By Seema Chishti
Aug 25 2011,
In the unseen and unheard margins of Team Anna’s Ramlila Surge, there’s a growing sense of disquiet —especially among minority and marginalised groups.
Despite carefully choreographed images of Muslim children publicly breaking their Ramzaan fast with Anna Hazare, prominent Dalit, Muslim and Christian leaders are deeply suspicious of the faces on display and the voices emanating from the crowds.
They argue that Anna’s ends — fighting corruption — is undoubtedly justified, they condemn his arrest and the decision to send him to Tihar Jail. But behind his cause, they see a clear disdain for the very institutions crucial in safeguarding democratic freedom and rights. In Team Anna’s contemptuous indictment of Parliament, they see a tarring of representative politics and, in effect, an indictment of the vital safeguards of minorities.
In fact, so strong is the suspicion that even Prashant Bhushan’s left-liberal credentials as one who played a proactive role in the Gujarat riots cases isn’t dispelling these fears. Varun Gandhi’s much-hyped appearance at Ramlila today only reinforced these — in his hate-Muslim election speech in 2009, he had threatened to “cut the hand” of anyone who “raises a finger at the Hindus.”
Says Akhtar-ul Wasey, Director, Institute of Islamic Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia: “The issue of corruption is such that there’s tremendous pressure to join the crowd. Because if we oppose this particular movement, they will say we are corrupt. Price rise, corruption and unemployment have given a fillip to such forces. Corruption ki aarh mein, (in the garb of corruption) they want to push all kinds of defeated and empty slogans and agendas. Now the government’s timidity in the face of a crowd is fanning this instability. Muslims, of course, want corruption to end but don’t want to make common cause with elements that want to rock the system, the only preserve of our rights and freedoms.”
No wonder that Deoband’s new Mohtamim, Maulana Abul Qasim Nomani, has said that they have not supported this movement: “The movement is basically suspect. The security and protection of Parliament and (to honour the) glory of democracy is the duty of every citizen.”
Mahmud Madani, MP and a leader of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, the only prominent Muslim face among the 20 founders of India Against Corruption — Team Anna’s virtual platform — is now in Saharanpur and practically in communicado. Zafaryab Jilani, member of All India Muslim Personal Law Board, has made it clear that the Board has nothing to do with this agitation. Says Maulana Ahmed Khizar Shah Kashmiri of the Tanzeem Ulema-e-Hind: “The idea behind this campaign is to weaken Parliamentary system and democracy and this is a blow to secular India.”
Maulana Umer Ilyasi of the India Imam Organisation has called the campaign a “political conspiracy” saying: “There is no question of any one person being above the country’s Constitution and Parliament. There is no question of Muslims being part and parcel of this.”
This chorus is heard the Urdu press as well. The Mumbai, Kanpur, Bareilly, Lucknow and Delhi-based Inquilab on August 17 interviewed several prominent community leaders, including chief of the Jamat-e-Islami, Maulana Jalaluddin Umri. Their refrain: We agree with the need for a strong Lokpal but not with the method of pushing it through.
Critics are also wary of those who have clambered aboard the Anna bandwagon. Ramdev may have stepped back but there are questions about the more urbane Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and his Art of Living and youth factions who shared the stage with the anti-reservation Youth for Equality. Less than 10 days ago, they took part in the Hindu Unity Day, in Texas. Also present was Subramaniam Swamy, most recently in the news for writing that Muslims should be denied voting rights if they do not accept their “Hindu legacy.”
Indeed, reflecting this unease, Dalit activists and writers including Udit Raj, Kancha Ilaiah, John Dayal and Joseph D’Souza, have argued for reservation in the Lokpal set-up for SC/STs, OBCs and minorities “to ensure that there is no injustice done to the backward and marginalised.”
The politics of Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi may be fuzzy but their association with certain “causes” has raised questions, too. Last year, Kejriwal and Bedi herself led the drive to target the Chief Information Commissioner and insist that Bedi be made the CIC. In fact, when then CIC Wajahat Habibullah resigned last year and there was a chance that M M Ansari (now Kashmir interlocutor) would take over, Kejriwal lobbied with Leader of Opposition L K Advani keen to ensure that his name not be accepted.
Kejriwal and Bedi have also shared platforms put up by Youth for Equality and Art of Living. On March 1 in 2009, for example, Kejriwal and Bedi addressed the Youth for Equality and talked of both terrorism and corruption. Youth for Equality has blamed reservation for shrinking opportunities.
Archbishop of Delhi Father Vincent Concessao, a founder-member of the IAC, is nowhere to be seen. Contacted, he told The Indian Express: “This is pressure and a fast unto death is suicidal...there is no way we will allow for our established Parliamentary practices to be bypassed. We are with the issue but not with the means. How can they say only one particular version of the Bill is to be followed?”