//Is a Muslim party in the offing?

Is a Muslim party in the offing?

IANS Lucknow March 22: Are Muslims in India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh moving towards forming a political party of their own?

Some think so, in the wake of moves by two prominent clerics who announced over the weekend the formation of what they called the Joint Ulema Council.

Leading Shia scholar Maulana Kalbe Jawad and well-known Sunni cleric Maulana Fazlur Rehman, who heads Lucknow’s 400-year-old Sunni cleric, got together on Sunday evening to declare the formation of the Ulema Council.

Although the move was described as a step towards forging unity between the two Muslim sects, which for long have been daggers drawn here, many Muslims see it as a step towards polarization of the community into a political entity.

The announcement came a day after Syed Ahmed Bukhari, the Shahi Imam of Old Delhi’s 17th century Jama Masjid mosque, declared that Indian Muslims needed to forge nationwide unity to “fight” for their rights.

Uttar Pradesh was the cradle of the Muslim League whose campaign led to the break-up of India and the creation of Pakistan. The Muslim League disappeared as a political entity in the state following India’s partition in 1947, and the community placed its trust for years in the Congress party.

Muslim loyalty to the Congress began to wane in the 1980s and evaporated after the 1992 razing of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya. Presently, most Muslims in Uttar Pradesh vote for the Samajwadi Party or the Bahujan Samaj Party.

A section of the Muslim leadership is however peeved that the so-called national parties ignore them in decision-making and that Muslims as a community do not get the attention they deserve.

What has apparently prompted Maulana Jawad and Maulana Rehman to nurture political ambitions was the unprecedented mass mobilisation they witnessed when they called for protests against the Danish cartoons caricaturing Prophet Mohammed.

“With tens of thousands of Muslim men, women and children coming out on the streets against the cartoons, these Maulanas were so overawed that they decided to make a political kill,” remarked a retired Indian Muslim army officer who preferred to remain anonymous.

A prominent woman Muslim leader held the same view.

“It is clear that these Maulanas are only aspiring to take political mileage through this new Ulema council, which appears like another Muslim League in the making,” said a leader of the All India Muslim Women Personal Law Board.

Both Maulana Jawad and Maulana Rehman deny having any political ambition. But their proximity to Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav is an open secret.

“Our objective is to take up issues related to the welfare of the minority community; we have no political designs,” stressed Maulana Jawad.

Maulana Rehman added: “We will soon hold discussions with other leaders, intellectuals and prominent members of the community before we chart out our agenda.”

Asked why they don’t team up with the All India Muslim Personal Law Board if their aim was solely to improve the lot of Muslims, Jawad shot back: “We neither have any differences with the Board nor do we have any intention to work at cross-purposes.”

Nevertheless, with Uttar Pradesh’s Muslims divided into sects and castes – like elsewhere in India – unity will be no easy task.