Civil society activist and writer Harsh Mander recently lamented in his piece, Sonia, sadly, published in the Indian Express on March 17, that the Muslims of India feel politically orphaned. As evidence, Mander referred to a note recently written by a “well-regarded former Congress MP” that asked Muslims to step out of the political arena to prevent the Bharatiya Janata Party from communally polarising the electorate.

The “well-regarded MP” is Mohammad Adeeb, who was elected as an Independent to the Rajya Sabha from Uttar Pradesh in 2008 for a six-year term. His note has been widely circulated and has become a matter of intense debate both within and outside the Muslim community. In this interview to, Adeeb explains why he thinks Muslims should not vote in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Excerpts:

Why have you proposed that Muslims should step down from the political arena?
In 2014, [Narendra] Modi won the Lok Sabha elections minus the votes of Muslims. Since then, the BJP has turned just about every election into a Hindu-Muslim one.

So how is this phenomenon linked to your proposal?
The BJP’s winning formula of communal polarisation has convinced every party, including the Congress, to prove that it is not only a Hindu party, but also the party with the best Hindu credentials.

When you say Muslims should step out from the political arena, do you mean they should not fight elections or that they should not even vote?
My contention is that if secular parties do not forge an alliance, why should we Muslims enter into the political arena and become a catalyst for the Hindu-Muslim polarisation? Why should we damage them?

Wouldn’t they be damaged more if Muslims do not even come out to vote?
These parties remain secular as long as they think they can win with Muslims’ support. But once they realise they cannot win even with the support of Muslims, they cross over [to the BJP].

Like who?
[Union Minister] Ram Vilas Paswan, [Uttar Pradesh minister] Rita Bahuguna, [BJP MP] Jagdambika Pal, etc – who hasn’t deserted Muslims as soon as soon as it dawns on them that they cannot win an election with their support?

Today, the country’s atmosphere is such that it seems only an anti-Muslim candidate or party can win. This atmosphere has been created over the last four years under Modi, a feat that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh could not achieve over the last 70 years.

A BJP worker celebrates the party's victory in the 2017 Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls. (Photo credit: Reuters).

Why has the political atmosphere changed so suddenly?
It is because of TV channels. For their 8 pm slot, they get a couple of maulanas from Okhla [a Muslim-dominated area of Delhi] and RSS ideologues like Rakesh Sinha to debate issues of national importance. Have you ever seen a Gandhian in these debates? These channels, with great respect and awe, say Mr so-and-so is an RSS ideologue. This is the same RSS which opposed Gandhi tooth-and-nail. From internal to foreign policy, to even Muslim Personal Law, these ideologues give their opinions.

I have been telling Muslims not to go to TV channels. It is a conspiracy [to spread the RSS’s ideology]. The coffers of TV channels have been filled with money. The electronic media are the RSS’s franchisees and are solely responsible for spreading hate in the country.

Is it to combat hate that you want Muslims to step out from the political arena?
If secular parties do not come together, what will happen to Muslim votes, say, in Uttar Pradesh? It will get split three ways between the Congress, the SP [Samajwadi Party] and the Bahujan Samaj Party. By contrast, the political motivation of 30% of the electorate is hatred for Muslims.

They are not less than that. Parties wishing to counter the BJP will have to forge a vote-base of at least 35%. In fact, secular Hindus are far more than 35%. Muslim votes get split because each of the non-BJP parties wants to make itself strong. They are not bothered about India’s fate.

So how does your proposal that Muslims should step out of the political arena help?
If secular parties do not come together, then not only will Muslim votes get split, the community will become a catalyst for communal polarisation. Secular parties will lose, India will lose. Muslims should force secular parties to come together. Muslims should tell secular parties that if they do not come together, they will not vote in 2019.

What is the logic?
Take Lalu Prasad Yadav, Mayawati, Mulayam Singh Yadav or Akhilesh Yadav, and the Congress. Leaders of their parties have told me that they would be a zero if Muslims boycott polls and do not vote for them.

I conveyed my proposal to Muslim organisations, but most of them are still mulling it. I have decided, therefore, to gather the Aligarh biradri [past and present students of Aligarh Muslim University] for this campaign. In a month or so, I will tour UP [Uttar Pradesh] and Bihar and contact the Aligarh biradri.

Bihar and UP together send 120 MPs to Parliament. Out of these 120 constituencies, the BJP won 105 in 2014. If the BJP’s 105 seats in these two states can be reduced to 30-35 in 2019, it will not be able to get majority on its own and form the next government. Even if they are able to form a government with the help of its allies, Modi will not be able to get a second term. This is because the BJP’s allies have understood that they are just Modi’s slaves, not partners in the government.

What has been the response of Aligarh Muslim University’s students?
In a month or two, the AMU students’ union will organise a convention on my proposal. They are smart boys. It is rare to find a place in Uttar Pradesh or Bihar where AMU students do not have an organisation of some sort. The Muslim intellectual class will stand up to say that to protect secular India, it is vital that secular parties, which win on account of the community’s votes, should unite. And if they do not unite, then the Muslim community will boycott the 2019 elections. My argument is that if secular parties are with us only for our votes, we do not wish to have any truck with them.

I was delighted that Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav came together for the bye-polls in Gorakhpur and Phulpur. I was saddened that the Congress fielded candidates in both constituencies.

But there will be Muslim leaders who will not agree with your proposal?
Yes, there are those who knock on the doors of political parties for personal gains. They do not bother about the community. I am not a supporter of Asaduddin Owaisi, but he brought in an amendment to the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2017, to nullify the clause prescribing punishment to husbands who resort to instant talaq with a jail term of three years. Out of 27 Muslim MPs, not even one voted in favour of the amendment. Muslims want triple talaq to be discontinued. But the provision for punishment is an oppressive measure. Owaisi was right in bringing an amendment to the Bill. Why should Muslims back leaders who are just the stooges of their parties and do not represent the community’s interests?

Former Rajya Sabha MP Mohammed Adeeb.

Mander in his piece suggested that for Muslims not to vote in an election is akin to them forfeiting their rights.
Rights? A Muslim marries a Hindu girl [Hadiya] who had converted to Islam on her own. But the Kerala High Court annulled the marriage and the Supreme Court took months to decide the issue. What people do not understand is that if the BJP were to win the 2019 elections, neither the Constitution nor the rights of people will survive.

If secular parties unite, would you favour Muslims standing in the 2019 elections?
Yes, why not?

But what if even after the threat of boycott of polls, non-BJP parties do not unite.
The Opposition parties will disappear.

In other words, you think the 2019 elections is the last battle for India’s soul.
Yes, after that there would be no Constitution left. If Opposition leaders do not unite, their status will be the same as that of Muslims today. Let them face what Muslims are experiencing today. We Muslims made a choice not to go to Pakistan. Yet, after 70 years, we are being asked to prove our patriotism and submit the video recordings of madrassas [celebrating India’s Independence Day]. Isn’t it the responsibility of Hindus to speak out, to come together now?

You wrote the note after the India Today enclave. Was Sonia Gandhi’s remark that the Congress has become identified as a Muslim party a provocation?
Sonia’s remark was upsetting. I was sure that no party would publicly declare that Muslims are a liability.

But Congress leader AK Antony had more or less made the same remark in 2014.
Yes, and Anand Sharma, too, was quoted saying that in case the Congress wishes to win in 2019, it has to distance itself from Muslims. If Congress is going to treat Muslims as political untouchables, why should we support it?

If Sonia Gandhi was repeating what other leaders of her party had already said, then why were you so upset with her?
I have always considered her as the most decent politician India has. I have also had close relations with her. In addition, she has made great sacrifices for the country. To hear her say what she said…maybe her party compelled her to say what she did…But well, where do Muslims go then?

But the Congress has always had a strong Hindu right. For instance, the first four states to ban cow slaughter were ruled by the Congress.
As a member of the Rajya Sabha, I once delivered a speech in which I said that the secularism that the Congress is selling is of 14-carat, not 24-carat. On the other hand, the BJP is selling 24-carat Hindutva. Obviously, the 24-carat [ideology] will sell more. I warned them not to sell the 14-carat secularism, for Gandhi and Nehru gifted us the ideology of secularism that was 24-carat.

That said, at least the Congress never gave Muslims the feeling that they did not belong to India. This is indeed a great contribution of the Congress, though Muslims were not given anything [in the material sense]. But we have been orphaned now.

How do you think the Muslim community will react to Sonia Gandhi’s remark?
I am not afraid of Modi or Yogi [Adityanath]. I am afraid of my own community. You cannot tell how many Zafar Sareshwalas will be born. [This is a reference to a type – Gujarati businessman Zafar Sareshwala’s business was severely damaged during the 2002 Gujarat riots, but after opposing Modi, he became his ardent supporter. He is now the chancellor of the Maulana Azad National Urdu University]. Or, for that matter, how many Mohsin Razas will be born. [Mohsin Raza is a former Ranji Trophy cricketer who is the minister of minority affairs in Uttar Pradesh].

If such people come up, the community will witness deep fissures. It could go the way of the Sikh community.

Congress leader Sonia Gandhi. (Photo credit: INC/Twitter).

You mean to say that it might lead to bloody internal conflicts within the community?
Yes. When Modi came to power, there was a rush from Delhi to meet Sareshwala so that he could organise a meeting between them and Modi. I told such Muslims that what we are facing is a battle of ideology. Modi has been winning because the perception is that he will set right the Miyans [a derogatory remark for Muslims].

How do you look upon Asaduddin Owaisi as a Muslim leader?
He is a brilliant man. But his advantage is that he lives in a city [Hyderabad] where Muslims are 70% [of the population]. We in the Hindi heartland do not have that advantage – we live in pockets where Muslims are mostly 10%-15% [of the population]. Owaisi cannot protect Muslims here. So Owaisi can say anything he wishes. But voters in Bihar were intelligent. They finished him off. Owaisi’s remarks are often a catalyst for polarisation.

But Owaisi targets secular parties saying they bag Muslim votes but never do anything for the community.
This charge is applicable to everyone. I would want to know from Owaisi sahib what work has he done for the community.

What is your position on the Babri Masjid?
Whether or not Muslims win the case in the Supreme Court, they should ask why those who demolished the Babri Masjid have not been punished yet.

I ask you the question because all signs show that the BJP will revive the temple issue before the 2019 elections.
Yes, they will. It is because of this factor I made the suggestion that Muslims should boycott elections. If Muslims do not vote, then what electoral appeal will the Ram temple have? Their problem is that they killed the hen [demolished the Babri Masjid] that was laying the golden eggs [getting votes by fanning the anger of Hindus] for them.

Fine, but suppose the judgement comes in favour of Muslims, will they demand that the makeshift Ram temple be removed from the disputed site?
Ali Mian [Islamic scholar Abul Hasan Ali Hasani Nadwi, who died on December 31, 1999] and the Shankaracharya of Kanchi [Jayendra Saraswathi Swamigal, who died February 28, 2018] had worked out a compromise formula. According to it, idols were to be taken out of the Babri Masjid, and a temple was to be built on the 50-60 acres of land around the mosque. The idols were then to be installed in the newly constructed temple. This compromise formula is documented.

I would drive Ali Mian to Bihar Bhavan, where the talks for finding a solution were held in 1990. It was decided that a passage would be left for Muslims wishing to pray inside the Babri Masjid. The other condition was that the 50-60 acres of land would not be given to the political class, but to the Shankaracharya Maharaj.

Why didn’t the deal come through?
BJP leader AB Vajpayee agreed to the compromise deal. LK Advani was then on his Somnath-to-Ayodhya yatra [September-October, 1990]. He stopped in Delhi and cleared the agreement. Both Vajpayee and Advani said the land was a waqf property and, therefore, might not be handed over. VP Singh was then the prime minister. He went over to the president [R Venkataraman] and the disputed property was acquired by the government.

However, when Advani reached Patna, he backtracked. Basically, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad created a furore because the land was to be handed over to the Shankaracharya, not to them. The reneging on the deal prompted Singh to give Lalu the go-ahead and arrest Advani. I remember [Janata Dal leader] Surendra Mohan asking Singh not to do that as the government would fall [The BJP was supporting the Janata Dal-led Union government from outside]. Singh said, “I have had enough. Let the government fall.”