Jamiat Ulama leader Mahmood Madani led a huge delegation of Muslim leaders, educationists and clerics to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier this month. It was the first and obviously the most significant meeting of Indian Muslim leaders with Prime Minister Modi.
While there have been many photo ops of Muslim clerics with Prime Minister, those meetings were not taken seriously by anyone. It has been clear to most observers that those people came from dubious backgrounds and had neither any standing within the Indian Muslim community, nor these people represented even a small segment of Muslim population.
Jamiat Ulama’s meeting with Prime Minister is the first effort where Muslim leaders with substantial influence among the community across the country came together to meet Modi and reach out to his government.
Jamiat has more than a hundred year old history and played a major role in India’s freedom struggle. At a time when Muslim League, under the leadership of Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Liaqat Ali Khan was trying to sway Muslim opinion to support a separate state of Pakistan, Jamiat not just opposed the two-nation theory espoused by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, it also stood with the Congress party head and shoulder working for the freedom of the country from British rule. Jamiat’s stand has been that Muslims were unquestionably part of a united India and that Hindu-Muslim unity was of paramount importance for the country's freedom. He worked closely with the Indian National Congress until the Partition of India was carried out.
The importance of the meeting was not lost on the national media. Jamiat has a vast network of institutions across the country stretching from Punjab to Assam and Maharashtra to West Bengal and enjoys great influence in much of North India.
Muslim organizations with any influence among the community have been wary of meeting Modi, since 2014 after the BJP romped to a massive win in Lok Sabha elections. They fear being branded as sold-out by the community that seems to have vivid memories of what happened during the 2002 Gujarat riots.
But a beginning needed to be made and Mahmood Madani, the Jamiat secretary general convinced fellow Jamiat leaders, many of them well-known clerics, to meet the Prime Minister.
There is no denying that with opposition substantially weakened, and Congress party losing its ground, the 200 –million strong Muslim community needed to have line of communication open with the Union government.
The direct dialogue with Prime Minister and the Indian Muslim community leaders was need of the hour and Madani has showed that he possesses foresightedness to see that the community’s interests are not compromised. Many people with dubious backgrounds have tried to reach out to Prime Minister Modi claiming to represent Muslim community. Modi’s meeting with Jamiat finally brings him into direct contact with people who actually represent the community and have worked for the nation and the community.
While the delegation included around two dozen people, the notable among them included Qari Syed Mohammad Usman Mansurpuri, Dr. Zahir I Kazi, President of Anjuman-i-Islam and Maulana Badaruddin Ajmal Qasmi Lok Sabha MP and President of All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), a major political party in Assam.
As expected, the meeting evoked criticism from Muslim leaders belonging to other groups, who rued that the Jamiat should have taken other Muslim organization in confidence before meeting the Prime Minister. They claim that it was earlier decided that if decision is taken to meet the PM, major Muslim organization will form a delegation and meet the PM together.
This criticism cuts no ice as other Muslim forums would have made it rather impossible to have a common agenda for the meeting and also because of the fact that many of the so-called Muslim organizations are merely in name without any substantial social backing unlike Jamiat.
But obviously, the controversy was not limited to the composition of the delegation alone. Press release issued by the PMO after the meeting and the Jamiat’s official press release completely differed on the issues discussed during the meet.
The official press release issued by the PMO said “Praising the Prime Minister’s vision, members of the delegation expressed hope that the nationwide trust that he has among the people, will ensure prosperity and well-being of all segments of society. They said that the Muslim community is keen to be an equal partner in the making of New India…Noting that terrorism is a major challenge, they expressed a common resolve to combat it with all their might. They added that it is the Muslim community’s responsibility that under no circumstances should anyone compromise the nation’s security or well-being…They appreciated the Prime Minister’s stand on the issue of Triple Talaq”.
While the Jamiat memorandum talked about terrorism, it also expressed Muslims grievances regarding the safety and the security of the members of the community. There has been an upsurge in anti-Muslim violence across North India, and the memorandum talked about it.
“Supremacy of Rule of Law is must for the security, integrity and development of our country. No one is above the law. It must be administered with total impartiality and equality. Your recent reprimand to private groups taking law in their hands and launching murderous attacks for salvaging cows has sent the correct message but much has to be done by law enforcing agencies and the state administration. The recent incidents of manslaughter on the pretext of cow slaughter have sent shock waves of terror and fear through Muslim, Dalit and the weakest sections of the society. We are afraid that the fear and despondence if unchecked could prove highly counterproductive" the memorandum said.
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Syed Ubaidur Rahman is a New Delhi based writer and commentator. He has written several books on Muslims and Islam in India including Understanding Muslim Leadership in India.