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Muslims & the Pre-Election Political Scene

As the date (July 22,2008) for the vote of confidence from the Lok Sabha in the Manmohan Singh Government nears and as the possibility of a premature election to the Lok Sabha looms large, a question often debated is the attitude of the Indian Muslims to the Indo-US nuclear deal. Do they regard it as anti-Muslim because of the perceived anti-Muslim policies of the administration of President George Bush? That is the question which has been raised again and again by the critics of the deal and of Prime Minister Dr.Manmohan Singh.

2. In this connection, it would be pertinent to take note of the attitude of the Muslims in the Ummah as a whole since that could have an impact on the attitude of the Indian Muslims. The strongest criticism of India’s developing relations with the US came from sections of the Muslims of the Ummah immediately after the visit of Bush to India in March,2006. The criticism was not specific relating to the nuclear deal. It was more in relation to what they saw as India’s co-operation with the US and Israel in the war against jihadi terrorism. They noted with anger and surprise the reluctance of different political formations in India—in the rulling alliance as well as in the opposition— to criticise the allegedly inhuman conditions in which Muslims arrested in Afghanistan, Pakistan and other parts of the world on suspicion of belonging to Al Qaeda were kept in the Guantanamo Bay detention centre in Cuba and denied the basic human rights and the benefits of the due process of the law. Even the former Tony Blair Government of the UK, which was very supportive of the policies of the Bush Administration, expressed its discomfort over the conditions in which the Muslim detenus were kept in the Guantanamo Bay detention centre and in May 2006 publicly called for winding up the Centre and transfering the detenus to the custody of the American civilian authorities from the custody of the military authorities. A similar demand has been voiced by many other democratic countries, by the International Committee of the Red Cross and by all human rights organisations of the West without exception. India’s silence in this matter as well as over the repeated air strikes by the US in Iraq and Afghanistan, which killed a large number of civilians, was an important source of anger. This silence was seen as the inevitable outcome of the growing Indo-US strategic relatioinship.

3. It was in this context that in the last week of April,2006, Osama bin Laden projected the global jihad being waged by Al Qaeda as directed against a joint conspiracy of the Crusaders, the Jewish people and the Hindus against Islam and the Muslims. However, this characterisation has not been repeated by him since then and the anger over India’s silence has not found renewed expression. However, one could not conclude from this that the anger has dissipated.

4.Similarly, the silence of the leftist parties—particularly of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)— over the renewed campaign of repression by the Chinese authorities against the Uighur Muslims in the Xinjiang province bordering Pakistan is being discussed by the various Muslim chat groups in the Internet. They have noted that not only the leftist parties, but even the Indian political class as a whole and the Indian elite have maintained a silence over the recent public execution of two Uighurs, the arrest of about 80 others and the forcible closure of 40 mosques by the Chinese on the ground that they had been started without permission and had become the den of terrorist elements despite the fact that many of these details were carried by the State-controlled media of China. One can legitimately justify this silence on the ground that this was an internal matter of China, but they have noted the energetic manner in which Indian public opinion reacted to the repression of the Tibetans, but maintained a discreet silence on the repression of the Muslims.

5. If the unabated concerns of Israel over Iran’s nuclear programme leads to an Israeli air strike against Iran’s nuclear establishments with Iranian retaliation against Israel, the consequences of this clash could have an impact of the forthcoming election campaign in India due to a surge of anger in the Indian Muslim community. Al Qaeda and other pro-Al Qaeda Sunni organisations have kept silent over the dangers of a US military strike against Iran. In his messages of last year, Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden’s No.2, implied that Iran, which colluded with the US in its invasion and occupation of Iraq, cannot expect the Sunnis to come to its help against the US.

6. However, if Israel—and not the US— attacks Iran, the Sunnis could rally to the support of Iran. The Indian Muslim community is unlikely to remain untouched by the anger of the Ummah against Israel. India’s close strategic relations with Israel built up over the years by the previous as well as the present Governments could affect the attitude of the Muslims, upsetting the electoral calculations of different political formations.

7. In this connection, one notices that the Government of India has already taken a strong stand earlier this week against any military action against Iran .

(The writer, Mr B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: )

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