The All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen (AIMIM) registered its first impressive debut performance in a region outside its area of influence i.e. Hyderabad by bagging two seats in the recently held Maharashtra state legislative elections. It has stirred up a contentious debate across various circles in the country.
The representatives of the right and far right organizations currently dominating the social, cultural and political scene in the country are demanding an outright ban on the Hyderbad-based political organization. These groups compare the agenda of AIMIM with the Muslim League of Jinnah and therefore consider the success of the party pernicious to the idea of Akhand Bharat (undivided India). Given by the standards of the current polarization of politics on sectarian lines, this demand emanating from those who see in Muslims a challenge to the fascist project of envisaged Hindu self is plausible.
But what, in fact, is more puzzling is that the success of AIMIM has raised few eyebrows in the secular, liberal circles of the Indian public sphere which considers the rise of AIMIM as an unhealthy sign for democracy in India.
The deep sense of fear attributed to the burgeoning AIMIM springs from that party’s burden of being a casualty rooted in the history of partition and integration of Indian states into Indian Union. AIMIM is historically linked to Razakars, “the private militia that resisted the integration of Hyderabad state into the dominion of India”. The debate on the question of Razakar movement and its aftermath in the form of “Police Action” continues to remain the most unresolved issues for the historians dealing with it.
Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM), which was founded in 1927, is seen by some historians as a socio-religious organization aiming for the educational and social upliftment of Muslims in the state. For this group of historians, MIM symbolises a movement that stood for cultural and political rights of the Muslim community. For other historians, predominantly favouring the nationalistic paradigm of history, the current AIMIM continues to seen as an offshoot of infamous Razakar legacy that terrorized many Hindu villagers. Due to the complexity of issues hidden in the pages of history, the integration of Hyderabad state into the Indian Union of India on September 17, 1948 is simultaneously termed as a Liberation Day by some and Black Day by others. What is common to all narratives is that the period of 13 months preceding the Liberation or Black Day of Hyderabad was exceedingly violent.
In the post independent India MIM was banned while its leader Kasim Rizvi was imprisoned in 1948. It was only in 1957 Rizvi was released on the pretext that he would leave for Pakistan in 48 hours. While leaving for Pakistan, Kasim Rizvi passed on the mantle of the president of MIM to Abdul Wahab Owaisi. It is Abdul Wahab Owaisi who is credited with re-writing the new constitution of the party according to the provisions of the Indian constitution. The MIM was thus renamed as AIMIM in 1958 and made its first electoral debut in 1959. From here onwards the party has always attempted to reinvent and reassess itself on the lines of linguistics of parliamentary democracy in India. Therefore any attempt to see AIMIM as a manifestation of its past will not only be hollow reductionism but also misleading.
The Razakars who are seen as the predecessors of the modern AIMIM were situated in a context where the aim was to wrestle for the state power. The current AIMIM does not in any way hold such illusions. The upswing in the fortunes of the AIMIM politics since 1970s therefore makes it imperative to see the rise of AIMIM in the present context of the larger political scene in the country.
AIMIM being a Muslim party aiming to represent the rights of Muslims bears the burden of operating in a milieu where it is daunting to be secular, democratic and Muslim in chorus. Many sections in the society see combination of Muslim political party and secular politics mutually exclusive to each other. Therefore a single political error committed by the party is susceptible to be seen as an imminent threat.
We live in the crucial times in the history of postcolonial India. For the first time in the post-independent India, a right wing Hindu political formation called BJP has secured a political majority of its own in the 2014 parliamentary elections. This has raised several questions concerning the plight of Muslims in India comprising a significant proportion of the minority populations. The near annihilation of the oppositional parties from the national political scene which could in the past claim to represent the case of Indian Muslims has amounted to manifold increase in the already prevalent fear psychosis among the Muslims. This existential dilemma posed to Muslim communities in India by the rise of Hindu wave politics has to do a lot in relation to the success of AIMIM in Maharashtra.
As per the Sachar and Post-Sachar studies on Indian Muslims, it is evident to conclude that the Indian Muslims have so far benefitted very less by taking refuge in the comparatively secular outlook of Congress or other such political formations. Majority of the Muslims in India continue to live in ghettoes across the country. Muslims are perpetually branded as anti-national and forced to prove themselves as true Indians. In this context, coupled with the absence of representative Muslim leadership until this day, Muslims can be expected to pin their hopes on the AIMIM strand of politics.
However, there are many nuances and caveats appended before jumping to conclusions.
First of all, it would be a brazen travesty of truth by assuming that the Muslims of India are going to wholeheartedly accept the politics of AIMIM. This can be clearly understood by the way in which Muslim population of Hyderabad negotiate their relationship with AIMIM.
Despite its strong hold over the Muslim votes in Hyderabad, the Muslims in Hyderabad have an ambivalent relationship with the party. Majority of the Muslims in Hyderabad are skeptical about AIMIM when it comes to the question of socio-economic development of the community in Hyderabad. Majority of the Muslims in Hyderabad, very much like the other Muslim communities in other states of India, continue to be abysmally poor and live in the ghettoes of old city of Hyderabad. The strong voice of certain section of unemployed educated Muslim youth and other members from the community in the form of Siasat group till today remain the unforgiving critics of AIMIM politics.
Then, what actually works for AIMIM is nothing but the language which provides shelter to the concerns over the rising insecurity of Muslim community in the country. In addition, what phenomenally works for AIMIM is the easy accessibility of its top leadership to all sections from the Muslims community in Hyderabad.
The role of AIMIM in representing the case of illegally detained Muslim youth of Hyderabad is a perfect example of this politics. The erratic politics of AIMIM therefore for all right or wrong reasons poses a concern for varied sections of population across the country. The vitriolic speeches of Akbaruddin Owaisi, the second in command of the organization, have done a catastrophic damage to the party in the imagination of mainstream Indian public. This has allowed some to compare the politics of AIMIM with the politics of Shiv Sena in Maharashtra. However this pairing of AIMIM with Shiv Sena by those who see these two parties as mirror images of each other is fallacious. The ideology of Shiv Sena theoretically represents an ideology which has fascist leanings and therefore essentially dangerous. But the ideology of the AIMIM represents the case of social and cultural interests of the most vulnerable community in the country and hence in essence is essentially democratic.
The fate of AIMIM as a democratic, secular party lies in the hands of its leaders. The more the focus remains on polarization, the more detrimental will be its consequences for the Muslim community. The agenda to be set by AIMIM should focus more on the recommendations of the Sachar committee than resorting to the speeches of vitriolic type.
In the recent past, the extension of the party to accommodate other deprived communities of India to its fold is a welcome step. This extension to other groups would be decisive to strengthen its secular base.