first thing they need to do is to break their alliance with the Muslim League (ML) in Kerala. Somebody may say that the Muslim League in Kerala is different. But the name Muslim League is anathema to this country; it is the party that partitioned the country.
Q.: Why must the Congress give up the ML when the BJP is linked to the RSS and the VHP? Are you saying that like the sangh parivar, the Congress and the Muslim League are one parivar?
A.: If the Congress cuts out the ML at a time of Muslim insecurity, will it not heighten that insecurity? The ML has nothing to do with Muslims. Muslims in northern India see the ML as a drag on them. In independent India, have Muslims ever produced a Kanshi Ram or Mayawati or Charan Singh, who controlled their political behaviour? No. They've always expressed their total trust and faith in the national secular leadership. Even when they voted for Muslim candidates, it was always in the name of a national secular leader - Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, V P Singh, and lately Laloo and Mulayam. There is no Muslim leader who can claim that he can transfer Muslim votes, like Mulayam and Mayawati do. Yet, what is the image of Muslims today? That we are controlled by the Muslim Personal Law Board (MPLB) and by those who give calls to boycott the Independence Day.
Q.: Who is responsible for creating this image?
A.: It was the Congress in 1986 that released this vicious Frankenstein's monster by starting the process of dealing with the MPLB and men like Syed Shahabuddin and taking legislative and administration action at their behest.

Q.: But isn't the Muslim community increasingly veering in favour of a leader from within because of a sense of alienation? One can also see a sort of Muslim disenfranchisement because the Muslim vote is no longer considered necessary to win.
A.: Again, in my assessment, the blame for this exclusion goes to the Congress, which, for a whole decade, pulled down one secular government after another. Deve Gowda, Inder Gujral and so on. This convinced the smaller parties that the Congress will strangulate any non- Congress government dependent on it. Thus, slowly, Chandrababu Naidu left, then incredibly the DMK and the JD. It is the Congress which is responsible for pushing these parties towards the BJP. As a result, today, the smaller parties trust the BJP but not the Congress.
Q.: In other words, politics as a whole has shifted rightward.
A.: This is tragic but true. The common Hindu has developed strong anti-Muslim feelings. How can I clear his misgivings by going with the Congress? In their minds, the Congress has lost all credibility. Today, the only bastions of secularism are Bihar and to an extent Uttar Pradesh where literacy is low and caste is cutting communalism. But as urbanisation and literacy increase, caste will break down. This form of secularism is not going to last more than five or 10 years. What you call secularism is caste politics. Tell me, is secularism going to survive on illiteracy alone or are we going to devise some method by which we can convince people who are literate and urban? This section will ask about Shah Bano, Ayodhya, Muslim League etc. For the last 15-16 years, it is the secularists who have given shelter to communalism in the guise of Muslim politics. When will they understand that this form of politics consciously operates against me? I want my Indian identity to be re-affirmed. If I'm persecuted because I'm Muslim, will Saudi Arabia accept me? No, I was born here and I'll die here. I do not want a separate identity thrust on me. Islam is my religion, it gives me my spiritual faith and India gives me my identity. Religion and identity cannot be mixed. If religion were to signify identity, why would we have so many Arab countries? They should have been one.

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