Leaders of the BJP and government may be inclined to jubilate at the growing volume of conflicting voices within the Muslim community on the contentious issues of cow slaughter and triple talaq. But the apparent strategy of propping up a section of the clergy and so-called representative organisations is a little different from that of previous governments.
In the long run, the move has the potential to backfire as the ferment within the community will exacerbate and provide hotheads with opportunities to enlist supporters. Such developments can only have disastrous consequences for the nation.
Ajmer Dargah In Midst of Controversy
In recent days, the Dewan of the Ajmer Dargah, Syed Zainul Abedin Ali Khan, backed by a section with interests in the shrine, called for a countrywide ban on cow slaughter and asserted that the practise of triple talaq is against the Sharia. This sparked a row as another group, led by Abedin Ali Khan’s brother, ‘deposed’ him.
The fact is that the Ajmer Dargah, like several places of worship regardless of religion, is the theatre of intense rivalry for control among several groups, including factions of khadims and government-designated custodians.
Because the dargah’s hierarchy is often confusing to the uninitiated, the dewan is time and again mistaken for gaddi-nashins who claim their families have looked after the grave or sanctum sanctorum for centuries. The dewan is a minor functionary but his statement became a major matter because of media play and implicit political support from the BJP.
It is well-known that sections of the Muslim clergy have always played ball with the political establishment in the hope of securing access and currying favours. It is up to political leaders to ensure that a clear message is sent to these groups – that it believes in no quid pro quo and seeks no such controversy.
BJP’s ‘Sudden’ Interest in Triple Talaq
As it is, the two issues have become acutely polarising and the media wastes no opportunity to keep them in news. Ever since the issue of triple talaq became part of a political discourse with the BJP using it as an electoral tool to consolidate Hindus, it has made the task of progressive groups among Muslims extremely challenging.
The strident BJP campaign has enabled conservative Muslims, mainly the patriarchal religious orthodoxy, to slam groups like the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan and accuse them of being in cahoots with the Sangh Parivar. By stepping into the arena and covertly encouraging religious leaders of little consequence to make provocative statements, the BJP is only serving its electoral cause.
Early in the UP election campaign, Prime Minister Narendra Modi shed copious tears on the ‘poor plight’ of Muslim women. This stance was adopted clearly with an eye on the elections. However, with the elections over, it is time to stop raking up the matter and allow the issue to be discussed calmly within the community.
Issue of Cow Slaughter
The issue of cow slaughter is more sensitive because it involves religious sensibilities of Hindus and threatens the lives of Muslims engaged in legal meat trade. The campaign against legal as well as illegal trade involving all non-vegetarian food items in UP has impacted Muslims’ economic security.
In India, the majority of the self-employed in the food sector, whether they are meat, poultry or fish sellers or those who go from house-to-house selling vegetables and fruits or those selling in local markets, conduct their businesses without valid clearances and licenses. In this situation, selectively prohibiting trades where Muslims are dominant, sends a signal that the State is either biased or prejudiced against the community.
Claiming to be Voice of the Muslims
Consequently, calls from people like the dargah dewan or the All India Shia Personal Law Board that on all contentious matters – Ayodhya, triple talaq and cow slaughter – the position advocated by the BJP is correct, appear dubious and carry zero credibility. It will serve little purpose except rally the majority community behind the BJP.
Muslims in India are not a monolith and no religious leader can claim to represent all.
The clergy cannot claim that they represent the will of the Muslims. None of the so-called representative bodies can assert themselves as truly representative.
The All India Muslim Personal Law Board, which concluded a two-day workshop in Jaipur last Sunday for ulemas, legal experts and women’s activists affiliated with it, has reiterated that women’s rights are well protected under the Sharia. It clearly will not change its position on any of the three issues.
The AIMPLB has also decided to up its campaign and mount signature drives, especially among women, on the issue of triple talaq. In recent years, the RSS too has given impetus to its activities among Muslims and pioneered the Muslim Rashtriya Manch. From available indications, efforts to strengthen the organisations will be a priority area.
But for it to secure wider support from the community, the BJP and the government must initiate efforts to eliminate suspicion in the community. Until efforts are not made to reverse the electoral isolation of Muslims, efforts in this direction will at best remain superficial. The list of people who claim to represent Muslims is long but hardly credible. The government will serve its cause by not adding to this.
Development Agenda Shouldn’t be Sidetracked
The next time Modi or senior ministers meet ‘Muslim leaders’, they better not keep a press release and headline in mind. In 2011, when he embarked on his prime ministerial campaign, Modi started with his Sadbhavna Yatra. It grabbed headlines for the wrong reasons – his refusal to wear a skull cap.
It is for the political leadership to realise that change cannot be forced but must emerge from within. The BJP may not need the community’s support but the government has to engage with it to ensure its development agenda doesn’t get tripped.
(The writer is a Delhi-based writer and journalist. He authored Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times and Sikhs: The Untold Agony of 1984. He can be reached @NilanjanUdwin. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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