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Islam and Politics

Secularism wins in Indian elections
Sultan Shahin, Founder-Editor, New Age Islam

Why Muslims returned to Congress?

The most heartening news is the decimation of all exclusivist trends among Muslims. Muslims have sealed the fate of almost dozen-odd Muslim outfits in this election. Not one of them has been able to even make a mark. Muslims have given thumbs down to the politics of exclusion, negativism and denial of our own shortcomings. Many of them were created just before the elections and tried to incite Muslim sentiments over what they claimed was "targeted harassment of the minority in the name of terrorism", thus seeking to deny the fact that some of our youth are indeed turning to terrorism under the influence of so-called Islamist terrorist outfits and their ideology of radical Jihadism in the name of Islam. The growing influence of Wahhabis in the community is helping the process. But instead of addressing these issues and making amends, some Muslims, notably some so-called ulema, sought to simply blame the government and try their hand at exclusivist politics. It is gratifying that the community has not heeded them and has instead returned to inclusive politics and has largely voted along with other communities for the greater good of the country, keeping the nation’s best interest in mind.

Indian Muslims have clearly returned to the Congress fold. But how have Sonia/Rahul/Priyanka/Manmohan wrought this magic? asks Sultan Shahin, Founder-Editor, New Age Islam

Political actors have proved more successful in bringing about the engagement of the secessionists with the political system, witness the PDP’s successes in recruiting the Jamaat-e-Islami vote in southern Kashmir during last year’s Assembly elections or the relentless pressures which compelled Sajjad Lone to contest in Baramulla. Like their fathers before them, Jammu and Kashmir politicians are being compelled to learn that lions and goats must co-exist.

New Delhi must support the transformational effect of democracy by engaging Jammu and Kashmir’s elected politicians on the issues of identity and agency for which the secessionists have so far been allowed to be the sole spokespersons. During his first term in office, Prime Minister Singh initiated the Round Table Dialogue process, which involved a wide section of opinion in Jammu and Kashmir. Among other things, the dialogue led to the setting up of a working group chaired by the retired Supreme Court judge, Saghir Ahmed, to discuss the shape of Jammu and Kashmir’s future. Justice Ahmed’s group must now be pushed to complete its work — and its findings used as the foundation for an inclusive dialogue in which both pro-India and secessionist political groupings are invited to participate. -- Praveen Swami


Several Myths exposed as hollow

What a turnaround in five years! Though the Indian Muslim may have seemed adrift and divided, he instead comprehensively sent out a clear message: a resounding negation of divisive, communal forces, pretentious benefactors and self-anointed leaders of the community.

Thankfully, in these elections various myths were finally exposed as hollow. Over the years allegations of targeted, homogenous, en bloc voting by Muslims have been drilled into the psyche of all Indians. But, pushed into a corner, and treated either as a vote-bank or a punching bag, the Indian Muslim voted uniformly along similar lines as the rest of the country in the 2009 elections. -- Aijaz Ilmi

This election has shown that in the Muslim community there is desire for stability and security, and they will vote for parties which will guarantee that. The pervading sense of insecurity among the Muslims has increased after the spate of terrorist attacks in the country after which each one of them has been made a suspect. The renewed urgency in Muslim voting behaviour is visible not only in UP, Bihar and West Bengal but also in their overwhelming turnout for the Congress in Delhi and in Andhra Pradesh.


For the electoral outcome, the Congress should thank the Muslim voters who continue to keep this country secular. Someone in the Congress needs to read the Sachar Committee report anew and explore ways to pay its debt to the voters. -- Bharat Bhushan



By Ravi Bajpai in New Delhi


By Giridhar Jha in Patna


By Piyush Srivastava in Lucknow


Aloke Banerjee in Kolkata

A Mail Today report


A perusal of the Urdu dailies of the last two months would give you an idea how low can the Muslim public opinion-makers fall just for the sake of some advertisements from a state government. It was not only Mulayam Singh, who was pilloried by the Muslim media for two full months. The other one was none else but Lalu Yadav. For all their faults Lalu, and to some extent Mulayam, are the two politicians who really did something for the community. Yet the behaviour of the Urdu Press, especially of Bihar, was extremely hostile towards them. ... Many Muslims of Gujarat may not be aware how many of their brothers and sisters are still spending a hellish life in refugee camps in that state. ... During the two months long election campaign hardly any community leader seriously raised the issue of the economic, social and political boycott of Muslims of Gujarat. For the last seven years they have been treated like pariah in their own cities, towns and villages. More than Muslims, it was secular Hindus, who wrote more boldly on this topic.  -- Soroor Ahmed


Zaheer Ali Khan, editor of Urdu daily Siyasat, which has carried out a valiant fight against Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S.R. Reddy on corruption and communalism, told Covert that discrimination and injustice were two major issues that were agitating minorities across the country. Zaheer Khan was as categorical as Muslim intellectuals and politicians from other parts of the country: “Muslim parties will have a future only if they align with secular forces. Otherwise, they could polarise opinion and this will not work to anyone’s advantage.” He was particularly happy that these elections in Andhra Pradesh were being fought on development and real issues concerning the minorities for the first time. “Earlier it was always Babri Masjid, or Taslima Nasreen or other such issues. This indicates a change in the Muslim mindset, they are just fed up of emotional issues,” Khan pointed out. Not a single Muslim party in the fray is even wasting time on these matters, promising instead safety from illegal arrests, and a life of respect and dignity. “This is what matters,” a young teacher, Safia Qadeer said.

THIS WAS THE MESSAGE from all spoken to: in Assam, UP, Bihar, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra. The Muslims have made it clear that they are now looking not just for hard talk, but hard action. They are fed up with the status quo and the same promises by the so-called secular parties. The five years of NDA rule made them optimistic of change when “secular” UPA came to power. The last five years have convinced them that the secular parties are no different on the ground, and except for rhetoric, have little to offer. The issues taken up by the Muslim parties and candidates range from domestic issues of arrests, harassment, discrimination to foreign policy concerns about the strategic alliance with the US and the growing friendship with Israel. Secularism is recognised as the bedrock of politics, and as Amaresh Mishra said, “We might not win, but at least we will have to spread the word that we are all together in the fight for justice and equality. And that there are alternatives when the so-called organised parties fail the citizens of India” [¼] -- Seema Mustafa

In Lucknow, the capital of India’s most populous state, there’s a saying among politicians that winning the Muslim vote means clinching the election.

The political adage is based on simple logic: The community tends to vote en masse for a particular party.

The relevance of that saying is being tested in the 15th Lok Sabha election, not just in Lucknow—which votes on 30 April—or Uttar Pradesh, but across several states where a trend is emerging of the Muslim vote being split among parties and individuals of varied hue. -- Ruhi Tewari, The Wall Street Journal/ Mint

Is Exclusivist, Separatist politics the answer?

With their focussed, bloc voting, and significant presence in over a hundred parliamentary constituencies, Muslims have emerged as probably the most influential vote-bank for so-called secular parties. Every secular party would appear to be vying for their vote. But some Muslims would rather fritter away the opportunity it gives them, as they feel they are not able to convert this influence to advantage in terms of better representation in legislatures or government jobs, etc. Hence the demand as N Jamal Ansari makes in the following article that Muslims elect Muslims. This alone, he says, will ensure Muslim political empowerment. The question is: Would it really do so, or would it prove a recipe for further Muslim disempowerment? Muslims must debate. Is exclusivist, separatist politics the answer? Are we Muslims in as dreadful a situation as some of us keep complaining? Is the politics of grievance-mongering all the politics we can play? Is promoting victimhood among Muslims all that our intellectuals can do? Should we occasionally express gratitude too for all the advantages we have, before demanding or in fact working towards betterment for ourselves and our country? – Editor

The consistently secular voting behaviour of Indian Muslims since the first parliamentary election is perhaps the most significant and least acknowledged fact of our electoral politics. The reason is the superficial manner in which secular discourse is framed by our political elites, which often give it a populist spin at the cost of the substantive elements of secular practice. Consequently, the idea of secularism today resembles a shapeless hat, whose meaning for political parties changes depending on who wears it for what purposes, and in what manner. While its political significance in this election remains as strong for rival political elites as in the past, for Muslim voters secularism as campaign rhetoric emanating from the politics of fear is less appealing this time compared to the 1989, 1991 or 1996 elections. -- Mujibur Rehman

Sajjad Ghani Lone’s decision to contest the Lok Sabha election

Early last summer, the Hurriyat leaders finally lost hope that an India-Pakistan deal was possible. Desperate, the secessionist coalition’s leadership reached out again to New Delhi. Mirwaiz Farooq signalled that the Hurriyat would not oppose the coming elections, while Mr. Butt called on the National Conference and the PDP to work with the secessionist formation to “mutually work out a joint settlement and present it to India and Pakistan.” For his part, Mr. Lone called for secessionist aspirations to be focussed on the “achievable.” “In between ‘everything’ and ‘nothing’,” Mr. Lone said, “the leadership has to consider ‘something’ as well.” Mr. Lone’s decision to contest the Lok Sabha election marks that first step towards the realisation of this so-far undefined “something”. ... Mirwaiz Farooq and his Hurriyat Conference colleagues will have to carefully consider the ever-shrinking options they are left with. -- Praveen Swami

Indonesian voters lose faith in Islamist parties

DR TERRY LACEY explains why he thinks that the people of Indonesia and the country won the election. He argues that the election, in which about 70 percent of 171 million voters participated was a triumph of democracy in this huge country.


Early results from Thursday's parliamentary elections in majority-Muslim Indonesia have reaffirmed the appeal of broad-based secular parties over Islamic-oriented rivals....

Islamist politicians may have lost ground in the polls but their agenda hasn't gone away, says Sidney Jones, an analyst with the International Crisis Group in Jakarta. "You can't take this [election] as an indicator of where political Islam is in Indonesia. We've seen a mainstreaming into the nationalist parties, and we've seen an effort to reach out to conservative Muslim voters," she says. -- Simon Montlake

I once interviewed Ayatollah Sadegh Khalkhali, the ‘laughing executioner’ of the Iranian revolution. He had dispatched scores of women to the firing squad simply because they wore jeans, make-up and so on. In his view, therefore, they qualified to be seen as prostitutes. And prostitutes in his religion corrupted people and were unworthy of being allowed to live peacefully.

Khalkhali’s trademark high-pitched laughter was as menacing as his beady eyes were intimidating. He had a penchant for bumping off fellow humans at will. ‘If the people I executed were to return again, I would shoot them again without a doubt,’ he told me. Fortunately, he was eased out over charges of financial bungling before more helpless people were strung up from the neck by the crane, his favourite method of snuffing out life.

As irony would have it Khalkhali was an ardent supporter of the so-called reforms in Iran, with which former President Mohammad Khatami is often associated. Khalkhali was a close confidante of Khatami, who, in turn, was the cynosure of the West. -- Jawed Naqvi

 Revolutionary Rhetoric or Radical Change?


Last year, Colonel Gaddafi announced his intention to modernise the Libyan "state of the masses". At the recent General People's Congress, however, some of his decisions were rescinded, leaving widespread confusion among Libyans and experts alike. Beat Stauffer has the details.

If the socio-economic background of Ajmal Qassab and other terrorists who brutalised Mumbai recently is anything to go by, the terror factories of Pakistan have an endless manpower resource available in the form of a vast army of rural and urban unemployed in Pakistan. A leadership committed to peace and prosperity of Pakistan would have utilised the recent opportunity provided by the freedom for judiciary movement to bring the permanent establishment of Pakistan to its knees. But alas, the middle class leadership that ran this movement merely brought people on the streets to effectively release the pressure from various social, political and economic pressure-cookers and thus only help the Permanent Establishment to maintain its hegemony.

Few people know that when the middle classes of Pakistan were organizing nationwide struggle in the name of restoration of the freedom of judiciary, Haaris (landless peasantry and women workers) were also on a long, barefoot march to Karachi. They walked on foot hundreds of miles from the interiors of Sindh to the state capital Karachi, demanding immediate disbursal of land and calling for change in tenancy laws. The middle class media ignored them completely and kept its focus on the extravagant show of shining cars in the cavalcade of top politicians and lawyers that was only meant to ultimately strengthen the permanent establishment of Pakistan.

Saddened by this missed opportunity which only rarely comes in the history of nations when they can bring their ruling classes to their knees and act as a catalyst for real change, Dubai-based Indian writer Shamshad Elahee Ansari quotes from Habeeb Jalib’s haunting poetry to express his own anguish.

The restoration of deposed Chief Justice (CJ) of the Supreme Court Iftikhar Chaudhry as the CJ may not settle the legal imbroglio in totality as many issues remain unresolved. His restoration, however, proves again the power of at least the two ‘As’: Army and America. The third ‘A’ is watching in total amazement. -- Anees Jillani  

... decades of misrule and exploitation of religion for political purposes. The Pakistani establishment, at Washington’s behest, strengthened armed militancy, exploiting religious sentiments to drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan during the 1980s. In the process they created ‘Jihad International’, as the late scholar Dr Eqbal Ahmad termed it.

This may now be the biggest threat facing Pakistan - and the world - since the attack on the World Trade Center on Sep. 11 2001. Since then Washington has pushed Islamabad to fight the very forces of militant Islam that both together had fostered and strengthened. ...

Lurking on the sidelines is an army unused to civilian command even as religious militants create havoc around the country. -- Beena Sarwar

The role of Mullahs in the coup against liberal democrat Mossadegh

Despite the propaganda by Islamic fundamentalists, the hostility of the conservative religious forces against Americans was not due to the 1953 coup. Actually, Islamic fundamentalist forces were among the groups that were either mobilized by the CIA and the Shah supporters for the coup, or publicly supported the Shah after the coup. The fundamentalists opposed Mossadegh and collaborated with the CIA in 1953 as well as with the subsequent regime until 1961. Among those who closely worked with the CIA and the Shah during and after the coup are: Ayatollah Abolqassem Kashani, Kashani’s son who was one of the very first persons who talked at Radio Tehran as soon as it was captured by the coup plotters, Ayatollah Mohammad Behbahani, Hojatolislam Mohammad Taqi Falsafi, and Grand Ayatollah Brujerdi.1… Khomeini was a top clerk for Grand Ayatollah Brujerdi. We also know that after the coup Khomeini took secret messages from Brujerdi to the Shah.28 According to Ervand Abrahamian, Khomeini "served as Borujerdi’s teaching assistant and personal secretary, at crucial times conveying confidential messages to the shah."29 According to Iranian historian, Nasser Pakdaman, in Persian calender Dey 1331 (January 1953), after Mossadegh cabinet submitted a bill to the parliament granting women the vote, Ayatollah Kashani opposed it. Ruhollah Khomeini gave a sermon in a Qom mosque and called upon the people to go out and protest against Mossadegh’s government and the bill. -- Masoud Kazemzadeh

Will Pakistan’s present, promising narrative of growing people’s power continue?

Pakistan is a vast and complicated country, and it is witnessing many confusing and contradictory developments. Among the most important of these appears to be a narrative of increasing representativeness: despite itself, the Pakistani state is being shaped by the will of its citizens as never before… Given Pakistan’s unpredictability, this promising narrative of representativeness could of course still be undermined. But for now, four related and powerful developments are propelling it along. -- Mohsin Hamid, the author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist

So much bloodshed for what?

Brig Gen (retd) Shahedul Anam Khan

Extent of barbarity shocks nation

Mass grave horror numbs nation

Brutally killed, 38 officers dumped in a small ditch

Army controls emotion, acts as disciplined force

20-25 soldiers behind carnage M Abul Kalam Azad


He may be a pliant partner for the west, but with his record of corruption, Zardari is the worst possible choice for Pakistan -- Tariq Ali

That any temple built at Ayodhya will have been built on the blood of so many innocent lives, and by imperilling so many moral and constitutional principles, ought to be a matter of shame for most Hindus who care about Ram. This is an issue on which there is unlikely to be any settlement that appears just, and there are no guarantees that even a settlement will lay many of the murderous edges of Indian politics to rest. But it will take a divisive issue off the agenda and potentially transform our politics. There is no option other than to try. As a society we long gave up on justice. At the present conjuncture, we can only hope that we will at least opt for prudence. -- Pratap Bhanu Mehta

Through the 20-minute documentary – Bone of Contention — by Saurabh Pandey, not just this but also Ayodhya’s inhabitants desire to come out of the viciousness of past stands out remarkably.... One message that comes out loud from the film is that an amicable solution to the mandir-masjid problem can be found by the people of Ayodhya, given the fact that there is no 'outside' interference. -- Abid Shah

Contrast the state of denial in Islamabad to fresh winds sweeping Dhaka, where Sheikh Hasina Wajed, who just led the Awami League to a landslide electoral win in Bangladesh, has said she will not allow Bangladeshi soil to be used as a breeding ground for anti-Indian terrorists, and proposed the idea of a joint South Asian task force to combat terrorism. Bangladesh itself has been a victim of religious extremism, but the overwhelming electoral verdict in favour of the Awami League, which has often been targeted by extremists, shows that most Bangladeshis don't share the extremists' goals. Cutting off one's own nose to spite a neighbour's face is no longer viable in South Asia. – The Times of India


Eastward Ho! by Lalita Panicker

The case for cautious optimism: While there is plenty of reason to celebrate the end of the tenure of an unelected regime, and the apparent electoral rejection of Islam-pasand politics, in purely qualitative terms the nature of our politics remains largely the same as pre-2007. -- Mahtab Haider

Second chance for Bangladesh: Rarely does history give a second chance to a country. It has given that to Bangladesh in the form of the results of the December 29 parliamentary election -- Hiranmay Karlekar

Bangladesh: Some good news at last -- Editorial in Asian Age

Joy Bangla: The December 29 general election in Bangladesh has resulted in the rediscovery of the soaring spirit of 1971, when a nation was born after a bloody liberation war-- Kanchan Gupta

How about an extradition treaty? A friendly regime in Bangladesh could help not only in tackling NE insurgency, but also to neutralise Islamic terror groups propped up by ISI in that country -- Kanchan Lakshman

Democracy returns with a bang: As Bangladeshis rang in a liberal government, the world acknowledged that democracy can work in even the poorest of Islamic societies -- Joyeeta Bhattacharjee

Is Hasina-II good news for India Hasina let us down before, but now we may have a new Hasina -- Udayan Namboodiri


When the Congress central leadership meets to decide its course of action, it must consider the single most important message from this watershed election: the people of J&K have largely rejected religious chauvinism… Hindutva chauvinism hasn’t paid off despite the seemingly dramatic improvement in the Bharatiya Janata Party’s fortunes, which have taken its tally from just one seat in 2002 to 11 now. Claims that the BJP has ridden a communal tide in Jammu are empirically unsustainable. … The 2008 results mark an improvement in the BJP’s fortunes but only a modest one. Even more significantly, most of the 2008 victories have come in areas where the Amarnath Shrine movement remained muted. The BJP’s efforts to capitalise on communal polarisation have, for the most part, ended in failure. – Editorial in The Hindu.

“Monopoly of the opposition space by either or both could trigger religious polarization within Jammu and across regions,” said a political scientist, requesting anonymity. Outside support is Cong’s best option, says Vinod Sharma in the Hindustan Times

Also: comments on the Jammu and Kashmir election results by Ghulam nabi Azad, Mehbooba Muti, Sitaram Yechury Siddharth Varadarajan, Sanjay Kumar, Yusuf Jameel, Ishfaq Naseem and others.

A majority of the voters have resoundingly spoken in favour of the spirit of the war of national independence: the quest for an egalitarian society built on the principles of secular democracy. – Editorial in New Age, Dhaka, Bangladesh

Breakaway from patriarchal view of female leadership: Whether women can make better leaders has not been carefully studied in Bangladesh, either. Although the country was under female leadership in the past three political governments, people still seem to have doubts about the effectiveness of female political leadership, write SSM Sadrul Huda, Ayesha Tabassum, Dr Jashim Uddin Ahmed and Dr Salim Rashid

After two years of army-backed emergency rule, democracy returned to Bangladesh on Monday as voters flocked to the polls to choose their next government in a largely peaceful and in many places festive atmosphere.– Report in New York Times by SOMINI SENGUPTA and JULFIKAR ALI MANIK

The secular vote bloc by Naeem Mohaiemen

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