The Shahi Imam's initiative

Print edition : September 01, 2001

AT the call of the Shahi Imam of the Delhi Juma Masjid, Ahmed Bukhari, there is a move to float a political party dedicated to Muslims' issues. Though this party will, for record's sake, talk about other things as well, its focus will be on Muslims and it will be headed by a Muslim leader. The party is likely to be formed before the Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh and this has the potential to influence the political scene in the State.

The Shahi Imam of the Delhi Juma Masjid, Ahmed Bukhari.-

Yeh election mulk ki awaam ka faisla hoga (These elections will decide the fate of the nation), the Shahi Imam told Frontline, his observation based on the conventional wisdom that developments in Uttar Pradesh politics always play a major role in shaping politics in the rest of the country. He said it was high time that as in the case of Dalits, Muslims too united to form a new political force at the national level, that at least had the strength to ensure the defeat of certain candidates if not the victory of their own candidates.

"Had we been united like Dalits, no government would have been able to ignore our welfare," he claimed. He has organised more than a dozen meetings in the last six months as part of the initiative, and the final round of meetings will be held in September.

Senior Muslim leaders from U.P., including Arif Mohammad Khan and Akbar Ahmad 'Dumpy', both now with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP); Obedullah Khan Azmi, Rajya Sabha member from the Janata Dal (United); Masood Ahmad, who was a founder-member of the BSP but who was later expelled from the party; and C.M. Ibrahim, Janata Dal (Secular) leader and former Union minister, are involved in the initiative.

Explaining the rationale behind the move, the Shahi Imam said that so far the "so-called" secular parties, despite their having received support from Muslims, had done little to tackle the issues of unemployment and lack of education among the members of the community and to ensure adequate representation for them in the structures of power. "This is an idea born out of frustration caused by the betrayal by the secular parties," he said. "Leaders from Jawaharlal Nehru to V.P. Singh paid only lip service to our issues. Otherwise we would not have been in such a miserable condition today."

He said he did not expect the move to encourage communal feelings. "If Dalits can have their own party, Sikhs their own party, Yadavs their own, and even Hindus their own party, why not us? After all, we will also be within the ambit of the Constitution. Besides, our fight is not with people, it is with governments, against injustice. So there is nothing communal about it." As and when the party is formed it is likely to be called the People's Party of India, he added.

Obedullah Khan Azmi, while confirming the initiative, said it was too early to say whether it would be a full-fledged political party or just a pressure group. "We have to be very cautious because if we begin something like this and it does not succeed, we will lose credibility," he said. The organisation will be headed by a Muslim and it will have representation from other communities too, according to Azmi. "It could take a couple of months for things to crystallise," he added.

The move is certain to give sleepless nights to leaders like Mulayam Singh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party and Mayawati of the BSP, who have been championing the cause of Muslims. In fact, Mulayam Singh's entire political line revolves around the Muslim-Yadav (MY) factor.

Muslims form 16 per cent of the State's population and are a deciding factor in any election. In at least 58 Lok Sabha constituencies, Muslims comprise between 20 and 40 per cent of the population. In 20 Lok Sabha constituencies, Muslims constitute 20 per cent or more of the population, going up to 40 per cent in some cases.

In Bijnore, for example, no political party can hope to win without the support of the 28 per cent Muslim population. In Amroha, Rampur and Moradabad, they form roughly 35, 45 and 35 per cent of the population respectively, which fact makes their support crucial for any political party. The same holds true for Bareilly, Pilibhit, Shahjehanpur, Sitapur, Akbarpur, Faizabad, Barabanki, Behraich, Balrampur, Domariaganj, Meerut, Muzaffarnagar, Kairana, Saharanpur and Hardwar, all of which have a Muslim population of 20 per cent or more.

In Badaun, Aonla, Kheri, Shahabad, Misrikh, Amethi, Sultanpur, Kaiserganj, Gonda, Basti, Khalilabad, Gorakhpur, Maharajganj, Padrauna, Deoria, Ghosi, Azamgarh, Lalganj, Jaunpur, Ghazipur, Varanasi, Phulpur, Chail, Fatehpur, Jalon, Agra, Hathras, Aligarh, Khurja, Bulandshahar, Baghpat and Hapur, too, the 10 to 20 per cent Muslim population has a decisive role.

The success story of the S.P. in Uttar Pradesh is testimony to the importance of the Muslim vote. In the last Assembly elections in the State, the party got 51.8 per cent of the Other Backward Classes vote and 67.6 per cent of the Muslim vote, to win 110 seats. The BSP, which won 67 seats, got more than 25 per cent of the Muslim vote.

If the Muslim vote bank could be consolidated in favour of a particular party, as had happened in favour of the Congress in the pre-Babri Masjid demolition days, it can ensure the victory of that party. Muslim leaders realise this and the move for a political party is seen as a step towards harnessing this strength. Musalmanon ko ek siyaasi taqat banna hoga (Muslims will have to become a political force), said the Shahi Imam. "It is high time we threw the crutches we have been leaning on and stood on our own feet. Only then we can get our due share in power."

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