Sunday, May 6, 2012

'Cops fanning Islamophobia' - By Mohammed Wajihuddin - TNN - The Times of India, Mumbai

The Times of India  --- MUMBAI

'Cops fanning Islamophobia'

, TNN | May 7, 2012, 01.08AM IST

MUMBAI: The last time Muslims and Dalits created a joint political platform in Maharashtra was in the 1980s. Led by former smuggler and don Haji Mastan, the Dalit Muslim Suraksha Mahasangh (DMSM) couldn't survive the heat and dust of politics and died a premature death.

Three decades later, that ill-fated, some say incongruous, experiment is being recalled on the launch of yet another Muslim Dalit party in the state. Interestingly, while the last one was headed by a gangster, the new party, called the Awami Vikas Party, is led by former police officer Shamsher Khan Pathan. Sceptics wonder, however, if that makes any difference-and, more importantly, whether the party itself will make any difference to its constituents.

Poor and under-represented in public and private institutions, both Dalits and Muslims feel deeply deprived under the current Congress-NCP rule. Betrayed by their leaders, both groups desperately want an alternative. "There is a vacuum in the political leadership of both Muslims and Dalits which AVP will fill," claims senior Urdu journalist Sarfraz Arzoo. Arzoo is the only member in AVP's core committee who was also among the founders of DMSM.

The dissimilarities between the two parties are many. Mastan, apart from being a kingpin of smuggling, was a Tamil migrant who spoke a smattering of Urdu but no Marathi. Pathan, hailing from Nasik, was a tough cop and speaks Marathi fluently. DMSM's Dalit face, Jogendra Kanware, taught at a college in Nagpur, and would turn out shabbily in kurta-pyjama with a shawl slung over his shoulder. Kanware had made the renaming of MarathwadaUniversity after B R Ambedkar his life's mission which he finally accomplished. Contrarily, the Dalit face of Pathan's party, Baban Kamble, edits the Marathi daily Samrat, dons smart suits and claims a "considerable" following among Dalits.

Even the circumstances under which the two parties were born were different. "The 1984 Bhiwandi riots had deeply angered Muslims. We wanted a party that would counter the Shiv Sena. We thought Haji Mastan would be a match for Bal Thackeray and our cadre for the Shiv Sainiks," recalls Khalil Zahid, another Urdu journalist who even fought the 1984 Lok Sabha elections from Aurangabad on a DMSM ticket. The AVP came into existence last week, far from the shadow of any kind of communal strife. What then was the compulsion for its launch?

Pathan, who retired on April 30 and launched the party the very next day, says he had been planning it for quite some time after seeing the wave of Islamophobia being fanned by senior police and intelligence officers. "All the intelligence alerts we received were about threats of attacks from Muslim terrorists. There were never any alerts that Hindu terrorists could attack though they were involved in several terrorist attacks as in the cases of Malegaon and Samjhauta Express. When I analysed this, I found that only a changed political set-up could change the situation. It will make a lot of difference if we are in power or share power with other parties."

Kamble too believes that despite reservations for SCs and STs, Dalits have little say at the policy-making level. "Brahminical hegemony deprives Dalits of their due share at all levels. This will change if we form our government," he says.

Despite its claims of being the true representative of Muslims and Dalits, AVP suffers from a significant lacuna. None of its core committee members, except Arzoo (he fought the last assembly election on a Samajwadi Party ticket from Byculla and was mauled), are political creatures. "They are activists and NGO workers. They cannot win even panchayat polls. Electoral politics is a different game," says former Congress MLA Yusuf Abrahni.

At its launch, the AVP showcased kids dressed as Ambedkar, Maulana Azad, a Dalit and a Muslim girl. It remains to be seen if it can do anything beyond this display of tokenism.

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