There has been an ongoing debate on the merits and demerits of having a pan India Muslim political party. Of late, a small, regional party, with roots in Hyderabad and its suburbs, is being projected as a pan India Muslim political party. Almost everyone seems to be trying to project it as the representative of the 200 million strong Muslim population in the country. However, just dig a little deeper and you will realize that this is a false assumption from the word go and it doesn’t hold any truth.
All India Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) winning five seats in Bihar assembly elections is being projected to be a turning point of the Indian polity. It is being projected as if the majority of the Muslim community in the country has started voting for the party of Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi. However, this is a false narrative that must be corrected rather very clearly.
AIMIM, notwithstanding the sort of canvassing across the state, particularly in the Seemanchal area where Muslims make the majority of population, was able to garner merely 1.2 percent of votes. Only 523,279 people in Bihar voted for the party from Hyderabad. In a state like Bihar with a population of over ten crore and Muslim population of around 2 crore, this is like making a mountain out of a molehill.
This is surprising that a party winning just about three percent of the Muslim votes across a huge state like Bihar is being made to look like owning the Muslim votes not just in Bihar but across the country. Another surprising aspect of this entire episode is the fact that everyone seems to be playing to the gallery with no one trying to clear the misgiving.
I am not denying that it is an achievement for AIMIM and its chieftain Asaduddin Owaisi. I also admire him as a good speaker who highlights Muslim issues in and outside Parliament. However, he is not the lone voice. While it is a success, a huge success for a small, regional party that has its root in Hyderabad where it wins a handful of seats in assembly and a lone Parliamentary seat, besides some small success in Maharashtra, but at the national level, it is insignificant.
If you want to understand the significance of AIMIM and its success, you should invariably turn to numbers. Most people don’t actually have an idea of the huge number of MLAs that people elect across the country. People elect more than 4000 members of legislative assemblies, 4036 to be precise, in state assemblies across the country. Out of these MLAs, Asaduddin Owaisi’s party AIMIM has merely 14 MLAs through its ‘massive’ victories in Bihar, Telangana and Maharashtra. Notwithstanding the efforts of a certain section of the media and even liberals to make the AIMIM look like a national representative of the Muslim community and paint Owaisi as the voice of Muslims, this cannot be farther from truth.
Going by the numbers there are two even bigger parties that command huge support in their respective states. Muslim League has 18 MLAs in Kerala assembly with a total strength of 140 MLAs. It also has three Lok Sabha MPs and one Rajya Sabha MP. It is surprising that despite commanding massive influence in an important state like Kerala, Muslim League is neither called representative of the Muslim community, nor its leader’s voice is called the voice of the Indian Muslims. By the way Muslim League is not the only party with appeal among Muslims. All India United democratic Front (AIUDF) headed by cleric turned perfume baron, Maulana Badruddin Ajmal Qasmi, enjoys considerable support across Assam. His party has 14 MLAs in Assam assembly. He is also a member of the Lok Sabha. However, despite commanding support from a cross section of Assamese Muslims he is neither called the voice of Indian Muslim nor his party a representative of entire Muslim community in the country.
The concept of a pan India Muslim political party is flawed in its very conception. Muslim leaders, including Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad and other top leaders of the community in the country in the aftermath of the Independence not just disbanded Muslim League, they also said that with the independence there was no need for an exclusive Muslim party of their own.
Imtiaz Ahmad, a former professor of JNU says he is opposed to the formation of a pan India Muslim political party. “Are there only two choices open to Muslims in India in the contemporary times alienated from the left and secular parties to go with Owaisi or form a Muslim party. Or to support the liberal and secular forces in the fight against anti-democratic forces. The first choice will isolate them further and render them to be the target of attack both from the fascist and the liberal-secular forces. The other choice will enable them to at least be runners in the fight against Hindu fascist mobilization. What choice they make will determine their position in future India. The saddest part of the story is that many Muslims do not think and go by emotions and not reasoning”.
While giving reasons as to why he is opposed to the formation of a Muslim political party in India, Imtiaz Ahmad says, “Muslims are not a monolithic community in India. Notwithstanding their desire to represent themselves as a unity because of a common religion the Muslims are sharply divided within along status, class, sectarian affiliations and beliefs. A single Muslim party cannot represent such divergent interests”. He goes on to add that “A Muslims political party is a negation of the very idea of a secular polity. A Muslim political party has the built-in potential of generating a backlash which would be detrimental to the long-term interest of Muslims”.
He further says that the “formation of a Muslim political party would fuel the fire of Hindu right-wing political formations which would threaten Muslims. Muslims have in the past voted with the nation. Muslims voter always voted wherever the national vote went. A Muslim political party will reverse this trend and thereby reinforce the view that Muslim interests are different from the national interests…Even if the formation of a Muslim political party was feasible, which it is not, maslahat would demand that they do not launch an endeavour which undermines their long-term interests and strengthens Hindu right-wing forces”
What Imtiaz says, its merits cannot be denied. While there are many reports suggesting that the AIMIM didn’t help in polarization of the votes, but there are clear signs that it has been happening wherever he fights the election. Even if Muslims don’t really vote for his party in large numbers, there is always a chance of reverse polarization in areas where he fights the election.
The idea of Muslim political party in a secular country, or whatever has remained of its secular character, is fraught with danger. This was the reason that immediately after Independence, the leaders of the Muslim community, unanimously decided to disband the Muslim League and do away with separate Muslim polity in the country. Fourteen Muslim League members of the Constitutional assembly met in New Delhi on 29 February 1948 and by a majority decided to dissolve the League Party in the Constituent Assembly. The meeting was presided over by Nawab Ismail Khan. The following resolution was passed during the said meeting: "The Muslim League Party of the Constituent Assembly which was formed by a resolution on 13 July 1947, resolves that in view of the changed conditions in the country, this party realizes that it cannot perform any useful service to the Muslims of the Indian Union as a communal party and, therefore, decides to dissolve itself from 1 March 1948".
More Columns by Syed Ubaidur Rahman:
The rise of Muslim politics in 'God's Own Country'
Prophet Muhammad's Milad and Blasphemy
Sir Syed's jihad against religious orthodoxy continues today
NEP 2020 and Muslims: Aspirations and apprehensions
Ahmadullah Shah: Hero whose head and body are buried
Syed is a New Delhi based author and commentator. His forthcoming book 'Ulema's Role in India's Freedom Movements with Focus on Reshmi Rumal Tehrik will be out in October