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The Politics Of Victimhood

So we have yet another attempt to form a Muslim political front just before the Lok Sabha elections -- this time led by Ulama located in various madrasas in Eastern Uttar Pradesh, particularly Azamgarh...

The Politics Of Victimhood
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Riding on a wave of Muslim disenchantment, the train carrying hundreds of madrasa teachers and students-- 4,000, according to some estimates -- from Azamgarh arrived in Delhi amidst much hype and hoopla. Dubbed as the "Ulama Express-- Azamgarh to L/18 Batla House", the train was chartered by Ulama Council and the object of the subsequent rally at Jantar Mantarin New Delhi on January 29 was to 'warn' almost all political parties not to take the Muslims for a ride. 

The SP, BSP and the Congress came in from sharp attacks by various speakers, some of them completely unheard of. The latent function of this manifest warning was to float a political party just before the Lok Sabha elections. Called the Ulama Council of India,also the organizers of the rally, this party proclaimed itself to work solely for the cause of Muslims. Led by Ulama located in various madrasas in Eastern Uttar Pradesh, particularly Azamgarh, this initiative is another attempt to form a Muslim political front much like the Muslim League inKerala.

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While the idea of a Muslim political party is not an anathema, any political party needs to be based on some positive and constructive agenda. It is unfortunate that the Ulama Council is trying to rally the Muslims only on issues like Batla House encounter and illegal picking up of Muslim youth from Azamgarh and other places in UttarPradesh. Saying this is not to underplay what admittedly needs to bestressed:  That there is a lot that needs to be criticized in the ways in which the police deal with Muslims suspected of terrorism. The recent acquittal of the suspects of Mecca Masjid blast and the recent indictment of the Delhi Special Cell by the CBI go a long way tosuggest that Muslims have become a soft target for the police. Just being Muslim makes one a potentialterrorist, it would seem. 

But, can a political party be based on just this one issue?

Most of these Ulama from Eastern UP are low caste Muslims, Ansaris particularly. Their own social location puts them in much more advantageous position when compared to elitist leaders like Salman Khurshid whose ownhabitus prevent them from even beginning to understand the problems ordinary Muslims face today. And yet, one did not hear from the Ulama Council of India any concrete agenda for the betterment of Muslimswho are just like them. 

To start with there was no pamphlet circulated during the rally. In speech afterspeech, one heard familiar diatribes against the police and the politicians: that the police are communal,that the political parties have played with Muslim sentiment, that they haven't done anything for thecommunity and such like. In a nutshell, the Muslim has been at the receiving end since Independence. 

The Muslim is thus projected as a wretched victim, one that has been tossed from one end to another. Marooned in an island surrounded by 'adversaries', crying out for helpbut finding no one listening. This discourse of victimology assumes the victim-hood of Muslims.It is essentially a negative discourse. One must also add that this discourse is not a newone -- the Muslim politics in India has veered around this discourse for decades now. But that's another story.

Eastern UP is known for its weaving industry. The looms of Azamgarh, Varanasi and Mau employ thousands of weavers, most of whom are Muslims andtheir condition is pitiable. The whole textile economy is under considerable stress: weavers' suicides have been reported from Varanasi. Theeconomic stress translates into increased migration from this area to places like Delhi and Mumbai. Families are being torn apart; young adultsseem more than eager to join surreptitious activities for want of gainful employment. Education, particularly of boys, is not considered worth investing in. The level of social and physical infrastructure is appalling, to say the least. Muslimsin these areas are poor and illiterate, subsisting from hand to mouth. 

And yet, for the Ulama Council, these problems do not exist. For if theydid, wouldn't they have found mention in at least one of the many speeches given during therally? While some speakers went on ranting about police excesses, others thought it was a good opportunity to let the Muslims know how important they are. Shamelessly, one speaker, incidentally a lawyer in Delhi, 'reminded' the participants that Muslims had brought civilization and culture to this country! Not even a single speaker thought itfit to raise issues which concern the existential needs of Muslims.

What was perhaps more troubling was the near unanimity amongst the speakers that its time that the Ulama took the leadership of the community into theirown hands. Speakers from various political parties articulated this agenda whichwas greeted with wide applause from the audience, consisting mostly of madrasa students and teachers. It is troubling because with their outmoded attitude over a lot of social issues, Ulama-led Muslims will regress further. 

One cannot even begin to think of ramifications of the Ulama leading the Muslims of this country. Muslims must reject any such idea in their own interest. The Ulama are religious specialists and they see everything from the prism of religion. Contemporary problems need contemporary solutions and leaders whose worldview is shaped by events that happened centuries ago would not be able to deliver. The religion-centric worldview of the Ulama forgets that Muslims do not live by praying alone; they also need to earn their two meals a day and for that they have to grapple with the present world. Muslims must realize that the politics of victim-hood would not lead them anywhere.

Dr Arshad Alam teaches at the Centre for Jawaharlal Nehru Studies, Jamia Milia Islamia,New Delhi

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