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SEEMA MUSTAFA | 23 JANUARY, 2015

Three Muslims And The BJP

Three Muslims And The BJP


NEW DELHI:Three bright Muslims, each well known in his or her sphere, joined the BJP in search of recognition and the limelights. It has been a ‘tapasya’ of sorts for each, with a cold embrace making it impossible for them to strike out within the party, and the ‘BJP tag’ making it even more difficult for them to regain the credibility they lost during their way.

Of the three, two were particularly dynamic and well known in their fields of politics and journalism respectively. They were men of letters, spoke well, and commanded respect. And had made a fetish of opposing and attacking the communal forces represented by the BJP, and hence their decision to cross the line came as a major shock to their supporters. The third was not known ever as a woman of substance but was certainly not credited with the ‘opportunism’ that she was charged with later.

This writer has had the good fortune to know the three of the Muslims who ‘crossed over’ as it were rather well. And in each case it came as a surprise, given the trajectory of their careers and the positions they had taken. More so, as the need to shift was never really clear as politics is known for its hiatus, and many would say journalism brings more recognition and respect than politics can.

Arif Mohammad Khan, the young dynamic leader who was very close to former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi set the ball rolling. His speech in support of the Supreme Court judgement on the Shah bano case in Parliament is almost legendary and this writer recalls the hushed silence in the House as Khan launched into an intellectual, reasoned and highly political support of the controversial decision, that catapulted him more effectively than anything else he had till then into the national spotlights. It was a bold speech, but Rajiv Gandhi did not stand by his minister, and overnight succumbed to pressure from the Muslim conservatives to field another colleague ZA Ansari to contradict and negate all that Khan had achieved.It was seen as a major betrayal by Khan who went on a national level campaign against the Congress position and for the judgement.

At the time he was wooed by both the Left and the Right who were supporting the judgement for entirely different reasons. The first through its womens organisations to fight for the rights and empowerment of women, the latter for highlighting the backwardness of the Muslim conservatives at the time. Khan was common to both the platforms but given the assertion of the right wing groups at the time became more and more visible on the non-Left platform as the weeks went by. His arguments too came from the religious discourse, that the Left has always been uncomfortable with.

Khan showed principles in resigning from the Congress in 1985 because of the regressive bill that the Rajiv Gandhi government brought in to negate the SC judgement on the Shah Bano case. He was an active member of the Jan Morcha that eventually brought Prime Minister V.P.Singh to power, with Khan becoming an influential member of the Janata Dal formed at that time. From then on Khan’s politics became shaky, he left the party to join the Bahujan Samaj party that he endorsed with his usual passion but was unable to last long. It was largely reported at the time that he was shifting sides to basically win a seat to the Lok Sabha from Uttar Pradesh. He finally decided to join the BJP in 2004 and in one stroke severed political relations with the non-BJP parties he had been with, and a large group of academics, journalists and others he fraternised with. One recalls a senior historian telling him before he took the plunge that this would destroy his politics.

It did. The BJP crowed about Khan joining the party and gave him a ticket from Kaisarganj, although his preference was even then his old constituency Bahraich. He lost the Lok Sabha elections and was any how marginalised within the party with little recognition and no work. Khan reportedly left the party a few years later, in 2007 and has virtually denounced politics since. Joining the BJP was the Midas Touch for Khan, where everything he touched insofar as minority politics that was his forte turning to dust.

The second man to fall by the BJP wayside is senior journalist MJ Akbar. A renowned journalist with majorly successful publications-- Sunday, The Telegraph, Asian Age---to his credit he virtually “shocked” his readers when he decided to join the BJP formally. Akbar was trounced by the same Khan search for recognition and publicity, when a stint in the Congress turned sour after his friend Rajiv Gandhi’s untimely death. At this time he was flying high, having contested and won the Lok Sabha elections and functioning as a high profile party spokesperson. Subsequently he was not accepted in the party by widow Sonia Gandhi or the new dispensation. Akbar was almost a hero amongst the minorities and secular communities with his books, with Riot after Riot---a compilation of his passionate writings on communal violence across the country---placing him in a “special’ slot of fame.

Those who have worked with Akbar, as has this writer for long years, saw him as bold and courageous but also with a deep interest in politics and the power that Parliament brings. Unable to join the Congress under Sonia Gandhi, he flirted with the BJP and finally joined the party under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He is the spokesperson for the party, every now and again issuing statements on and off television defending the indefensible. Like Khan he has not been utilised according to his capability and capacity and as BJP leaders themselves tell journalists, he has in actual fact been sidelined. Akbar did not make it to the Council of Ministers, or as yet to Parliament through the Rajya Sabha route. Given his anti-BJP past he is clearly not fully trusted, and will have to walk on fire before he can manage to squeeze through the door, if at all.

In between the two stalwarts was of course Najma Heptullah, who left the Congress party entirely because of her real or imagined differences with president Sonia Gandhi. She is said to be related to Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, freedom fighter and a man of letters. In a strange kind of way she has done rather well for herself even in the BJP, although again there was a long waiting period of frustration.

Heptullah was a lightweight personality with at least four successive Rajya Sabha terms while in the Congress party from 1980 onwards. She was made the general secretary in 1986 and regaled journalists with inconsequential chatter about clothes, and designer wear. Her main asset was that she did not offend, and accepted ridicule and flattery with the same demeanour. Heptullah could not reconcile to Sonia Gandhi, and reports suggested that the feelings were mutual.

She faced humiliating moments after a reported attempt by her to morph a 1958 photograph showing her alongside Maulana Azad with an introduction that it was taken after her graduation, in a publication of the government’s Indian Council of Cultural Relations. The publication came out when ICCR was headed by Heptullah herself, and the photograph had to be subsequently removed when it was found that she had graduated in May 1958 while Maulana Azad had died in February the same year.

Heptullah joined the BJP, creating a stir. But unlike the more outspoken and independent Khan and Akbar, she has done relatively well in her new party if Rajya Sabha nominations are taken as the yardstick. Simply by hunkering down and accepting the ‘tapasya’ without murmur. She would only smile when asked how long she would endure the humiliation---a period where she was virtually ignored---and made sure that no whispers of discontent could be attributed to her. She did get a Rajya Sabha ticket from the party and remained in Parliament. And now PM Modi has ‘rewarded’ her by making her the Minorities Affairs Minister. Heptullah jumped to prove her loyalty by saying that her focus would not be on Muslims but Parsis, and then compounded this astonishing assertion by insisting that there was “nothing wrong in calling all Indians Hindus”.

Ironically, while Khan, Akbar and Heptullah joined the BJP for elusive new heights, the ‘embrace’ cold or at best lukewarm has also ensured that the BJP is and will be the end of the road for them.

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