Malegaon Civic Elections: Surprise Or No Surprise?

Malegaon BlastMalegaon, also known as the Manchester of Maharastra because of its powerlooms and textile based economy, was rocked by bomb blasts last September in which more than 30 innocent lives were lost. More than 300 people were injured and as is generally the case in India, the victims still await for justice.

Civic elections were held recently for the 71 out of 72 seats in Malegaon recently. Newly formed Indian Muslim Congress Party (IMCP) pulled off a surprise by bagging 27 seats relegating Congress to the second position with 15 seats. IMCP was formed days before the elections by Mufti Mohammed Ismail, an influential cleric from the city and fought elections on the development plank. Mufti Ismail was also credited helping keeping peace in the volatile city after the bomb blasts last year.

The leaders of the IMCP or the Teesra Mahaz (Third Front), stitched together by Mufti Muhammed Ismael, had fought with development as their agenda. Ismael was among the local community leaders who have been credited with helping the police keep peace in the town after serial bomb blasts hit the town on September 9, 2006. []

Unfazed by the fatwa issued against him by another local priest, Moulana Azhari, and the scorn heaped by stalwarts of the Congress and Janata Dal, Ismail pulled big crowds at his meetings in which he sought votes for his “third front” in the name of development. []

But is the IMCP victory all that surprising? A lot of Muslims in Malegaon were frustated by the lack of proper investigation in last year’s blast and that certainly went against the Congress which is in power at both the state and the centre. It also suffered in the civic elections in the town of Bhiwandi where Samajwadi Party pipped it to the second place with 17 seats.

Maulana Badruddin AjmalThe elections in Malegaon, however, raise some important questions. Is this a move towards formulation of a Muslim party in places where Muslims have a definite say in elections? Indian Muslims till now have had faith in the democratic and electoral process in India. By choice, they didn’t form a party of their own and more importantly, the influential clerics never involved themselves in politics. There have been exceptions in this regard and a relevant example would be the performance of Badruddin Ajmal and his party Assam United Democratic Front (AUDF) in last year’s Assam elections. But such dalliance have been few and far on the Indian political landscape. The very fact that Mufti Ismail projected his party as a third alternative (teesra mahaz), fought on the issue of development and was able to capture the imagination of the electorate shows that something is amiss with our bigger political parties. Also, have the clerics decided that they have had enough with the corrupt politicians and are now joining the electoral fray? More importantly, is this good for India?

Personally, I am against religion based parties in India but then as the BJP has shown, you can ignore two of the biggest minority groups in India and still rule over the destiny of 1 billion Indians for five years. Shiromani Akali Dal is a Sikh party and religion and politics are entwined in Punjab. So, does it helps if you are concentrated in a region, play communal politics and still be acceptable to the mainstream? Or can you be a party of only the majority group and still be fine? And when no political party in India is tackling the real issues of Indian Muslims namely poverty and education, is it really a bad idea to have someone who can fight for their rights and help address their genuine grievances?

Have You Ever Wondered Why Drinking Is Haram In Islam?

Shafaque SiddiquiWell, now you know why.

The Madhya Pradesh Human Rights Commission has asked the state police to explain why they have kept in custody a man who claimed while drunk that he’s a Pakistani.

Shafaque Ahmed Siddiqui, a tailor, has been in police custody since 2005. Siddiqui, who claims to have stitched clothes for actors Rajesh Khanna and Shabana Azmi in the film Avtar, fears the police plan to send him to Pakistan.

Siddiqui was detained at Bhopal’s Bajaria police station when in 2005 he approached police while drunk and claimed that he is a Pakistani. He’s been in jail ever since, despite protesting his innocence. [IBN Live]

Also, how can a drunkard be deported to Pakistan? Isn’t drinking forbidden by law in the land of pure? What will the poor guy do over there? No wonder Ghalib and others died on this side of the border. Plus Lollywood is in such dire straits that he will find no work either.

Here is the other side of the story:

Mansoor’s wife Jamila, who teaches in an Indore school, claimed before the Human Rights Commission here on Monday that her husband was an Indian and had wrongly said that he was a Pakistani as he was in an inebriate state. She said he was born in Meerut district of Uttar Pradesh.

“My husband should thus be released and allowed to live with me and his children�, she stated in her appeal to the Commission.

However, police said, “Mansoor though born in Meerut, settled in Karachi at the time of the country’s partition in 1947. Jamila is Mansoor’s second wife and they have two children. His first wife, from whom he has six children, still lives in Karachiâ€?.

“Mansoor has told the police that he divorced his first wife in Karachi in 1989 and came to Bhopal on a tourist visa but never went back. He opened a tailoring shop in the Madhya Pradesh capital but later shifted to Indore, where he married Jamila. However, after a scuffle with her, he again came to Bhopal and started living in Bajaria area�, said Malviya. [Khaleej Times Online]

Why the mistrust?

img261/8742/jamaateulemaprotestcalcxp1.jpgThe trust of people on the protectors of law and order in a country is imperative for peace to exist. Any mistrust could escalate violence by acting as an incipient point for crime. Cooperation between the police and the public ensures that people are comfortable divulging secret information and helping the police in every way possible to nab the criminal. The protectors of law are a support to the people, someone who could be dependent on in times of distress. Efficient judiciary coupled with agile police force is something which every country aims at.

Unfortunately Muslims in India have been a victim of police biasness. This prejudice has been fueled by the bloody partition. Allegations of being a Pakistani are levied on Indian Muslims on account of common religion and thus the word ‘traitor’ finds a synonym with Muslims. The law & order and judicial system of this country is heavily biased against the poorer section of the society, this biasness multiplies in case of poor Muslims. There have been incidents of indiscriminate firing on Muslims which have completely evaporated the trust of Indian Muslim on the police.

During the Gujarat riots of 2002 many newspapers published special stories regarding the divide existing in the metros in India. In a story regarding Delhi someone from a Muslim majority area was quoted as, “We are safe here. The only thing that can destroy us here is air bombing”. Now this is being extremely cynical but this definitely offers some insight on the kind of mistrust that exists among ordinary Muslims. Recent terrorism has further contributed to this prejudice existing among non-Muslims.

Hashimpura is another sordid incident in this regard. Police firing during the riots are also known for killing more Muslims even though there are more Hindu rioters. Police is so biased against Muslims that incidents against them are assumed as a matter of internal feud or link to the international terrorism. Security is denied on these grounds.

We have to look into solutions for the above problem. The thing to be noted here is that the prejudice is more prominent among the under-privileged (economically) section of the society. Our police force is mainly composed of men from this section. Increasing the number of Muslims in police force is our best bet. An increased proportion could imply a less biased approach. Plus increased interaction could possibly reduce the hatred that fuels such incidents. we compare the unbiased army with the police force then it can be easily concluded that the affect of politicians on the functioning of police is apparent. The police force takes orders from heads, who is turn are under the influence of politicians. If you see the early history of Roman Empire, when it was a republic under the Senate, then you will realise that the army was strictly kept away from the city limits. Warmonger generals were asked to keep their armies near the borders to guard. This helped in giving the Senate more power, without fear of being questioned by a armed force, to govern; corruption is another thing. The great empire finally declied because this law was broken by Julies Caesar. India’s biggest achievement and Pakistan’s biggest failure has been in this regard; the former kept it armies and generals away from politics but the later failed in this regard and hence proved a failed state in which any mushy-bushy general can capture power. Army represents strength, with this strength comes ego and this ego through the path of self-conceit insinuates the lust for power within generals. This was a digression. My point is to keep the police force away from the influence of politicians. Modi’s orders, to the police, to help the social workers carry out their work during the riots of 2002 is not hidden anymore. Similar was the case with anti-Sikh riots after the assassination of Indra Gandhi and perhaps this tale repeats itself in every riot. So again our best bet lies in keeping the police force away from this influence. This clubbed with increased proportion of Muslims in the army could work wonders.

Saying all these, the impetus is on Indian Muslims to come forward and join the police force in greater numbers. Blaming the government for each and every woe doesn’t solve the purpose. I just don’t buy the argument that the biasness if the sole reason responsible for lesser number of Muslims in the police force.

The Politics of Intolerance

Guest Post by Raza Rumi

Sadia Dehlivi sent me her recently published article that raises some pointed questions. Her approach is direct and expresses unflinching support for tolerance. I thought this would be of interest to the several readers on this blog.

“The painful truth is that the story of Indian Muslims has been scripted by the broader Hindutva agenda. With minority rights remaining on the outside of integrated development policies, Muslims today are sitting on the edge of the Indian frame.”

Politics of Intolerance – Sadia Dehlvi

Each time the Hindutva genie threatens to emerge from the bottle, tormenting images of hatred, persecution and violence come to the fore. The controversial BJP election CD contains narrative and visuals of terrorism, cow slaughter, of Muslim men delighting over deceiving innocent Hindu girls into marriage and producing a litter (pillas) of thirty five from five marriages. Along with chants of Jai Sri Ram, the mission statement is to save the Hindu Dharma from the Islamisation of India with a resolve to rid the country of traitors. The kind of nationalism it perpetuates is rooted in resentment against Muslim rule and Muslims whom they view as settler colonisers. The evident goal of Hindutva is to institutionalize the notion of the Hindu Rashtra. The toxic content of the CD simultaneously seeks to induce paranoia of insecurity amongst the majority and appeals to the most banal emotive instincts of an illiterate electorate.

In a 1961 address to the AICC, Nehru held that communalism of the majority is far more dangerous than the communalism of the minority. Not condoning the latter he stated, “ When minority communities are communal you can see that and understand it. But the communalism of a majority is apt to be taken for nationalism�. In portraying themselves as the sole nationalists, the strength of Hindutva has been effectual in sidelining the nationalism of Nehru, Gandhi and Ambedkar.

If Muslim appeasement myths were true, the social and political realities of the minority would speak differently. The painful truth is that the story of Indian Muslims has been scripted by the broader Hindutva agenda. With minority rights remaining on the outside of integrated development policies, Muslims today are sitting on the edge of the Indian frame. If communal agendas continue unchecked and secular tempers not developed, India’s largest single minority will fall out of the picture completely.

The spiritual tenets of Hinduism are peaceful and celebrate diversity and inclusion whereas Hindutva is a warped nationalist ideology rooted in the politics of intolerance. One would like to believe that brand Hindutva of the BJP has exhausted itself and the electorate has learned to choose development over the politics of intolerance. The sheer knowledge that parties flaunting divisive agendas remain a vital force striving for Central authority is terrifying.

It is equally disheartening and worrisome that instead of a renewed pledge to secularism, Rahul Gandhi testifies that his family was responsible for the break up of Pakistan. When young leaders whom you would have thought had their heart in the right place need to address jingoistic national chauvinism one must acknowledge the deep rot in our political system and raise serious questions. Whatever the political necessity of the moment we can not allow space for the creation of Muslim demons or Hindu triumphs. Hindu Muslim unity, the defining factor of Indian secularism is under grave threat. Constant vigilance is required if we are genuine about putting brakes on the acceleration of religious divides.

Does the Congress need the malice of the BJP to hand out its own ideas of secularism? Is the prescription of banning political parties good enough or will they emerge stronger with new identities? Narsimha Rao dismissed four state governments after the Babri Masjid tragedy that eventually led the perpetuators of the crime to victory at the Centre.

When the BJP was in power, a camouflaged Hindutva furthered its agenda through various cultural and educational organizations. Strident Hinduism gained respectability in media, academia and the film world with sworn secularists discovering concealed virtues in the party. The damage is not irreparable but the internecine conflict between secular forces makes the restoration process messy and complex.

Can we, the people of India allow ourselves to be continuously bitten by the lurking venomous snake or can we collectively strive to crush its head forever. The change can be brought only through judicial, bureaucratic and parliamentary resolves. The question is that does any political party have the genuine will, integrity or the strategy to mobilize the masses against such rapturous forces?

Secularism is not just about giving a fair deal to the Muslims but a democracatic ideology for the empowerment for all backward classes. If constitutional ideals are to succeed, someone has to take the lead in organizing secular forces and allowing for cherished values to become immune to the clashes of power. Ideologically, culturally and intellectually, the resistance to communalism has to be fought on a war footing or else we will succumb to its malignancy. History will then see India as a failed secular state.

The writer is an activist and can be reached at

This article was first published in the Hindustan Times

20 Years Of Hashimpura Massacre

Hashimpura Victims22 May 2007 marked the 20th anniversary of Hashimpura massacre when 40 Muslims from Hashimpura, Meerut were killed in cold blood by the personnel of Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC). Even by the gory standards of police brutality in India this episode stands out in many ways. Apart from the fact that 40 poor Muslims were shot-dead for being Muslims, it is the fight against the system, to get justice, stretched over 20 long years that makes the massacre even more heart-wrenching. As the victims and their families wait for justice, not a single accused has been convicted. writes about the episode:

On that tragic day, May 22, the PAC personnel cordoned off Hashimpura — located in the middle of Meerut – and picked about fifty innocent Muslim men between the age group of 70 and 10 from three out of four lanes of the locality. The fourth lane inhabited by Hindu families was left. Nasir was one of them. Nineteen PAC personnel, under platoon commander Surinder Pal Singh, took about 50 Muslim youths, most of them daily wage labourers and poor weavers, in a PAC truck from Hashimpura to the Upper Ganga Canal in Murad Nagar, Ghaziabad, instead of taking them to the police station. They shot them dead in cold blood and threw their bodies into the canal. The PAC personnel then drove ahead in their truck to the Hindon Canal in Makanpur and shot dead several other Muslim youths they had taken with them. Two of the persons who survived the Hindon Canal massacre and managed to escape lodged an FIR at the Link Road Police Station. One of the four others who managed to escape the massacre at the Upper Ganga Canal filed an FIR at the Murad Nagar police station. []

The reality is that there were survivors of the carnage who faked death, managed to escape and lived to tell the tale. But they still are waiting for justice. Imagine what would have happened if there were no eye-witnesses.

Zulfikar Nasser, one of the survivors of Hashimpura Massacre, narrated the blood-curdling experience of seeing two persons being shot and thrown into the canal. “I was the third in line. I was pulled out of the truck and as I fell down, I was shot,” he said. The bullet hit him in the underarm. He feigned death by holding his breath. The PAC personnel threw him into the canal, said Nasser. He escaped, concealing himself in bushes. He heard relentless cries for help and sounds of bullet shots. “I could hear thuds after the bodies of 15 or 16 persons were thrown into water.” []

Consecutive UP governments have turned a blind eye to the whole episode. The PAC personnel accused in the massacre are still on duty and carrying arms. The fact that 18 rifles used to kill the Muslims were later redistributed among the PAC personnel shows utter callousness on the part of the government. Moreover, subsequent governments over the years exploited the incident to send a ‘message’ to the Muslim community by deploying PAC in riot hit areas. It was manifested again during the communal riots in Aligarh last year when four Muslims were shot dead:

While the police have shrugged off allegations of targeting a particular community, the fact that all those killed or wounded by police firing were Muslims suggests more than mere coincidence. Senior police officers admit that all four fatalities, and most injuries, “were caused by single entry-exit wounds, probably caused by .315 or .303 calibre rifles that are standard issue for the PAC.”  All wounds were also above the waistlines of the victims, suggesting that the PAC were shooting to kill, rather than to disperse the crowd. []

Sachar committee reported the low percentage of Muslims in the police force and this percentage goes down significantly in the case of PAC. It seems that it is fair game to kill Muslims as has been evident by recent killings in Hyderabad. Last year it was Bhiwandi, Vadodara, Delhi, Lucknow and Aligarh. Fellow blogger Adnan is justifiably angry at this growing trend of police bias against Muslims:

Water cannons, rubber bullets and tear gas are not considered. And when bullets are fired, they are hit at chests, never at legs. The argument of cops is often that in ‘surcharged circumstances’ the firing becomes inevitable. Really! At least in the recent firing in Hyderabad, everybody is aware and we have seen on TV screens how people were targeted and murdered by this brute police force. [Inscribe]

In spite of this long wait for justice for Hashimpura victims, there has been some positive movement on the case after it was trasferred to Delhi.

After 19 years of the Hashimpura massacre, finally in May 2006, the Court framed charges against all the accused PAC men for murder, conspiracy to murder, attempt to murder, tampering with evidence etc under Sections 302/ 120B/ 307/ 201/ 149/ 364/ 148/ 147 Indian Penal Code. []

It is admirable that the victims still have faith in the judicial process and are following the due process despite all the hurdles. Hopefully the newly elected Mayawati government will extend full co-operation to the investigation and make sure that justice is delivered to the victims and the guilty are punished.

PS: interviews Vrinda Grover, the lawyer for the Hashimpura massacre victims and also two of the survivors of the massacre.

Mohammed Iqbal, His “Shikwa Aur Jawab e Shikwa”, Complaint And Answer

Mohammed Iqbal wrote “Shikwa”, and took the wrath of clerics, some said that high European education and much inspiration from philosophy had corrupted his head, and what a poet knows of religion. All my life I had heard of his iconic “shayar, “Khudii ko kar buland itnaa……”, and would wonder at the man who so openly challenged and at same time defended the idea of “free will”, probably inspired by “man and superman” theory. Continue reading Mohammed Iqbal, His “Shikwa Aur Jawab e Shikwa”, Complaint And Answer

Thoughts on Blast during Friday prayers at the Mecca Masjid

The motive behind the blast during Friday prayers at the Mecca Masjid seems to have been determined by the investigating authorities, to cause tension among Hindus and Muslims. The perpetrators, as claimed by the authorities, are no strangers to us. (The word jihadi terrorism has been wrongly and insidiously used at will and hence I would never use it. Readers should understand that jihad is a religious terminology which can easily stir passions among Muslims. The repeated use of jihadi terrorism is like playing into the hands of those merchants of death as any novice might take jihad, as depicted by the media, as a religious obligation and hence fall prey to the venomous propaganda. So it’s better to call them fanatics, totally deviant from Islam but adherents to ISI religion). They have struck at every nook and corner of this country, even the Parliament house wasn’t spared. I wish to highlight few points which still bother me-

1. The communal angle– The city of Hyderabad has been clearly demarcated between the old city and the cyberabad. I had the ‘golden’ opportunity to visit that city once (the circumstances were such that I was left with nothing but to sit and ponder on the existing divide in the city). My first reaction was that it is just a ‘big Patna‘ and nothing else. The big advertising hoardings in Urdu were a surprise to me. The old city presents a dismal picture as far as cleanliness and city management is concerned. People don’t obey the traffic signal, there are traffic jams at every possible turning and above all there was this ubiquitous mayhem which is inherent in small cities. People are mostly self-employed. All these indicate just one thing- It’s a Muslim majority area!

Secundrabad, on the other hand, is a modern city with clean roads and flashy buildings. This division between the two cities is a cause of frustration among Muslims in the old city. To get a job in the cyberabad, the knowledge of English is a must (something which the Urdu hoardings don’t seems to have suggested me). This frustration because of lack of opportunities can easily lead to crime, something which the ISI would cherish. So there was every reason for the merchants of death to strike at the biggest gathering of Muslims in the city. As a matter of fact they were nearly successful when police fired at the troublesome crowd. The police could have fired rubber bullets but instead they chose to fire actual bullets. Now this police reaction and the subsequent judicial enquiry have become trite as far as Muslims are concerned. This blog has raised this issue time and again and I don’t wish to get into it right now. The TOI reports

The central question is how was it that the police fired at the demonstrating crowd, the very first round above waist-level.

According to the rulebook, policemen are to fire, as a warning, only at the feet to disperse the crowd and prevent fatalities.

On Friday, however, four victims of police firing had been shot above waist, while one suffered a bullet injury in his chest. The deaths in the police-firing have led to further anger in certain localities.

Incidentally, no officer so far has claimed responsibility for the orders to shoot to kill rather than disperse the milling crowds. A victim of police firing, Mir Yusuf Ali, told TOI that firing was resorted to when a lathicharge would have sufficed.

Any communal violence would cripple the state of law and order, instill fear among people and cause financial damage to the industries. All these would have worked in the favour of the ISI but the big question is, even though incidents like these fail to cause any major riots in the area but is this peace a sign for a greater danger ahead? Do these provide the impetus for the dormant volcano which can erupt anytime? Has the ISI really failed in its objective? Well time can only tell the extent of damage these incidents could cause. The ISI is trying to manipulate minds of Indians by carrying out such attacks at religious places. I hope we show maturity and not fall a prey to such insinuations.

2. The Tabligh Jamaat angleTJ was scheduled to have its gathering in the Mecca Masjid ((they are called ijtema). People would have come from different parts of the state to attend the event. They would normally stay in the Mosque for 2 days so any bomb attack at this point of time would have caused maximum casualty. (Jaleel corrects the mistake, it was scheduled at the outskirts of Hyderabad at mamidipally near pahadi sharief) TJ is an organization which offers the greatest resistance to fascists who are bent upon luring youth to take up arms. Plus the unprecedented popularity of TJ, among Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, must be a cause of concern to the ISI. This bomb attack would certainly affect future gatherings of TJ because of security reasons and hence ISI seems to have scored another point. I am not aware of the kind of attendance the ijtema witnessed so cannot comment on the extent of damage.

Togadia recently commented on TJ

Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) will soon start a campaign against Muslim fundamentalist group, Tabligi Jamaat.

Announcing this here today, Praveen Togadia, general secretary, VHP, charged Tabligi Jamaat of being Pakistani agents and said Jamaat members are working for several Pakistani terrorist groups.

He alleged ”Jamaat has hand in the murder of Pakistan cricket coach Bob Woolmer, bombing of US World Trade Centre and many other such terrorist strikes.” Saying the campaign will take off from Rajasthan, he said Jamaat men will not be allowed to enter the state.

The very popularity of TJ can be gauged by this comment of his. Even though the accusations are puelire, they are as insane as his claim over the land of Mecca and Medina, they offer some insight on the kind of ground success TJ has attained

I hate weaving conspiracy theories but this blast could very well have been the handiwork of social workers belonging to the RSS/BD. I know the evidence don’t seem to suggest this but can’t they be doctored? The role of these social workers cannot be ruled out. They can always point evidences at ISI sponsored terrorists and hence escape.

Update 1- Adnan writes about other incidents involving police and Muslims.

Through Civil Services via Urdu

The achievement of Mohammad Qaisar Abdul Haq who secured 32nd rank in the Civil Services examination, is doubly creditable as he not only comes from a small town like Malegaon but wrote his examination papers in Urdu.

The son of a powerloom worker, Qaisar studied 14-16 hrs every day and despite failure in the initial attempts, didn’t lose hope. In three previous attempts he had faltered in the personality test. But the 29-year-old didn’t give up and got 32nd rank amongst the 472 successful candidates.

Urdu literature was one of his subjects in the mains.Prominent Muslim personalities from Mumbai and Malegaon visited Qaiser’s house and congratulated him. As many as 17 Muslims were selected in the list of aspirants for the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) examination, the results of which were announced recently.


Blast during Friday prayers


They never stop. The dragons of communalism are out to quench their thirst of blood. This time those perverts have attacked Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad.

At least five people were killed and 16 injured when a blast went off near a water tank in the historic Mecca Masjid here just after the Friday prayers, triggering tension in the communally sensitive old city.

The blast took place at 1.30 p.m. near the ‘wazu khana’ or water tank, where Muslims go through ablutions before offering prayers.

Two more bombs were defused in the mosque premises later, averting another tragedy.

Eyewitnesses said the blast occurred when thousands of Muslims were about to complete ‘namaz’.

Reports suggest that 10 people have died after police opened fire at the protesting mob.

The video from Siasat shows the blast scene and also the protest after it. Police fired at the protesting mob. Tabligh Jamaat was scheduled to have ijtema in the Mecca Masjid.


This post will be updated with news and views as events unfold.

The One In Which Rooh Afza Caused Riots

One story that will stay with me from my two years in Korea is probably apocryphal. A professor from the department I was enrolled at went to attend a conference in India. As he was going to the airport to catch the return flight, the taxi-driver abruptly stopped mid-way. Surpised, he asked the driver about the reason and was told that a cow was sitting on the street and since it is a sacred animal it can’t be disturbed. And that is how he missed his flight back home. My supervisor used to narrate this experience of his colleague to me with some relish. I never believed it. But then it could very well be true. India is still seen by the orientalist eyes of snake-charmers, exotic dancers and colorful Godmen. That brings me to some really troubling happenings in Punjab recently. Apparently there is a sect called Dera Sacha Sauda that claims a following of 15 million people. 15 million is a huge number even in India and I did not even knew of its existence. The headquarters of Dera are located in Sirsa district of Haryana spread over 700 acres.

Spread over 700 acres, the dera is a self-contained little township with its own newspaper—Sach Kahun, published in Hindi and Punjabi—hospital, administrative complex, chemist shops, salons, tailor shops and home for abandoned girl children.

Gurmeet SinghThe problem started with an advertisement showing the Dera chief, Gurmeet Singh Ram Raheem, distributing amrit to his followers dressed in a robe. The Sikhs took affront to the ad saying that he was trying to compare himself to Guru Gobind Singh, the 10th and last Guru of the Sikhs. There were protests by Sikhs and clashes with the Dera followers. The protests have grown bigger over the last few days and a casualty was reported yesterday. Gurmeet Singh in his defense came out with a statement that he wears whatever his followers give him and the amrit but jaam-e-insaan he was distributing was nothing but a mixture of water, milk and Rooh Afza.

“I have not done anything wrong. I wear dresses that are designed and given to me by my followers. I have worn similar dresses before, but no one raised the issue. This seems to be deliberately instigated and could be politically motivated,” says he.

After publication of the ad, Sikhs started protesting against Gurmeet Singh and burnt his effigy. Dera supporters retaliatedProtests an clashes followed especially in the Bhatinda district of Punjab. It soon spread to parts of Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and even Delhi. The five high priests of Sikhs met Talwandi Sabo Gurudwara and gave the Punjab government ultimatum till May 20 to act against the “anti-Sikh” activities of the Dera. Centre has rushed in troops to help control the situation from deteriorating further.

The whole controversy has political overtones as well as Gurmeet Singh supported Congress during the last assembly elections in Punjab. Since Dera Sacha Sauda has a lot of followers in the Malwa region in southern Punjab, the Congress swept the elections in the erstwhile Akali bastion. This makes me wonder how many religious leaders are in business in India where they use their clout to favor a particular party or the other. VHP has its entire gamut of sadhus supporting BJP. Morari Bapu in Gujarat directed his followers to vote for a specific political party during the last elections. Among Muslims, the tradition was propogated by the father-son duo of Abdullah and Ahmed Bukhari by issuing fatwa in favor of different political parties over the years. Since they don’t have any following outside the Jama Masjid area of Old Delhi, their fatwas really didn’t have any effect. Other Muslim religious leaders have refrained from indulging in such petty politics. Maulana Ali Mian, the most revered Islamic cleric in recent times never came out in support of any political party. Some Muslim clerics, especially the Madani family, dabbled in politics and were generally seen as close to Congress but were never able to affect the electoral outcome even in their home district. Indian Muslims, even though poor and uneducated, still do not vote under the influence of clerics and generally choose the option they want to. This is a testimony to their faith in the electoral process in India and their integration, at least in part, to the mainstream politics. Obviously a lot still needs to be done but the very fact that Indian Muslims have resisted to be guided by some Mullahs while exercising their franchise is a good foundation to build the future upon.