Arif Mohammad Khan’s Pole-Vault:

Palace Politics Betrays While People’s Struggles Fight On

Rizwan Qaiser

On the eve of the first Lok Sabha elections after the Gujarat genocide, one of the key debates is over the notion of Muslim leadership – who can really represent the concerns of the average Muslims. By netting one of the most articulate Muslim figures in the shape of Arif Mohammad Khan, the BJP is trying to whitewash its role in the Gujarat pogrom and persuade the Muslims to live in the shelter of the Sangh Parivar.

There is no doubt about the prominence of Mr. Khan, once President of AMU Students Union who subsequently joined national politics and served the Union cabinet in various capacities. He shot into prominence in the wake of Shah Bano controversy. Then he certainly enjoyed high moral ground by not agreeing with the then Rajiv Gandhi Government when a bill was introduced in the Parliament to undo the Supreme Court Judgment. He asserted that such a step would undermine the rights of the Muslim women. Since then Arif Mohammad Khan became a political wanderer seeking solace in one formation or the other. He quit the BSP too, ostensibly over Mayawati’s support to Narendra Modi. He worked closely with the victims of the Gujarat pogrom and spent considerable time helping them out. He organized several meeting with concerned groups and individuals on the horrors of Gujarat. But now he hopes to exploit the goodwill thus gained in the service of the very forces who wrought that massacre.

In a revealing interview (see Arif seeks to legitimize his step, most audaciously, by invoking Gujarat rather than forgetting it. His arguments are an interesting instance of the devil quoting the scriptures. He argues that Islam sanctions otherwise ‘forbidden’ acts in an hour of grave crisis (istarari halaat). He also invokes the example of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, the Muslim reformer and educationist who founded the Aligarh Muslim University. According to him, he has reached the conclusion after Gujarat that ‘If you can’t beat them, join them’. He compares this with Sir Syed’s strategy, after the suppression of the 1857 revolt, of ‘befriending’ the British since resistance was futile. In the post-1857 phase of British rule, not just Sir Syed but several other Hindu leaders took up a reformist agenda to obtain concessions for their community while expressing loyalty to the seeming unchallengable colonial administration. But why does Arif conveniently forget that it was from the selfsame Aligarh, in a different phase, leaders like Maulana Muhammad Ali and Maulana Shaukat Ali launched the Khilafat Movement, turning Aligarh into the center of anti-British resistance? Moreover, is there no difference between the colonial rule and the present parliamentary democracy? There is a world of difference between choosing to give priority to equipping one’s people with modern education in a phase of colonial rule, and abject surrender to fascist forces in a democratic polity, in exchange for a slice of the cake of power.

In the interview, Arif launches a scathing critique of the Congress’ soft Hindutva line. He argues that it is because he has witnessed the pain of Gujarat, and the Congress’ unwillingness to challenge the Sangh, that he has joined the BJP. He makes it clear: “I want to surrender myself to the BJP and the Sangh Parivar … Because I don’t see the capabilities to fight them. The Congress is totally devoid of capabilities. I want to win the confidence of the Party that enjoys the confidence of the majority.”

Arif’s renegacy and the reasons he gives for it are the most cruel joke with the dignity of ordinary Muslims. In the name of istarari halaat he has chosen to surrender. But those who truly live in the shadow of the Sangh’s terror, who could legitimately claim to be in an ‘emergency situation’, like Bilkis Yakub and Zaheera Sheikh, have not chosen the path of craven surrender. They have exercised the courageous option of fighting, although they were offered the option of living in the ‘protection’ of the rapists and killers. Arif’s shameful attempt to claim to represent the victims of Gujarat in his shift to the BJP camp, is an insult to the conscience and courage of Bilkis, Zaheera and their sisters and brothers. Who can be in greater distress and desperate danger, in a greater istarari halaat than the people of Palestine? Yet the Palestinian children choose to challenge the might of Israeli Army tanks and US imperial power armed with nothing but catapults and stones. Decades of occupation have failed to break their determination for freedom and dignity. In contrast, Arif Khan’s advice to Muslims can be compared to the odious advice which tells a woman to marry her rapist.

Arif’s critique of the Congress is no doubt valid that Congress has exploited and betrayed Muslims. But his own crude and obscene betrayal and exploitation of the real pain and terror which Muslims experience beats everything.

Arif claims he will create goodwill with the Sangh Parivar. He won’t have to look far for the conditions on which the Sangh is prepared to offer ‘goodwill’. MS Golwalkar, RSS ideologue outlines it long ago – when he wrote that Muslims must accept Hinduism or give up all claims to equal citizenship rights. The other option is to be driven out of the country. There is no miracle Mr. Khan can perform, which would alter the genetic make up of the RSS and BJP, whose entire politics rests on its anti-Muslim hate campaign. The sole aim of the RSS is to create a communal consensus in society. Arif and his ilk may choose to be part of that consensus, but the ordinary masses of Indian Muslims will scorn to barter their aspirations for dignity and equality for the ‘protection’ and ‘goodwill’ the Saffron Hitlers.

Arif Khan and his brand of opportunist politics need to be told – ‘Nor all thy piety nor wit…’ can wash out the blood from the hands of the Sangh! For Indian Muslims, the battle lines between awami siyasat (people’s politics) and darbari siyasat(palace politics) have clearly been redrawn.