Irfan Engineer


In May and June 2013, I attended two conventions organized by organizations in which Muslims lead and whose raison d’etre was to address issues of Muslims. I am deliberately avoiding calling them Muslim organizations as Hindus too are associated with both these organizations. One was convention organized by Maulana Azad Vichar Manch on 29th and 30th May 2013, while the other was convention organized by Tanzim-E-Insaaf on 15th and 16th June, 2013. There are some similarities in the issues the two organisations wants to address and major differences as well in the strategies they want to adopt. Let me first briefly recall the conventions as I witnessed them.


Maulana Azad Vichar Manch organized a convention on Muslim education in Mumbai. The convention was inaugurated by the Vice-President of India Hon’ble Shri Hamid Ansari. The convention was also addressed by Minister of Minority Affairs K. Rahman Khan, Chief Minister of Maharashtra Prithvi Raj Chavan, and few other Central as well Maharashtra State Ministers. About 4,000 people attended the inaugural session and Valedictory address. The attendance otherwise varied. Maulana Azad Vichar Manch is led by Hussain Dalwai, a Member of Parliament. Dalwai might have felt the need to mobilise his natural base – Muslims and works incessantly to address their basic problems. Though Dalwai does work of all individuals who approach him irrespective of their religion, caste or class, and participates on varied platforms that address issues of other sections of the society like the Dalits, he channelizes his initiatives in addressing problems of Muslim community through the Vichar Manch. Members of the executive committee of his Vichar Manch are drawn from various districts of Maharashtra, but mostly from the backward classes of Muslim biradaries (social groups). Dalwai’s team includes Hindus who help him organise the programmes and do various ministerial work. His major objective is uplifting the backward classes of Muslims and his vision seems to be inclusive and equitable growth. His strategy to achieve these objectives is to serve as a catalyst in getting various schemes for the minorities to the Muslim community and increase the number of beneficiaries from the community. Part of his strategy also includes critically reviewing the schemes as to policy gaps and pointing out inadequacy of the funds allocated for the minority schemes and bureaucratic obstructions in its implementation.


Serving these objectives, the Muslim education conference was organised with dual objectives – to make the community aware of the need for education and to educate the members of the community about the available scholarship and other schemes formulated by the Govt. The second objective was to give critical feedback to the political leaders of his party of corrections necessary in the policies and to increase the funds allocated for the existing schemes. For the first objective, the Ministers in the Central and State Govt. addressed the gathering from the dais and screamed about the existing schemes and quantum of funds allocated and that the best that could be done was more or less already done. The claims of the dais were strongly contested by the floor, albeit through murmurs into each other’s ears of experiences with stiff bureaucracy and wrong policies that resulted in them not having benefitted from the schemes. This writer was present on the floor hearing those murmurs of protest.


Urdu media covered the convention extensively while the English media more or less completely ignored the event. They might have felt that the convention was some internal affair of Muslim community not important for the life of the nation and not worth reporting, even if Vice-President of the republic who also happens to be a Muslim inaugurated the convention. One columnist in one of the Urdu newspapers commented that Muslim community had “now” learnt to lobby within the democratic framework without the use of violence.


The second objective of the convention – to give critical feedback to the policy makers was partly achieved by calling organic intellectuals like Abu Saleh Sharif, former member-secretary of Sachar Committee, who was the lone voice from the dais telling the sundry ministers that the Govt. had travelled some distance in formulating policies and schemes for development of the minorities, and indeed all the socio-religious categories (SRCs), but the policies did not go far enough and were at best cosmetic. Sharif pointed out that child labour was high in the community and the schemes did not factor in such problems. The schemes did not lead to – what he called – inter-generational transfer of assets – what one generation hands over to the next should not be poverty but assets like skills, capital or education that improves the situation of each subsequent generation. Rather than forming special schemes for minorities, for which allocation is a tiny portion of budget, Sharif opined, the Govt. should be inclusive in all the welfare schemes and ensure equal opportunity for all SRCs.


Later, when the media attention was less, cameras were off, Govt. functionaries had left and audience attendance was thin, some more critical inputs poured in from the dais by Teesta Setalvad, Farida Lambay, Shama Dalwai, Sandhya Mhatre and the rest.


The Vichar Manch convention was designed to be more or less silent on other issues of the community, including, the targeting of its youth by intelligence agencies, staged encounters, communal violence and the rest.




The Tanzim-E-Insaf convention organized in Nanded, Maharashtra, on the other hand was organized to precisely address the issues related to security of the community. The leadership of TEI is largely drawn from the Communist Party of India. The convention was part of the campaign initiated by CPI leaders and is called People’s Campaign against Politics of Terror (PCPT). How a religious community based initiative fits into CPI’s scheme of things is for them to figure out. A B Bardhan inaugurated the Convention and other prominent leaders associated with PCPT are its CC member Atul Anjan and National Convenor Mohammed Adeeb, (MP). Raza Murad, cine actor, was an added attraction and landed his principled support for the work of communal harmony and democracy. The first convention of PCPT was in Hyderabad, where large numbers of innocent Muslim youth were arrested following Mecca Masjid blast that was allegedly carried on by terrorists motivated by Hindutva ideology. The National Convenor of TEI – Aziz Pasha (Ex-MP) is from Hyderabad. Tanzim is now in about 12 states. About 1200 strong audience in a small town like Nanded is some achievement of sorts for the motivated activists of TEI, particularly its state General Secretary – Farukh Ahmed. The speeches from the dais attacked the demonization of Muslims by intelligence agencies in particular and by the state in general in matter of livelihood, education, loans and state contracts, leading to marginalization of the community. There was simultaneous emphasis on syncretic cultural traditions and diversity within the community. That the cultural ethos of people was secular and it was only the communal forces that worked overtime to spread hatred against Islam and Muslims. Islamophobia also suited the US imperialism.


The Remedies


The leadership analysed the problem but did not seem to provide any solutions. The good thing about the convention was that silence in the “mainstream” parties regarding targeting of innocent Muslim youth by intelligence agencies and branding them as terrorists, seems to have been broken. Speaker after speaker problematized the unanimity among the mainstream parties, intelligence agencies and social common sense which popularizes the doctrine that every Muslim may not be a terrorist but every terrorist is a Muslim. Ashish Khaitan being invited to speak on the issue was therefore significant. Public discourse putting the intelligence agencies in the dock itself would apply some break on such a popular belief. The Vichar Manch Convention judiciously avoided the discourse though every person in the Convention implicitly questioned such wisdom pushed by the Hindu communal forces. The Congress Party or any other mainstream parties for that matter have not countered such a stupid conventional wisdom and in fact implicitly believed it. It is left to the Muslims to speak up even at the risk of those critiquing such a proposition themselves being targeted as a terrorist sympathiser or a terrorist herself/himself. Other than countering the discourse and the conventional wisdom on terrorism, there was very little solution that was offered by the TEI / PCPT as way ahead to achieve equality and reverse the trend of marginalization of the Muslim community.


The Vichar Manch at least seemed to implicitly suggest that the community should be silent on being targeted by the intelligence agency and fight the unfair terror accusations individually. There was also an implicit suggestion on getting educated utilising the schemes for minorities set up by the Congress Govt., which somehow would go towards mitigating the plight of the community. The implicit solution offered by the Vichar Manch was also to elect the Congress Govt. so that the schemes for the Minorities are not disturbed and implemented earnestly (this is not to say that any open appeals were made to vote for Congress). The critical wisdom by some speakers from the Vichar Manch dais of course called for tweaking the schemes here and there but did not question the schemes or provide any alternative route to arrest the marginalizaton of the community. Even if the schemes were implemented in all earnestness and honesty and every paisa allocated was utilised and easily accessible to the members of the community, were these schemes capable of educating, housing, clothing and providing decent livelihood with dignity and equality to the 150 million Muslims? Nobody asked such questions.


The Tanzim too, on the second day of its convention during the delegate session provided no clear way ahead. Implementation of the schemes seemed to be the only pivot around which the community was to be mobilized, albeit also contesting the terrorist tag on the entire community.




The plight of Muslim women mattered little in both the conventions and there was no critical evaluation as to how the schemes impacted on women and whether the schemes were inclusive enough in their outreach to women. The patriarchal structure of the community was a no go in both the conventions. There were less than 10 women in the Tanzim convention with about 1200 people attending the open session. To critique the patriarchal structures (which in my humble opinion are also unIslamic) would tantamount to sort of threatening the existence of the community itself. The Vichar Manch Convention had many women – about 25% roughly and problems of girl education was discussed a special topic, however without the questioning the patriarchy within the community.


The critique of Indian state too was absent from both the conventions. Though critique of Indian state was not expected from the Vichar Manch dais, its absence was rather a strange coincidence from the Tanzim Convention. The state discriminates not only against the minorities, but against all the marginalized sections, including the dalits, the adivasis, the minorities, women, workers, marginalized ethnicities in the North and North-East. No reference was The Marxist-Leninist analyses of state as a coercive apparatus to maintain hegemony of one class over another. Organising people on religion based platforms is not strange as far as the ideology of Congress is concerned, and in fact necessary to mobilise votes of different sections of society. However, how does it fit into the scheme of things for leaders of a communist party is telling story of the communalisation of times. The implicit corollary is that if minorities are victims of majority communalism and discrimination, then the responsibility to struggle against it is on the doors of the victim minority community. May be I am reading too much and may be that after all the communist parties might be addressing the problem through other secular platforms as well. But the impact of the convention was not lowering the Hindu-Muslim divide, even by talking of syncretic traditions, but constructing opaque communal wall wherein speakers after speakers felt more emboldened to criticise majority communal forces as they were preaching to the converted. If Muslims are expected to fight Hindutva ideology and communal forces, they feel tempted to and easier to do so by constructing their own community boundaries and communal-fundamentalist ideologies and have a sense of belonging, even if it false – the opium of fundamentalism. Sachar Committee recommendations and minority schemes was the tool exploited by the organizers of both the conventions albeit for different ends. Communist Party engaging with religion and accommodative towards faithful and more important, faithful followers feeling more comfortable with Communist is a story in itself that requires deeper probe. However if the crumbs of minority schemes are taken away, how long the marriage will last, is to be seen. One hopes it lasts longer as Communists are also consistent force that has always opposed communal forces in this country.


(Secular Perspective June 16-30, 2013)

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