By Mahtab Alam:
Last week, a friend from Jamia Millia Islamia sent a text message asking “Muslim Youth For India kya organization hai (What organization is this, Muslim Youth For India)?”, “Pahli baar suna hai (I have heard the name for the first time)”. Indeed, I was hearing the name for the first time. An invitation card floating on the internet showed that this ‘organisation’ was organizing a national symposium on “Educating & Mainstreaming of Indian Muslims” in association with Jamia Millia Islamia on 2nd of February. The chief guest was HRD Minister Smriti Zubin Irani, while Narendra Modi’s close aide and newly appointed Chancellor of Maulana Azad National Urdu University (MANUU), Zafar Sareshwala, was going to be the guest of honour. Among the prominent speakers were the Vice Chancellor of Jamia, Dr. Talat Ahmad, Prof. Akhtarul Wasey, and Prof. Mujtaba Khan. Among the lesser-known names were one Akhtar Ali Farooqui, Dr. Midhat Hussain, Tanweer Ahmed and Asifa Khan. Nonetheless, they were projected in a way as if they were the ‘who’s who’ of the Indian Muslim community, if not all of India.
As a former student of Jamia, I find this to be one of the rarest (and lowest) moments in Jamia’s history. I don’t remember any comparable situation – where the University officials in collaborations with some outsiders of shady background had rolled out a red carpet to please political people, and that too those whose politics is based entirely on hate.
The crowning glory of the event was the comparison drawn between the country’s first education minister, the great leader of freedom struggle, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, and the current HRD Minister, by Prof. Akhtarul Wasey. That the comparison was bizarre and untenable was not lost on anyone. After all, these crude forms of chaploosi aren’t such a big deal if they can help you to become the vice chancellor of some university, or get some favours from the sarkaar – or shall we say saheb? But never before has a senior professor of the university brought such disrepute to Jamia as Prof. Mujtaba Khan managed with his inappropriate and sexist shayari replete with ‘haseen’ and ‘mehfil’ while addressing the HRD Minister.
The response was acidic and swift as she cut short his speech, asking him to focus on introducing Sareshwala, and in her speech also reprimanded him for using such words to address a woman. As someone with deep emotional attachment to Jamia, I hang my head in shame.
All hail Zafar Shareshwala
While some in the audience may have cringed at the good reputation of the university being tattered, it was a perfect day for Zafar Sareshwala. Every speaker made a point to do his qasida khwani (read extreme form of eulogizing). My friend and journalist M Reyaz puts it vividly – “Zafar Sareshwala, who was the Guest of Honour, appeared to be the star of the programme as none of the speakers forgot to mention his name and eulogised him several times, as he smiled and nodded every time his name was taken.” Dr. Midhat Hussain, one of the organisers associated with Muslim Youth For India (MYFI) thanked Sareshwala for his so-called efforts for the community development. He in fact went on to ‘innocently’ announce that, “When Modi ji was still a CM of Gujarat but was nominated the PM candidate of BJP, with the help of Zafar Bhai, we went to meet him.” Interestingly, this was the same person who was talking about “Political Slavery of Indian Muslims” in an event organized by another dubious outfit, United Muslim Front, on 7th November 2013 at India Islamic Centre (A short video of the event can be seen here).
A brief history of ‘Muslim Youth For India‘
Coming to the obvious, what is this organization, Muslim Youth For India? While most of us had never heard of it before, a cursory glance at the profiles and background of the people behind it put things in perspective. Let’s start with Dr. Midhat Hussain. He (though with a different hat ‘Muslims For National Integration’) was one the lead speakers, along with Zafar Sareshwala and some junior lackeys, at the launch of the propaganda book ‘Modi, Muslims & Media Voices from Narendra Modi’s Gujarat’, written by Narendra Modi’s cheerleader Madhu Purnima Kishwar. Not only that, a news story before the general elections quotes him on his change of heart after meeting Modi in Gandhinagar, Gujarat. “We’ll be going from door to door, meeting person to person and telling them how Modiji is more reasonable and good for the community than the rest,” he told a reporter. Other members with identical sentiments were also quoted in the news report. These members, also mentioned in the Jamia invite as key organisers, vouched for Modi’s “sincerity” and desire to work for Muslims.
And who is Asifa Khan, another star speaker at the symposium? The invite described her as a “noted political analyst”. Her Wikipedia page though introduces her as a BJP leader. “Asifa Khan is a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). She has emerged as a prominent Muslim face of BJP. She is now considered amongst the very close persons to the Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi and also as the leading and emerging face of Muslims in the party. She represents and defends the BJP as well as put forward the views of the party on print and electronic media and also on leading TV channels.”
Similarly, another speaker Tanweer Ahmad was the Chairman of the Hajj Committee during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Government and a member of national executive committee of BJP.
The movers and shakers of ‘Muslim Youth For India’ are clearly a front of BJP/Modi, assigned with the task of making inroads into the Muslim community. Can we cry foul at a political party trying to reach out to a community, even if the same has hitherto been suspicious in its politics? Hardly. However, the party’s representatives must first stop pretending to be leaders of the community. A recent meeting in Batla House held by BJP’s minority cell could barely attract 18 students, and these too remained skeptical of the party. Sareshwala’s show required students of Jamia School and University to fill up the Jamia auditorium.
If these TV friendly socialites, about-to-retire professors, eyeing some sarkari posts and other sundry thekedaars want to become the leaders of the community, they must communicate the grievances, anxieties and demands of the community to the political leadership, instead of being the goodwill ambassadors of a party that goes about spreading hate and venom in the name of love jihad, conversions, ghar wapsi, etc. Why was ‘ghar wapsi’ not uttered a single time by any of the so-called stellar Muslim leadership present at Jamia? Is it not the Sangh Parivar’s idea of mainstreaming Muslims?
To those who wish to curry favours with Modi and his government, and to contractors assigned the tough task of bringing over Muslims to BJP’s side, I say, all the best, but please leave our university alone.
Mahtab Alam is a civil rights activist and writer. He studied at Jamia Millia Islamia between 2001-2008. His twitter handle is @MahtabNama