By Zafar Agha
October 24, 2016
Muslim Personal Law is hot news these days. Statements after statements are being issued from the Muslim Personal Law Board on one hand and the BJP leaders on the other concerning the issue of the triple Talaq practice prevalent in India. Members of the Board are proclaiming that Islam is in danger, enjoining upon Muslims to be ready to sacrifice their lives if need be to ensure that the right of Muslim men to the triple Talaq practice is not interfered with. In other words, Muslims are being told that if men were prohibited from instantly divorcing their wives by simply uttering ‘Talaq, Talaq, Talaq’, it would (Allah forbid!) spell the end of Islam in the world.
Is Islam only about the right to instant divorce? Does Islam deny to Muslim women the right to ask her husband at the time of divorce: “Sir, what wrong have I committed that you are unilaterally damning me to hell in the here and now? And what about the all important question: Do countries like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan which claim to be governed according to the Quran and the Shariah also give Muslim men the right to unilateral, instant talaq?
The fact is that neither is Islam limited to the practice of triple talaq, nor has Islam given men the right to divorce their wives without rhyme or reason, nor do Islamic countries such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan consider the triple Talaq practice to be in accordance with the Shariah. Why then is the Muslim Personal Law Board crying itself hoarse over this issue? We will revert to this question a little later.
The other equally important question is this. Why is the BJP so seemingly concerned to ensure to Muslim women their rights? Having demolished the Babri Masjid, having sponsored the genocidal targeting of Gujarat’s Muslims, why is the BJP now losing sleep over the need to reform Muslim society? It is but obvious that reform of Muslim society, gender justice for Muslim women is a mere facade.
The real objective is altogether different. Everyone knows that stopping the practice of triple Talaq among Muslims has for long been part of the BJP and the Sangh Parivar’s communal agenda. It is the contention of the BJP and the Sangh Parivar that because of this practice Muslim men marry four wives and produce numerous offspring. This is how, according to them, the Muslim population keeps multiplying and the day would soon dawn when Muslims will become the majority and Hindus reduced to a minority in India. Once again the BJP and the Sangh Parivar have raised the Muslim bogey with the sole intent of prejudicing Hindus and deepen communal polarisation.
The question is: where is the urgency, what has prompted the BJP and the Sangh Parivar to stir fear of Muslims among Hindus at this juncture? After all, the party is ruling the roost at the Centre. The Modi government faces no imminent threat; there is no real challenge as of today. Along with the Congress all opposition parties are in a state of disarray.
Where is the looming crisis propelling the BJP into rallying all Hindus behind it? Please remember that in the coming months Assembly elections are due in five states, including Uttar Pradesh. UP is not only the most populous state in India with the largest number of voters. It is also the state where in the 2014 general elections, the BJP had bagged 72 of the total 80 Lok Sabha seats in UP. It is also the state where Muslims constitute around 25per cent of the total population.
Further, as in case of Bihar, because of Mandal politics, in UP too Hindu voters tend to vote along caste lines. It’s because of this factor that BJP lost heavily in the last Assembly polls in Bihar. If the same pattern were to repeat itself in UP and Hindu votes are fragmented along caste lines while Muslims votes are consolidated, BJP could face a similar debacle here too.
Therefore in the coming polls in UP a few months from now, it is critical from the Sangh Parivar’s point of view that instead of fragmentation along caste lines a Hindu vote bank is consolidated in the BJP’s favour. In the absence of this, the BJP’s prospects in UP will remain uncertain.
The issue therefore is this. How to get Hindus to think of religion instead of caste in the run-up to the elections? Ever since the implementation of Mandal Commission’s recommendations for OBC reservations, the BJP and the Sangh Parivar have hit upon a simple formula. Prompt Muslims to unite. Let them organise rallies after rallies, scream ‘Islam in danger’, chant ‘Allah-o-Akbar’! When that happens Hindus will begin to feel this country too is beginning to look like Pakistan.
As is only to be expected the media will gleefully publicise these rallies, live telecast images of massive Muslim gatherings, project the atmosphere surcharged with cries of Allah-o-Akbar to imprint on Hindu minds the spectre of Muslims uniting on a single platform. Once the anxieties over aggressive Muslim unity is firmly planted in Hindu minds, what is sure to follow are even larger rallies mobilised by the VHP and other Sangh Parivar outfits with the counter ‘Jai Shri Ram!’ cry filling the streets.
Thus by the time the polls draw close, putting aside caste considerations they will rally behind those projecting themselves as “protectors of Hindus”. Hindus will then turn out in large numbers to vote for the BJP while the by now fear-gripped ordinary Muslims will stay behind closed doors praying to Allah to save their lives. And in that moment there will be no sign either of the Muslim Personal Board or of the self-appointed leaders who had earlier sworn to lay down their lives for the sake of Islam and the Muslim community.
This is by no means an imaginary scenario. The Muslim community has been through this very experience again and again. This is exactly what happened at the time of the Babri Masjid-Ramjanambhoomi face-off. Leaders of the Muslim community had then organised thousands of rallies across the country under the banner of the Babri Masjid Action Committee. Delhi’s Boat Club then had resounded with cries of the ‘Allah-o-Akbar’. What followed were mammoth rallies mobilised by the likes of Uma Bharti which shook the nation with cries of ‘Jai Shri Ram!’
In the end the Babri Masjid was demolished. While thousands of ordinary Muslims were killed in the communal violence that followed, nothing untoward happened to the leading lights from the Babri Masjid Action Committee.
The same scenario is being re-enacted In the name of triple Talaq. Please note that what is happening today is the product of a cleverly conceived political ploy of the BJP. As the drama unfolds, Muslims will once again be in the forefront and there will be publicity aplenty by the electronic media. Next, an Uma Bharti type demagogue will emerge on the scene and cries of ‘Jai Shri Ram’ will once again rent the air.
This will unite Hindus by election time and voting will assume the form of a Hindu vs. Muslim jihad. Hindus will leave caste considerations aside and vote as Hindus. It’s not difficult to guess who will then emerge victorious from the polls.
The Muslim Personal Law Board needs to look before it leaps. Emotive sloganeering and taking to the streets should be the last thing on their mind. The issue of Muslim Personal Law is currently pending before the Supreme Court. Wisdom lies in focusing all one’s energy on the legal issues involved and not in organising rallies and raising religiously-charged slogans. If the Board fails to put reason above emotion, the only possible conclusion will be that wittingly unwittingly it is playing the BJP’s game.
(This is an English translation of Zafar Agha's original column in Urdu published by the daily Raabta Times).