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India: Beware of the Sarkari Musalmaan

By Mahtab Alam 

In the current issue of the English fortnightly, Milli Gazette (1-15 December), it is reported that on 10 December 2011, former union minister Jagdish Tytler will be awarded with seven others in a function at India Islamic Culture Centre, Delhi, by Maulana Mohammad Jauhar Ali Academy. The other names were those of Dr. S Y Quraishi, Chief Election Commissioner of India; Sanjeev Bhat, Indian Police Service officer (Gujarat); senior journalist Zafar Agha; Mohd. Najeeb Ashraf Chaudhri, chief income tax commissioner; Maulana Mohd. Haseeb Siddiqui, chairman of the Deoband Nagar Palika Parishad; Nusrat Gwalliori, a Delhi-based Urdu poet, and Begum Rehana AR Andre, a social activist and educationist based in Mumbai.

The award has been named after Maulana Mohammad Ali Jauhar, a key figure of the Indian freedom movement, a leader of the Khilafat movement and one of the founders of Jamia Millia Islamia, a prestigious central university in Delhi. The award is given on his birth anniversary every year. Though the reasons for honouring these people were not mentioned in the Milli Gazette report, the Academy’s general secretary explained that every year, the academy honours individuals in recognition of their extra-ordinary contribution in the field of journalism, politics, and social service and so on. This year they chose Jagdish Tytler for his contribution to politics!

The name of Jagdish Tytler, one of the prime accused in the anti-Sikh pogrom of 1984, on the list of awardees, created a furore among many activists, journalists and academicians. In response, they appealed to the seven others to decline the award, which was subsequently endorsed by more than a hundred people from across the world. The open letter said, “The undersigned appeal to the other seven awardees not to accept the award as a mark of protest against honouring Mr Tytler, whose contribution in the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom has been recorded by several fact-finding reports, including those by PUCL and PUDR… It is regrettable that an award being given by members of a minority community is honouring someone who has played a key role in the victimisation of another religious minority.”

I called up the general secretary of the Academy, M Saleem, asking if he would drop the name of Tytler from the list of awardees since there were quite a few people opposing this decision of his. Mr Saleem arrogantly replied, “There is no question of reconsideration on his name, leave apart the idea of dropping.” He went on: “There is nothing wrong with awarding Mr Tytler as no court of law has found him guilty.” When I told him that at least two of the awardees, Zafar Agha and Sanjeev Bhat, had informed some of the signatories of the appeal that they had declined the award, M Saleem said, “This is your illusion. You will see with your own eyes that they will come running to take the award!” There remains no doubt that he wanted to give an impression that people were dying to receive the award instituted by his Academy.

After this, at a press conference in Delhi, Zafar Agha said, “As a young journalist, I saw the anti-Sikh massacre of 1984 of Delhi and behind it was the hand of Mr Tytler amongst others. My conscience doesn’t allow for this and I have informed the organisers that I can’t receive this award.” He also appealed to his co-awardees to reconsider their decision to accept this award.  Sanjiv Bhatt, in a message said, “Told them that I cannot accept an award or share a platform with Mr. Tytler.”

Some of us also contacted other awardees, requesting them to decline the award. While some of them were in a dilemma, others, like the poet Nusrat Gwalliori, seemed only too happy to get an award in the name of Maulana Mohd Ali Jauhar, and lamely clarified their getting the award had nothing to do with Jagdish Tytler. They didn’t seem to agree with the appeal, which noted: “It is sad that the name of Maulana Mohd. Ali Jauhar is being misused. We are sure this is not how he would have liked his name to be remembered, and that he would not have approved of being used to white-wash the sins of a politician who was part of communal violence and mayhem in the capital of India.”

The next morning, an Urdu daily, Inquilab, said that the award refused by Zafar Agha was now to be given to Mr. Santosh Bharatiya, ex-MP and chief editor of a Hindi language weekly called Chauthi Duniya! The news was surprising as Mr Bharatiya always claimed to be a defender of the minorities and the marginalised. However, when contacted by few journalists, asking whether he was accepting the award or not, his answer was both a yes and a no. To some, it was a yes and to some, a no.

Inquilab also quoted that the general secretary of the Jauhar Academy, M Saleem, had accused that those who were opposing the award were doing so to gain political benefits! Only he knows what benefits we are going to get from this, and from whom. In fact, it would not be wrong to say that it is the other way round. This reminds me of a song from an old Hindi film, Choron ko saare nazar aate hain chor… A thief sees everyone else as a thief too. Mr M Saleem would like us to believe there is no politics in his award whose distribution ceremony would see a Congressman, Balram Jhakhar as the chief guest, and whose guests of honour would include the president of the India Islamic Cultural Centre.

Not having found any valid argument against us, M Saleem issued a press release, accusing those opposing the award for Jagdish Tytler of being backed by the Bhartiya Janata Party and claiming that a meeting was held in this regard at a BJP MP’s residence at 3 Canning Lane! This was a blatant lie, as our press conference was held at the office of the Shabnam Hashmi-led ANHAD, at 21 Canning Lane, and not at 3 Canning Lane. But what are a few lies to help rehabilitate Shri Jagdish Tytler in politics? For this purpose Mr. M Saleem does not mind labelling one of India’s leading anti-communalism activists, Shabnam Hashmi, as a BJP stooge!

On the other hand, if one looks deeper into the Jauhar Academy, one finds that one of its patrons, also a ‘guest of honour’ at the award ceremony, Mr. Sirajuddin Qureshi is well known for his BJP links. He was one of the key members of the Vajpayee Himayat Committee, formed by a few opportunist Muslims to support the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government in 2004, and to help it return to power. It was reported that Mr. Qureshi’s name was being considered for the Chandni Chowk seat by the BJP in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections. Two years ago there were reports at the time of the elections of India Islamic Cultural Centre that he used his BJP links to get re-elected as the president of the centre.

Mr. Saleem and his ilk are part of a clan called the Sarkari Musalmaan. They would support whosoever is in power, no matter what their policies and actions are. They are just concerned about their own benefits. Unfortunately, there is no dearth of such people amongst the Muslim community. Hence, we should not be surprised if tomorrow, the BJP comes in to power and Naredra Modi becomes the home or prime minister, and they give him an award, with a grand reception, and brush away people’s objections by saying he has not been held guilty by any court of law. As far as the India Islamic Cultural Centre is concerned, over a period of time it has become an adda of the Sarkari Musalmaan. Just go to its coffee house in the evening and see the people who populate it. At an institutional level too, it leaves no stone unturned to please the powers that be.

This year for instance, on 20 February 2011, it invited Delhi’s Lt. Governor Tejendra Khanna as chief guest at a Sufi Darbar. It should be noted that it was in the wake of the Governor’s Religious Committee that the Noor Masjid at Jangpura was demolished. It was the Lt Governor, Mr. Khanna, who stalled a magisterial probe (despite it being compulsory under NHRC guidelines) into the Batla House ‘encounter’. At that time also, several people made an appeal to the centre’s (IICC) president to cancel the programme of Lt. Governor but it fell to deaf ears.

Coming back to Jagdish Tytler and M Saleem, even as I was writing this I got an email from M Saleem himself, with a scanned copy of a letter by Jagdish Tytler addressed to M Saleem. The letter says that Tytler would not come to the award ceremony, as the pressure put by the signatories of our appeal would result in embarrassment for the organisers and other awardees. To translate this, Mr Tytler means to say that now that an attempt to rehabilitate him has backfired, he might as well avoid the bad publicity. However, that does not imply that M Saleem has withdrawn his decision to give the award to Tytler, just as he is willing to find replacements for Zafar Agha. M Saleem is not saying he withdraws the award to Tytler. This is a good example of what is the key characteristic one needs to be a Sarkari Musalmaan: shamelessness.

Which is why it is our duty to give them the shame that is due, to show them the mirror every now and then.

 Mahtab Alam is a civil rights activist and independent journalist.