Arif Mohammad Khan, a minister then, quit the Congress in 1986 in protest against the government’s handling of the Shah Bano case. After Khan was asked to defend the Supreme Court judgement in favour of relief to divorced Muslim women, the Congress government had backed out under pressure from the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board. Khan later joined the BJP for a short while, but for the last 11 years, he has not been attached to any political party. He supports the suspension of AIMIM MLA Waris Pathan in the Maharashtra Assembly, in an interview with Bula Devi:
Do you think the Congress is increasingly playing the soft Hindutva card for votebank politics?
I do not see the Congress playing any Hindutva card. The Congress is the party of the national movement and it is natural that people expect them to pursue nationalism and secularism which inspired our freedom movement.
Do you remember any instance from the past in which the Congress played soft Hindutva card and it boomeranged?
The only such instance you may refer to was the opening of the locks of the disputed structure in Ayodhya. President Pranab Mukherji, in his book, has described it as an error of judgement. But having some personal knowledge of the events, I can say that opening of the lock did not happen in isolation. It followed the decision to override the judgement of the Supreme Court in the Shah Bano case, which created tremendous backlash.
Now, who raised the slogan of religion in danger and brought pressure on the prime minister! I remember that no one on behalf of the government defended the Shah Bano legislation on merit. Every minister who rose to speak in Parliament referred to large scale protests and demonstrations and expressed apprehensions about law and order. In such circumstances, one can understand the compulsions of the government. But for this error of judgment, the blame lies more with the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board and their political supporters.
The A.K. Antony report said the party suffered due to its appeasement of the minority community, and on the other hand, it plays the soft Hindutva card. How do you react?
We cannot deny that the parliamentary act in the Shah Bano case deeply impacted public mind and gave credibility to the minority appeasement charge. The legislation did not help the community, it only helped the clergy to claim the status of “sole spokesman”. In fact, the Act had no provision to prevent the destitute divorced Muslim women from seeking relief under Sec 125 of CrPC. Only recently, the personal law board’s spokesperson has admitted in an article that the legislation failed their expectations. I feel that it was not the law but the violent language and communally aggressive postures of the board that offended public sensitivities. The country and the Congress both paid heavy price. It is only sensible that one should learn from past experience and pursue a course which is in conformity with the national ideals and constitutional directives.
Your reaction to the Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh assembly episodes?
I fully support these decisions. It is not the question of the slogan, but those who are familiar with history know that it was due to Mr Owaisi’s party that Hyderabad independence was delayed by a full 13 months and during that fateful period, their volunteers indulged in brutal violence that ultimately paved the way for police action in October 1948 and the liberation of Hyderabad.
The then leader of the Majlis, Qasim Rizvi, had organised violent demonstrations and forced the Nizam not to sign even a standstill agreement with India. Qasim Rizvi refused to recognise India as a nation and declared: “India is a geographic notion, Hyderabad is a political reality. Are we prepared to sacrifice the reality of Hyderabad for the idea of India?” By throwing challenges, Mr Owaisi is trying to revive the same old separatist politics. Patriotism and its expression cannot happen through compulsion or legal action. But we must understand the designs of separatist elements and should not feel hesitation to name them. Even if they feel no shame, at least the people of India would know the real motives of people like Mr Owaisi.