A few months ago at a small meeting in Gandhinagar, Syed Zafar Mahmood, former member of the Sachar Committee and president of the Zakat Foundation of India, made headlines when he took on the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi.
He took Mr. Modi through a power point presentation on all that was wrong with the BJP and the Sangh Parivar’s anti-Muslim ideology. But today, Mr. Mahmood, who recently led a contingent to the Prime Minister on the lack of State’s and Union government’s intervention in the post-riot situation in Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh, says that Indian Muslims are increasingly a “disenchanted” lot.
In an interview with The Hindu, he says that the Union government should not think of conducting elections in Muzaffarnagar until each of the thousands displaced have been allowed to return to his/her home. Further, the UPA must use the next six months to regain the trust of the community by implementing the Sachar Committee report.
Has there been any perceptible improvement in the socio-economic and educational status of Muslims since the Sachar Report was accepted and implemented?
During the past four-and-a-half years, the only one thing that has happened is the Wakf amendment, and in that too several vital recommendations have been left out. As far as evaluation of other changes goes, one should read Harsh Mander’s report evaluating the implementation in Muslim-dominated districts and States. I agree with his evaluation that the Sachar report has not been implemented because the implementing machinery knows that the government does not have the political will to do so. This is because they have been advised that at this stage they should not be seen associating with the Muslim cause as it will give the sangh a handle to talk about ‘minority appeasement’.
Last week you were part of a delegation to the Prime Minister complaining about the lack of intervention by the Centre…
Yes, even today in Muzaffarnagar, thousands cannot return to their homes fearing violence. Many have been injured, and many girls’ whereabouts are unknown. What we saw there is a complete failure of both the State and Central governments. It was well within the ambit of the Centre, under Articles 356 and 365, to take charge, send the military or even declare an Emergency. Nothing was done.
There is evidently a clash of human interests with political interests, and the latter has prevailed.
Now that Modi has been named the PM candidate, do you foresee greater communal polarisation – and riots – in the run up to the 2014 elections?
Yes. Our study found that before Muzaffarnagar riots, there were 32 pre-riot situations recorded in Uttar Pradesh.
When everyone talks about the Gujarat model there are two things to consider. One is the economic one, and there is enough data to prove that Gujarat has not moved financially in a big or outstanding way during his tenure. The second part of the so-called model is that of polarising the two communities and isolating Muslims. Needless to say, this is a great matter of concern for the entire citizenry.
In fact, we are at a point where the Election Commission should treat this election in a special and extraordinary way. For one, they can increase the period where the Model Code of Conduct for elections is in force. It can be initiated early to ensure fair play.
Recently, Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde wrote to Chief Ministers expressing concern on wrongful detaining of innocent Muslim youth in terror cases. Meanwhile, there is also radicalisation among Muslim youth. Your thoughts.
Yes. Radicalisation is a matter of concern. And the elders in the community are worried and are addressing this constantly. But, there is also a feeling of discrimination and isolation. It is true that in some cases those caught were Muslims but that doesn’t justify the rounding up of innocent youth because of the actions of a few individuals. They should take everything on a case by case basis and leave no room for stereotyping.