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Islam and Politics ( 8 Jul 2008, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Myths About Muslims: No alternative to secular politics

By A G Noorani

9 July 2008


There can be two opinions on the merits of the Indo-US accord on nuclear cooperation. But there can be no two opinions on the cynicism of those who have sought to play the Muslim card in the politics surrounding the deal. The timing betrays desperation. Hence, the recourse to cheap tactics.


Since Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President George Bush agreed, three years ago, to work on civil nuclear energy cooperation between India and the US, there has been extensive debate on its implications. None of any significance mentioned any communal aspect, because it simply did not exist.


The credit for its discovery goes to a CPM MP, M K Pandhe, who confidently certified that "an overwhelming majority of the Muslim masses" opposed the deal. He urged the Samajwadi leader Mulayam Singh Yadav not to alienate them by supporting the deal. He was repudiated by CPM's leaders.


But Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati saw an opening and jumped into the fray. She said the UPA government's decision to proceed with the nuclear deal had angered Muslims and accused the Congress as well as the Samajwadi Party of attacking her because they saw Muslims shifting to the BSP.


That was enough for a group of clerics to call on her in a delegation the very next day to congratulate her for her stand. An official press release claimed that the religious leaders urged her to use her influence to prevent the "anti-national" deal.


It is a pity that they had suppressed their views on the subject for so long. The country would have benefited hugely from their exposition of the flaws of the draft, and its "anti-national" character, given their considerable expertise in the field. If the objection is to any accord whatever with the Great Satan, one would like to know how they explain the deeply religious Saudi Arabia's close alliance with the US.


Iran, another country which is as devoutly Islamic, offered the US a "grand bargain" on May 4, 2003 through the Swiss Embassy in Tehran. It went beyond the nuclear issue and covered a host of topics including the peace process in Palestine and terrorism.


It is another matter that the offer was brusquely rejected by the US and the Swiss envoy was scolded for his pains.


Pakistan has been trying desperately but unsuccessfully for precisely such an accord with the US.


The only redeeming feature in this episode is the swift and sharp censure from Muslim organisations of standing which followed Pandhe's remarks. The Jamiat-ul-Ulema-i-Hind's spokesman, Maulana Abdul Hameed Noomani, protested on June 24 against Pandhe's attempt to "club the nuclear deal with the Muslim community".


He asked, "Why have they singled out the Muslim community on this issue?" The Jamaat-e-Islami's spokesman, S Q R Ilyasi, spoke in the same vein saying "it only communalises the issue".


The episode merits discussion because it reveals the cynical manipulation of Muslims by some politicians, the readiness with which some Muslims lend themselves to such manipulation and, indeed, the pathetic state of Muslim politics in the country.


Evidently, it never occurred to those who waited on Mayawati on July 2 that neither she nor Mulayam Singh cared to issue a simple notification of the kind which Justice Jagdish Bhalla of the Allahabad high court on February 12, 2001 asked the UP government to issue in order to speed up the criminal cases relating to the demolition of the Babri masjid. Neither the SP nor the BSP wanted to burn its bridges with the BJP.


Muslims earned no little odium for India's reluctance for long to establish diplomatic relations with Israel. In a speech at the Israeli Council of Foreign Relations in 2000, then foreign minister Jaswant Singh attributed it to a "very strong urge among politicians" to continue in office.


The Muslim vote could not be ignored, he said. This was unjust as archival material establish. In a letter to a close friend Frances Gunther on June 26, 1948, Jawaharlal Nehru acknowledged pro-Arab feelings in India.


"This was not confined to the Muslims but extended to others also," he wrote. However, he added, "This feeling has undergone a considerable change recently... in favour of the general Jewish attitude in Palestine". He had other reasons for stalling the exchange of envoys based on realpolitik. Nehru's policy paid handsome dividends. From 1948 till the 1965 war, Kashmir was a live issue internationally.


But Pakistan could not even contemplate moving it from the UN Security Council to the General Assembly in order to escape from the Soviet veto, because Gamal Abdel Nasser's Egypt and a few Arab states would have given cold comfort to Pakistan.


However, the myth of the Muslim veto and "vote bank" persisted. Fortunately, there are signs that the depressing pattern of old, with its manipulative politics, is being broken. Muslims are beginning to accept realistically that in a plural

society no political party would do anything to promote any sectional interest - religious, linguistic, economic or other - at the risk of losing majority support.


But sectional interests are not helpless. They can articulate their demands within the national political process. Their effectiveness, however, will depend on their involvement in that process. In the final analysis there is no alternative to secular politics.


A G Noorani is a Mumbai-based lawyer.