An Interview with the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind Amir (National President) MAULANA JALALUDDIN OMARI conducted by MISHAB IRIKKUR, MOHAMMAD RAGHIB and ABHAY KUMAR
Amid the talk of communal forces emerging stronger, India is going to polls. The fear of BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi is perhaps more felt by the Muslim minority than anyone else. The “secular” Congress—charged with corruption and misrule—does not seem much energetic and confident at this moment. At this crucial juncture what strategy should the largest religious minority community of the country adopt in the upcoming General and assembly elections? What are the options available for them? To learn about this and more, Mishab Irikkur, Mohammad Raghib and Abhay Kumar interacted with Maulana Jalaluddin Omari, the Amir (national president) of Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH) last week at its New Delhi headquarter. The seventy-nine year old Amir–who is an Islamic scholar and author of dozens of books–spoke on a host of issues such as elections, politics, the social and economic problems of Muslims, reservation, framing of innocent Muslim youth on terror charges etc. The JIH—which came into existence soon after the Jamaat-e-Islami had split into two separate organisations at Partition–is one of the most influential Islamic organizations among Muslims that mainly does “intellectual” work and carries out welfare activities as well. The excerpts are as follows.
What are the major concerns of Muslims ahead of the upcoming elections?
Omari: Our Constitution does not discriminate any citizen on the basis of caste, colour, religion, region, sex etc. It has also given minorities some special rights related to their personal laws and culture. Muslims, therefore, should vote to power those forces, which are committed to upholding democracy, secularism and the principles of Indian Constitution. At the same time we should defeat the parties which are opposed to diversity. The very language of cultural assimilation is a threat to the spirit of our Constitution and interests of people.
Which party or coalition should Muslims support?
Omari: There are two main forces or coalitions which are competing with each other for power at centre. These are the so-called secular coalition [Congress-led UPA] and BJP-led NDA. There is also Left-supported Third Front, which projects itself as an alternative to both the UPA and the NDA but it does not look quite promising at this moment, for the Left itself is very weak. The Congress-led UPA government has not kept its promises to Muslims and even failed to enact Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill. The Samajwadi Party (SP)—which has often been one the favorite for Muslim voters in UP –was unable to check riots in Muzaffarnagar. Mulayam Singh today speaks with a forked-tong; while he does not miss any chance to take potshots at the Congress, it was his party that came to the rescue of UPA government at the centre a few years back. Ram Vilas Paswan and Udit Raj could support and join the BJP respectively but such options are not available for us. Muslims cannot support the BJP as it has been involved in riots and the saffron party stands for cultural assimilation. At this critical juncture, Muslims should support secular forces, which are committed to the Indian Constitution.
What about the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)? Could the AAP be a possible alternative for Muslims?
Omari: The primary focus of the AAP is corruption. I told Arvind Kejriwal that corruption is a major issue of India and it does not mean much to backward Muslims in this country. Most of rickshaw-pullers and cart-pullers are Muslims. Therefore, the real concerns of Muslims are security, education, health and employment etc. If the AAP offers a concrete programme for Muslims, Muslims will consider supporting it (Musalman AAP ke bare men ghaur kar sakte hain). But nothing has been clearly spelt out so far. Besides, the AAP is yet to state its clear position on the illegal detention of Muslim youth on terror charges. But we are happy that the AAP has started taking up the issues of communalism as a key challenge before the country.
There is a strong view among a section of Muslims that they should float their own party rather than supporting secular one. What do you think about this?
Omari: There is no doubt that most of political parties appear before Muslims at the time of elections. They are desperate to get Muslims’ votes and then forget their issues. Given this, we often come across such a view that Muslims should stop rallying behind ‘secular’ parties and they, instead, should form their own party. But this is an emotional claim. How could 14 per cent Muslim minority do this? But we all know that this is not going to be possible. In other words, Muslims are not in a position to come to power on their own in India. What Muslims can do is to support others in coming to power.
One often hears the talk of division among Muslims community on caste, region and sect lines. What do you have to say about this?
Omari: One wails that Muslim as a community is divided. It is true that Muslims are divided but other religions are more fragmented. Can anyone name the supreme Hindu leaderof India today? Is Modi the leader of all Hindus? He is not.
How do you respond to the opinion that Muslims and other marginalised sections, such as Dalits and OBCs, should get united to defeat dominant and oppressive upper castes and classes?
Omari: Muslims have tried to go along with Dalits. On the one hand, Dalits want Muslims to work under their leadership but on the other hand, one should not forget the basic difference between them and us. Dalits and OBCs are considered their own people (apne log) and a part of Hinduism by the majority community. Dalits and OBCS—despite the fact that they are discriminated and placed lower at ritual hierarchy in Hinduism– worship the same gods and goddess, as done by the majority of Hindus. Though Dalits are not allowed to enter some temples but it is also a fact that they worship in their own temples. Moreover, the festivals such as Holi and Dipawali are celebrated by both Brahmins and non-Brahmins. In short, Dalits and OBCs share a lot with Hindu community in culture and religion, while Muslims, contrary to Hinduism, follow Islam and believe in monotheism. It is during a conversation some time back, a person told me that a Muslim in India could join higher position in army, and become ministers, governors and even presidents but she/he will never be trusted to become the prime minister of the country. Such discrimination is against the spirit of Indian constitution. Why is this discrimination? This is because of lack of trust in Muslims. During the freedom struggle, Muslims sacrificed much more than their proportion and their contribution was not less than that of Hindus. But soon after Partition, Muslims suddenly become the other. Let me give another example to drive home the point. The social base of the SP is mostly among Yadavas but Yadavas’ votes alone are not sufficient to help it form government. How does then it reach the corridor of power? The SPcomes to power because it is supported by both Yadavas and a large section of the majority community. Such support cannot come to Muslims.
The Welfare Party of India (WPI) is considered JIH’s political-wing, which is contesting as many as 34 seats in the 2014 General Election. Does the WPI look promising to you in the coming elections?
Omari: Unlike the Muslim League and the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), the WPI wants to bring all weaker sections together. The JIH supports the WPI because it is a values-based party. However, I do accept that WPI has no sufficient strength to contest as many as 34 seats but its strategy seems to aim at creating electoral space.
The ideology of the WPI does not aim at establishing the Islamic system, as advocated by the JIH. Does this mean that there is a contradiction between the perspective of the JIH and that of its political-wing WPI? Has the JIH deviated from its core ideology?
Omari: We support the WPI. But this does not mean that there is no difference between the JIH and the WPI. The JIH has also not deviated from our core ideology of iqamat-e-deen (establishment of Islam as thecomplete system). The JIH firmly holds that the Islamic system is an alternative to the present ‘secular’ system. But people are yet to be pursued with iqamat-e-deen in our country. We cannot impose the Islamic system on people until people generally agree to it. The JIH, therefore, has been working since its inception to prepare people in favour of Islamic system. Till then we will continue to support the present system because this is the system which allows freedom of expression and prorogation of one’s views.
What has been the JIH doing for addressing the issues of Muslims, such as security, and education, social and economic problems? How far has ‘Vision 2016’, a programme also supported by the JIH, been successful in achieving its target of building schools, hospitals, houses etc.?
Omari: Let me first begin with the issue of security. Thousands of innocent Muslim youths are being framed in false terror cases. The media trail, which propagates police version, has done lots of damage to them. We, along with all other Muslims organisations, have been demanding that an inquiry, if there is strong evidence, may be done but this cannot go on and on for years. But it should be ensured that the enquiry must be completed in a time period. Moreover, Muslims are also facing social and economical problems. In the area of education, particularly in higher education, they are lagging behind. The communal violence in Muzaffarnagar, which broke out in small areas, proved severe because most of the Muslims—were poor and uneducated. One may point the figure at the Muslim community, for it has not taken adequate measures to help their own co-religionists as done by the Sikh community. But this is not entirely true and many Muslim organisations are working for the empowerment of the community. ‘Vision 2016’ programme is an example of this. Under this programme, welfare work has been done in Assam, Bengal and Bihar. ‘Vision 2016’ has mainly focused on the areas of north India as the Muslims of south India are relatively better off. But my experience says that no (community)organisation alone can solve the problems of Muslims unless the government takes responsibility. Unfortunately, it is yet to become sincere about addressing Muslims’ issues.
What is your view on reservation for Muslims? What criteria should be followed to implement it?
Omari: Reservations are given to Muslims in some states such as Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. But there is no such provision at an all-India level. Mulayam Singh promised Muslims 18 per cent reservation but he no longer talks about this. Today Muslims as a community have become backward and therefore, reservation should be given to them on economic basis, not on the basis of caste (samajik tabqat ke buniyad par nahin).
Mishab Irikkur (firstname.lastname@example.org), Mohammad Raghib (email@example.com), and Abhay Kumar (firstname.lastname@example.org) are pursuing PhD at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.