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In election season, Muslim factions unite, meet Sonia Gandhi

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By Seema Chishti

New Delhi: With elections season in full swing and positioning for 'representation' of minority groups gaining focus, an important development took place on Sunday. The two warring factions of the Majlis-e-Mushawarat, India's oldest Muslim body set up in 1964 to address problems faced by Muslims and articulate their views to governments, reunited after 13 years.

According to president Zafar ul Islam, the coming together of the Syed Shahabuddin and the rival Maulana Salim Qasmi factions has "breathed new life into the idea and expectation with which the Mushawarat was set up fifty years ago".

After they buried their differences, members of the Mushawarat met UPA chairperson and Congress president Sonia Gandhion Monday evening to push for more central assistance for the Muzaffarnagar riot victims. They also made a case for the anti-communal violence Bill which, according to Islam, "fixes accountability" on erring administrators and political representatives when they are unable to control group violence.

A delegation of 16 Mushawarat representatives who met Gandhi for about 45 minutes said: "She heard us out patiently and seriously on the detailed status of riot victims in western UP, and assured us of best efforts to mobilise help for victims as the onset of winter is creating difficulty in the camps. She also assured us of trying to bring the anti-communal violence Bill in this session of Parliament."

The Majlis-e-Mushawarat has its origins in communal riots that took place in Jabalpur, Sagar, Rourkela and Ranchi in the early 1960s and shook the Muslim community. Following this, leading freedom fighter and Congressman from Bihar, Dr Syed Mahmood, initiated a drive to establish a Muslim convention to instill confidence in the community. Since then, even though the Mushawarat steered clear of an overtly political role, it remained a vital barometer and influencer of the crucial Muslim vote.

Over the years, its influence declined as the All India Muslim Personal Law Board became the point of touchdown for all those who wanted to get a sense of Muslim legal issues, especially as the Ayodhya issue took centre stage.

Despite prominent Muslim figure, MP and former IFS officer Syed Shahabuddin, associating himself with the Mushawarat, it has been involved in controversy since an internal election in 2000.

"It was ironic that the Mushawarat was calling for a common platform and preaching unity when we ourselves were split, minimising our own strength. Hence, unity among ourselves was a priority," Maulana Ataur Rehman Qasmi, one of the key figures who brought the two factions together, said.

While the UK-educated Islam, who also edits The Milli Gazette and is the son of respected cleric Maulana Wahiduddin, has been named president, the older member of the former breakaway faction, Maulana Salim Qasmi, has been named chairman of the Supreme Guidance Council of the organisation.

Sources said leaders within this once influential platform are concerned about the "situations facing the community now". Efforts to target groups "within the community" are being seen as deliberate and a way to distract attention from the key issue of backwardness and discrimination facing the entire community.

The Mushawarat, it is believed, gave a tacit call to oppose the Congress after the riots in the '60s, which created a divide between the two groups — one sympathetic to the Congress and the other hostile. This, say analysts, contributed majorly to the 1967 debacle for the Congress. But before 1971, the Mushawarat decided to tacitly support the Indira Gandhi-led Congress.

Despite the timing of the merging of the two factions, Shahabuddin said the Mushawarat is politically neutral. "Mushawarat is not a political party and does not support a political party. We want a secular government in the country and advise Muslim voters to vote for secular candidates," he said.

(Courtesy: The Indian Express)
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