The Muslim vote in more than a dozen constituencies of Madhya Pradesh may decide poll results, but it lacks leaders with state-wide appeal. Members of the community, however, feel this is not a given, but the result of a systematic sidelining of potential leaders by political parties without exception — to stem their progress right at the bud.
The Muslims account for 7 to 8% of the state’s population but their representation in the assembly has been on the decline. In 1956, there were 10 Muslim MLAs, the highest so far; in 1993, there were none. The 13th assembly has had only one.
Senior Congress leader Ghufran-e-Azam raised a moot point. “Who creates leaders,” he asked. “Senior members of the party identify the leaders at an early stage and then promote them at various levels”. In the Congress, the tallest leaders projected themselves as representing the minority community. “Former CM Arjun Singh declared himself the leader of Muslims and did not promote anyone from the community. Digvijaya Singh’s regime did the same,” said Azam.
There are only a few prominent Muslim names in politics now. Four-time Congress MLAs Arif Aqueel, Ghufran-e-Azam and Arif Masood; hockey Olympian and MP Aslam Sher Khan and BJP’s Arif Baig, though popular, do not have a statewide profile. “The BJP is a declared right-wing outfit, so if it does not promote Muslim leaders, one understands, but if the Congress behaves in a partisan manner, it hurts,” said another senior Muslim leader. This is perhaps one of the reasons why MP’s Muslims are drifting away from the Congress.
Old-timers recall a time when they had leaders of calibre. “The late Khan Shakir Ali Khan was a national leader,” said Chowdhary Rashid Ali, an Old City resident. Years before the government of India permitted Union Carbide Corporation to set up a pesticide plant in Bhopal in 1975, Khan, a CPI MLA, had sounded a warning about the dangers of establishing a chemicals plant on the outskirts of Bhopal.
Academician Zamiruddin believes the community lacks social leadership. “There was a time when leaders like Khan Shakir Ali Khan and Hasnat Siddiqui were known for their genuine concern about the community. Today, there is no one.”