By Kaleem Kawaja
For some decades now both in the central government in New Delhi and in state governments the winning parties have assigned two or three ministerships to Muslims. Whether the ruling parties are the self-proclaimed champions of Muslims, namely Congress, Communists, Samajwadi party, Bahujan Samaj party, Rashtriya Janata Dal, or those who are unfriendly to Muslims, namely BJP, the same scenario is played out. Up until the time when Indira Gandhi was prime minister, the tradition was to give at least one important senior cabinet post to a long-serving loyalist Muslim leader of the party. Thus senior Muslim leaders in Congress like Hafiz Ibrahim (UP), Anwara Taimur and Fakhruddin Ali Ahmad (Assam), Ghulam Rasul (Bihar) etal were made deputy chief ministers and given important ministries like Home or Finance or Industries. In Maharashtra, Indira Gandhi loyalist AR Antulay became chief minister. In 1989 when VP Singh became Prime Minister of India in a Coalition government, he made Mufti Saeed, the home minister of India
Other secular parties followed the same tradition. But the people who took charge of the secular parties after the late-1980s dispensed with that tradition. They relegated even loyalist Muslim leaders in their parties into a corner when they formed government. Thus in Narsimha Rao’s Congress party cabinet in New Delhi, Muslim leaders (Jafar Shareef, Ghulam Nabi Azad) were given only fringe ministries. In the last six years of the Congress/UPA government at the Center only 2 Muslims have been made cabinet ministers, namely Farooq Abdullah and Ghulam Nabi Azaad. The former is incharge of the environment ministry and the later is incharge of parliamentary affairs. Other Muslims who are long time loyalists have to contend with being ministers of state.
Although Congress party won the last two elections largely with Muslim votes it has declined to give a senior ministry to any Muslim. Also Muslims who are made even insignificant ministers are long time faithful retainers who do not represent the Muslim community in any viable manner. In all their life people like Farooq Abdullah, Ghulam Nabi Azaad, Salman Khurshid have never said a word about the many hardships and travails of the long suffering Muslim community, have never taken any initiative to bring justice and fairplay to the much-suffering Muslims, and they have no support among the Muslims of India. Senior Congress party leader and colleague of Indira Gandhi, Abdul Rahman Antulay, former chief minister of Maharashtra, was humiliated in the first UPA government when in 2005 he was first made minister for minorities. For over an year he, a cabinet rank minister, was neither given an office to work from nor a staff. He was told to work from home.
Mr Godbole the Cabinet Secretary during the tenure of Prime Minister Narsimha Rao writes in his autobiography that on December 6, 1992, the day Babri mosque was demolished, after the demolition was over, PM Rao held a meeting of cabinet ministers at night. In the meeting he asked each minister to give his views on the demolition of the mosque. When it was the turn of the then two Muslim cabinet ministers, Jafar Shareef and Ghulam Nabi Azad, they said nothing about the demolition. The only ministers who condemned the demolition were two secular Hindu ministers Scindia and Fotedar. This is how Muslim ministers behave on the most serious issues of the Muslim community. Recently in order to get a better ministry, minister of state for minorities Salman Khurshid tried to help Congress govt backtrack from its own pledge of implenting the Sachar Committee report by saying that it will ghettoize the Muslim community.
At about the same time the lower caste parties, namely Samajwadi party of OBCs and Bahujan Samaj party of Dalits in UP, and the Rashtriya Janata Dal party of OBCs in Bihar liberated themselves from the clutches of Congress party’s deceptive games; formed their own parties, acquired power in the states and used it to uplift their respective backward minority communities.
But even the chief ministers of these parties, namely Mayawati, Mulyam Singh Yadav, Laloo Prasad did not give significant ministries to their top Muslim leaders. In UP senior SP leader Azam Khan could get nothing better than Urban Development from Mulayam Singh. Also in the present BSP/Mayawati UP govt despite several senior and loyal Muslim community leaders, only one long time loyalist Naseem Ahmad Siddiqui was made cabinet minister with the insignificant portfolio of Environment. In Lallo’s Bihar when some Muslims asked him why he does not have a senior Muslim minister to represent the Muslim community, he replied: I represent Muslims in the cabinet. In Bengal for 37 years under the Communist rule, Left parties who won repeated elections with Muslim votes, made only one or two Muslim ministers, and they were invariably given insignificant ministries.
The governments of various parties in India send the Muslim ministers routinely to Muslim countries to conduct public relations for the country and to demonstrate that in India Muslims are living very well and getting fair treatment. Or they are included in India’s Haj delegation to Saudi Arabia, again to conduct public relations for India.
In the 2011 India, where Muslims have a sizeable voting strength in at least 6 major states (Assam, Bengal, Bihar, UP, AP, Kerala) no political party has made any of its loyal Muslim community leaders minister for Home, or Finance, or Industries or Education etc. Generally they end up getting the insignificant ministries of Waqf, Minorities, Haj, Culture, Urban Affairs, Environment etc. That is one more reason why despite Muslim ministers in the central or state governments, the Muslim community is as backward and static as it was 60 years ago. Cities and towns with sizeable Muslim population have very poor infrastructure, with hardly any new hospitals or schools or parks built since 1947. Of all those communal riots in the last 60 years hardly any of the tormentors and killers of Muslims have been brought to justice. The killers of the anti-Muslim genocide in Gujarat (2002) and in Mumbai (1993) are roaming free without any shadow of fear. The Muslim ministers who are supposed to bring up the grievances of their community keep their mouth shut and when given an opportunity to speak, they praise the government and senior ministers profusely. Sycophancy towards important ministers and maintaining distance from fellow Muslims appears to be the prime characteristic of almost all Muslim ministers.
In contrast the Dalit, OBC and Sikh ministers in the Congress, BJP, Communist government, who also represent backward and depressed communities, are always claiming and becoming ministers of important ministries eg Home, Finance, Industries, Education etc. When they become ministers they never hesitate in bringing development to the areas in cities where their communities live; they never hesitate to give jobs to people from their communities. In some states they have become chief ministers. In fact they conduct skilfull lobbying for their communities. The result is obvious; Dalit and OBC communities that were so backward and behind Muslims before 1947 are now significantly ahead of the Muslims and are continuing to climb the ladder. Since 1947 the Sikh community has become very affluent and well educated and their people are in important positions in the government.
So what use for the Muslim community are Muslims being ministers in either the Center or the states? Other than the fact that they may be making money for their families or peddling influence to get jobs for their sons and nephews in companies. Or that they give promises to the Muslim community on behalf of their respective party chiefs that mostly remain unfulfilled. Or that they campaign for the Muslim votes for their respective parties at election time.
(The writer is a community activist in Washington DC. He can be reached on: email@example.com)