From Deoband in western Uttar Pradesh to far-away Assam, Muslim politics seems to be in a churn across India. Last month, Darul-uloom Deoband witnessed violent divisions over the alleged pro-Narendra Modi statements of the seminary's newly elected rector Maulana Gulam Mohammad Vastanvi. Though the Maulana denied having asked Gujarat Muslims to forget the 2002 pogrom and move on, his quoted remarks had the cascading effect of pitting Muslim groups against one another.
On Thursday, two groups allegedly affiliated to the Maulana and his opponents openly clashed on the Deoband campus to sounds of booming gunshots. Now with elections round the corner in Assam, the Vastanvi effect has started to be felt . On Saturday, Badruddin Ajmal, founder of the Assam-based All-India United Democratic Front (AUDF), quoted his support to the Deoband chief as one of the reasons for his removal as president of the State unit of the Jamiat-Ulama-e-Hind (JUH). Maulana Ajmal, who was till now with the Arshad Madani faction of the Jamiat, said, he and his supporters would now be part of the rival faction headed by Mahmood Madani.
The JUH has two national factions — one backed by Mr. Arshad Madani and the other by his nephew Mr. Mahmood Madani. With the Madani family's interest in Deoband being an open secret — traditionally the Madanis have had control of the seminary — there was unsurprising speculation that the Madani family ( principally Mr. Arshad Madani) was behind the anti-Vastanvi unrest, more so because the new chief had won the post, defeating Mr. Arshad Madani in a contest. So much so, observers believed that the warring Madani factions were united on the Vastanvi issue. All this is of course stoutly denied by the Madani family.
So how does Maulana Ajmal's interest in teaming up with Mr. Mahmood Madani square with the latter's rumoured opposition to Maulana Vastanvi? After all, Maulana Ajmal does accept voting for Maulana Vastanvi. The answer to the question lies in the increasingly wheels-within-wheels nature of Muslim politics in India. Mr. Arshad Madani has the Congress affiliation, whereas his nephew was elected to the Lok Sabha with support from the Ajit Singh-led Rashtriya Lok Dal.
Maulana Ajmal has so far functioned in two capacities – president of the Assam JUI and head of the AUDF. Since this is a potent combination for winning Muslim votes, the State Congress was understandably worried. The AUDF won a handful seats in the last Assembly election and has one seat in the Lok Sabha, won by Maulana Ajmal himself. The party was seen to have cost the Congress Muslim votes in some areas.
Given this background, observers see a convergence of interest between Mr. Arshad Madani and Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi in neutralising Maulana Ajmal. If the Maulana's religious clout is reduced, that would have a direct bearing on his ability to attract Muslim voters. For Maulana Ajmal, the way out was obviously to join the rival Madani faction. There is also a Congress versus Narendra Modi angle here. Since Maulana Vastanvi's remarks have been interpreted as being in favour of Gujarat, the Congress has necessarily to oppose him. Ironically, polls show that Maulana Vastanvi, who is an MBA and has founded many educational institutes, has wide support among the young Muslims, including in Deoband.