By Shyam Khosla
No one from the ´secular brigade´ questioned fundamentalist Muslim leader, Syed Shahabuddin´s admission to the ´secular´ Congress. It raises a pertinent question about the concept of secularism in Indian politics. A former Indian Foreign Service officer, he was in the forefront of the fundamentalists´ fight against the Supreme Court verdict in the Shah Bano case that persuaded Rajiv Gandhi to use Congress party´s brute majority in Parliament to amend the Constitution with a view to undo the apex court judgement. His stand against the Supreme Court´s order to end gender discrimination in Muslim personal law leaves no one in doubt about his position in the liberal/fundamentalist divide. As president of the rabidly communal Babri Masjid Movement Coordination Committee (BMMCC), Shahabuddin is opposed to a negotiated settlement of the Ayodhya issue. Anyone genuinely interested in social harmony would not oppose an out-of-court settlement for such a solution which will ease communal tensions. Both the other options-the legislative route and a judicial verdict-may cause some resentment in the community that loses the case. The dispute is pending before courts for more than half a century but a verdict is nowhere in sight. Are the Congress and its new ´secular´ face interested in judicial verdict precisely for this reason? Will delay leading to social tensions serve the Congress party´s votebank interests? The Congress claim about its faith in judiciary is untenable in the light of what the Congress and its new recruit did to the apex court judgement in Shah Bano case.
Having welcomed a self-proclaimed Muslim fundamentalist to the party fold, the Congress party can´t legitimately claim to be a secular party.
Or is it that only Hindus are communal and Muslim fundamentalism is ´secular´? According to this distorted version, appeals by Muslim outfits to the community to vote for a particular political party or resort to ´tactical voting´ are not communal acts. How else to explain that no one deplored All-India Milli Council´s call to voters in Rajasthan during last year´s assembly elections to vote en masse for the Congress candidates to defeat the ´communal´ BJP? That it didn´t prevent the BJP from scoring a resounding victory is another story. The same Milli Council is now extremely worried over the failure of the ´secular´ parties to come together in UP and the subsequent threat of a split in the ´secular´ vote. They are now mulling over the desirability of resorting to ´tactical´ voting by Muslims. Isn´t it strange that the outfits that have a totally communal outlook proclaim to be ´secular´ and condemn those striving for Hindu identity as ´communal´? By their standards, Muslim votes are ´secular´ and so is All-India Muslim League with whom the ´secular´ Congress has no qualms of conscience to share power in Kerala.
Shahabuddin says his mission is to campaign for the Congress and ´educate´ Muslims on how to defeat the ´reactionary´ BJP. So, BJP is reactionary and the new Muslim face in the Congress is not.
According to the Oxford University Dictionary, reactionary means, “retrograde tendency, especially in politics, in opposition to progress.” Syed Shahabuddin fills the bill. He is the one who vehemently opposed reforms and supported retrograde and regressive customs that deny property rights to Muslim widows. BJP´s economic and social agenda proves beyond a shadow of doubt that it has a liberal approach. It can´t be dismissed as reactionary by any stretch of imagination.
Interestingly, ´secularist´ shed a lot of tears on Arif Mohammed Khan joining ´communal´ BJP. Whatever his other faults, no one can question the liberal approach of Arif Mohammed Khan who took a principled stand against his own party (the Congress) for amending the Constitution to undo the apex court judgement in the Shah Bano case. He was the only Muslim leader to revolt against the ruling party for amending the Constitution to appease the mullahs. As a minister in V.P. Singh government, he was critical of his own Prime Minister for giving more weight to mullahs than his liberal ministers. How come, the ´secular´ Congress attracted a Muslim fundamentalist and the ´communal´ BJP a liberal and nationalist Muslim? Which of the two parties is really secular and liberal?
(The writer is a veteran journalist)