Muslim clerics have dabbled in politics before. But when Maulana Salman Nadwi, a professor at Darul Uloom Nadwatul Ulema, decided to take the plunge trying to forge an alliance of Muslim and OBC outfits in the state, eyebrows were raised. Was it because he happens to be associated with a distinguished seminary and a very distinguished family of religious scholars known for maintaining their distance from politics?
In a freewheeling conversation with M Tariq Khan and Gulam Jeelani, the cleric shares his views and the reasons that prompted him to take the step.
You must have anticipated the consequences of your decision. What prompted you to take the step, which many, especially those associated with Nadwa, see as a sort of a rebellion against the institution's guiding values?
I do not have any political ambitions. Nor am I going to campaign for anyone. My role would be that of a patron and nothing else. It was just that some people, who I know like Afzal Ansari, for instance, had been insisting for quite sometime that I should take the initiative for asserting the community's rightful share in governance. This is my own individual decision and I don't think I have done or said anything that changes the adopted position either of Nadwa or AIMPLB on politics.
You said you had the 'blessings' of your seniors for the job you have taken up. Both AIMPLB and Nadwa have denied this.
I still maintain that. When I said that I had the blessings of my seniors I was referring to their personal good wishes and not the official endorsement of my stand either from the Nadwa or the AIMPLB. The AIMPLB has several members on its board, who have their own individual political leanings and views but they never clash with the organisation's larger objectives. Moreover, what will you do if a political leader says he wants to meet you? Politicians big or small have been visiting Nadwa and meeting its rector and though the seminary doesn't encourage such encounters it has always maintained an equi-distance from them all.
What is the main idea behind forming the front?
We have tried to bring small political outfits on a common platform. The front will work as a pressure group in the upcoming state assembly elections. We are in touch with political parties. Be it the Congress or the BJP, no government has ever done anything for the welfare of Muslims. All non-BJP parties have been garnering the Muslim community's support so far by telling them that if they don't vote for them the BJP will come to power. We want to put an end to this kind of fear psychosis being perpetrated by these parties to garner Muslim votes. We have seen BJP rule both at the Centre and in Uttar Pradesh and its time we debunk this blackmail bogey. We want adequate representation for the community in the government and that is our sole aim.
And how do you intend to achieve this?
We will strive to prevent the division of Muslim and OBC votes. We will make an impact and be heard only if we are united and already we are getting overtures from main political parties, who are now willing to concede ground. Both the Congress and Samajwadi Party have now sent feelers to me. Let us see if we can arrive at a consensus.
Similar initiatives in the past from the Muslim clergy to consolidate the community have come a cropper. What makes you think you will succeed?
Yes. Some people did it earlier also. They could not reach out to people and did not enjoy their trust. But failure does not mean that one should not try again. In fact, it is the growing disenchantment within the community with all major political parties that compelled us to take this decision. Our intentions are clear and well-meaning and that is what matters to us and I think people understand this.
Considering that the front is a 13-party outfit, how will you decide on seat sharing?
Yes, the front is still a fledgling political arrangement. We are working on an action plan. All the 13 parties will fight the election under a joint banner. Candidates will be selected from the respective areas after a feedback from the locals. Our objectives are clear. We do not want splitting of Muslim votes.