Muslim bodies' surprise support to the Modi government's action on Article 370

Print edition : October 25, 2019
Muslim bodies and community leaders back the Modi government on its actions in Kashmir, but this support is being seen as an overture stemming from fear.

A few days before the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) asked India to rescind its decision to revoke the special status granted to Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Constitution of India, the Narendra Modi government received support from unexpected quarters back home in the country. First, a delegation of senior Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind leaders met Home Minister Amit Shah to extend support on the Kashmir issue, followed by the Markazi Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadees, which too came out in support of the government’s actions in the State.

The Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind’s overtures were not exactly a surprise, considering the fact that just before the delegation’s meeting with Amit Shah, its president, Arshad Madani, had met Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat in New Delhi to remove “misgivings between communities” to bring about “an atmosphere of communal harmony”.

Madani’s meeting with Bhagwat upset a section of the community. In an article for Muslim Mirror, Aslam Abdullah, a United States-based Islamic scholar of Indian origin, accused Madani of selling one of the “most precious human commodity [sic] known as conscience for some visible and invisible gains”.

However, for all the fulminations of Abdullah, it was the Markazi body’s action that took many by surprise, as the Ahl-e-Hadith sect has been largely non-political in its approach, preferring to concentrate on following the precepts and practices of Prophet Muhammad.

The body’s general secretary, Maulana Asghar Ali Imam Mahdi Salafi, offered support to the government on the repeal of Article 370 in Kashmir and extending the National Register of Citizens (NRC) across the country.

In a meeting with Muslim leaders, comprising largely those from the Jamiat, Amit Shah was assured of support from Muslim bodies, with Madani stating: “There might be differences of opinion over some issues with the government, but if the matter comes to that of national interest, the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind would stand with the government. We deplore every separatist movement, and always stand for a united India.”

The meeting followed an in-house brainstorming session at the Jamiat headquarters in Delhi, which saw the participation of delegates from across the country.

If the government needed any help to paper over the cracks emerging in international fora with respect to Kashmir, it came from India First, a group of Muslim intellectuals. Piloted by Khwaja Iftikhar Ahmed, the body pledged support to the government, reiterating that its actions in Kashmir could not be questioned.

Signed by 39 eminent Muslims, the statement read: “It is time to honour the established Indian values of harmony and integration. It is a moment to converge and not confront. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call for a ‘new Kashmir’, to embrace all Kashmiris in order to make a naya Kashmir—a new Kashmir—is a statement of substance.”

The Modi government was quick to capitalise on the support. Speaking to newspersons, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, while refusing to make a direct comment on the OIC’s stance, pointed out that major Muslim bodies such as the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind and the Markazi Ahl-e-Hadees had backed the government’s actions in Kashmir. Jaishankar’s statement came in the wake of Saudi Arabia joining Pakistan, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Niger to issue a statement condemning the Indian government’s actions in Kashmir.

Ajai Gudavarthy, a political scientist from Jawaharlal Nehru University, said: “It [support] could be because of fear and insecurity. It cannot be ruled out given the current climate. However, it could also be to present a new picture of the community. Things are larger than merely doing so out of fear. If you see, NRC, Kashmir, etc., are attacks on the exclusive Muslim identity. Such a meeting could be a part of the mainstreaming of the community. It should not be seen as a stand-alone exercise.”

Tanvir Aeijaz, an associate professor of political science at Delhi University, sees it originating largely from a “sense of fear”. “It is caving in out of fear of majoritarianism. At this time, it is difficult to say anything against the government, to criticise the government. And if you do so, there are repercussions.”

However, Aeijaz said it could also be a case of political opportunism.


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