MR. Justice K.M. Yusuf, a retired judge of the Calcutta High Court, who has been appointed Chairman of the West Bengal Minority Commission only last week, believes that the bulk of the Muslim vote in West Bengal _ which he puts between 20 to 25 per cent _ will go to the Left Front and the Congress in the present elections.
In an interview to Business Line he said that lack of ``good leadership'' among the Muslims had resulted in their getting exploited in the name of religion vis-a-vis the battle of the ballot. Excerpts:
How do you think the Muslims of West Bengal will vote this time?
In West Bengal, the Muslims are feeling safe as far as their lives and properties are concerned. The Government is trying to protect them from communal violence, a common feature previously.
How previous would that be?
I do not want to name any political parties. But after independence we had so many devastating communal riots. But during the 22 years of the present government, we had very little of it... any communal violence was nipped in the bud.
Do you think West Bengal is one of the better States of India when it comes to communal peace?
Not only I think so, but I have heard people of great responsibility .. like the GOC of the Eastern Command... saying that compared to many of the other States, this State is much better as far as law and order is concerned. As far as the national election scenario is concerned, the Muslim wants the communal forces to be kept at bay and the secular forces to unite.
What is the percentage of Muslim vote or population in West Bengal?
I think it is certainly between 20 to 25 per cent.
Yes. When the census is done, large chunks of Muslim population are left uncounted...in the last three census exercises.
Would you agree with the point of view that the real percentage of the Muslim population in India is about 25 per cent?
There is no denial. It may be more. Anyway, it cannot be less than 20 per cent. It could be 25 per cent. I do not say like some others that it is 30 per cent. It is quite a substantial chunk.
So which way do you think the West Bengal Muslims vote?
The Muslim vote will be divided between secular forces and a small minority of the Muslim vote may go to the communal forces.
You mean the BJP-Trinamul combine?
I do not name anybody. But unfortunately there are some parties which say they are secular but siding with communal parties. So some vote might go to them also. There will be division of vote between the Left Front, the Congress and the Trinamul, but the major chunk will go to the Left and the Congress.
When the Dalits can remain united, how come the Muslim vote gets divided? Or do you think this is a good thing, that they should vote after applying their minds?
There is no leadership among the Muslims. There is no one to guide them properly on what is good for them and what is not good. And it is very easy to exploit the Muslim in the name of religion. And Muslims, as you know, are emotional people and where emotion comes...
Don't you think they are actually getting exploited by their own leaders.. maulvis and others?
This is an unfortunate development that religious leaders are indulging in politics. This is not their field of operation. The concept of politics is not what it was during Prophet Mohammed or the Caliphs' time. Then religion and politics were one, not separate. But in modern times they have been separated. At those times, the Caliph used to be the head of the state and head of the religion.
But the vote bank that the Congress made of Indian Muslims... do you think that has done any good to the community?
The political parties of India harp much on the Muslim vote bank but now I think the Muslim vote bank will generally disintegrate...
Hasn't it already started?
Yes it has... and what a particular Imam of Delhi or some Mufti of another place says, I think, will not have too much of an impact on the voters. After all, education is spreading among the Muslims. No doubt they are an emotional lot but there are elements among the Muslims who have begun to think what is good for them and what is not. The enlightened Muslims will vote after judging the condition of India, which way the wind is blowing and whether secularism should be strengthened or not and if this is not strengthened, what will be the future of India.
Do you think a percentage of the Muslim votes will go to the BJP or its allies?
Of course the BJP and allies will get some votes, but the BJP on its own will get a negligible percentage of Muslim votes. That is my reading. I may be wrong.
It is still being conceived as a communal party..
Of course the BJP is the No. 1 hero responsible for the demolition of Babri Masjid, with the RSS and allies. But no less responsible for the demolition is the Congress(I) headed by Mr. P.V. Narasimha Rao who was the then Prime Minister. He came on Doordarshan and I myself heard him saying that yeh masjid usi jagah banayi jayengi jahan thi (this mosque will be reconstructed at the same spot). What happened thereafter? He was the Prime Minister and could have stopped the demolition had he applied force.
I am not praising anybody, but it is a fact that the West Bengal Chief Minister, Mr. Jyoti Basu, talked personally and twice on that day to Mr. Rao that I have reports that it is going to be demolished. Please take action. But Mr. Rao kept saying.. Well, I am thinking.. I am looking into it. Thereafter, the Chief Minister was desperate and indignant. And, thereafter, the demolition started.
What are the main issues plaguing the Muslims of Bengal?
It is said that employment has not been given to the Muslims. But unemployment is a problem of the entire population of West Bengal and not a problem of only Muslims.
But do you find any discrimination?
Where recruitment is concerned, you can have the most secular leader at the top and there is no doubt that there is no person more secular than Mr. Basu today. But the moment you go down the strata, people are not the same. I was heading several offices, but I myself could not get co-operation from the lower staff. This is the difficulty. You know what happens at the employment exchanges... can the Chief Minister or his other ministers go and sit there?
But why have the Muslims remained educationally so backward?
That is a long history. If Sir Syed Ahmed Khan had not been born, it would have been much worse. For one full century, the Muslims neglected English education; poverty is another reason. Now there is a rush for English medium schools! But the problem here is that the Muslims get detached from the vernacular and the basic culture of the place, which is not good. They are neither westernised nor Indian.
What about women's rights and their representation in politics?
(Laughs loudly) First of all, tell me if we have 33 per cent of men who are fit to go to our legislatures and become MPs or MLAs.
If the unfit men are going there, let the unfit women too go there.
There will be chaos and double chaos.
So you are against reservation for women?
No, I am not against women's reservation in our legislatures. But I think that it should not be 33 per cent, but less than that.
What percentage would you recommend?
From what I have seen at our panchayat level.. the woman is there but the husband who is really guiding or dictating to her.
But she will learn..
She will undoubtedly learn but after causing a lot of damage to the country. Even Ms. Sonia Gandhi is learning but at what cost. (Laughs again). Now she has improved quite a lot. If you put a person with a law degree but no judicial experience as a judge, what will happen? He will create havoc.
Even among women's reservation do you think there should be a reservation for Muslims, the backward classes, etc. as Mr. Mulayam Yadav has been saying?
On this issue, I have no comments.
The RSS and the Sangh Parivar have been saying that Muslims have not integrated themselves into the mainstream of Indian life. Your comments.
If you say that if you are an Indian that means you are a Hindu and that you will have to accept Indian culture which means Hindu culture, I totally disagree. There is no Indian culture which is not the amalgamation of different cultures. So you can't say Hindu culture is Indian culture. India has Bengali culture, UP culture, Bihari culture, Assamese culture, etc. It is a big garden with a variety of flowers.
Do you think the BJP will raise the uniform civil code issue again, after some time?
It cannot now, because of the allies. But it is certainly there in their agenda and their leaders say it.
But are you against uniform civil code?
Yes, because it is not possible to implement it in India. The laws of Islam and the Hindu law are totally different. Take adoption for instance.. there was much hue and cry that the adoption Bill should be passed and made into law. At a seminar where I was a solitary Muslim speaker, I said I am ready to accept adoption. But you are a Brahmin; will you accept a Muslim as your son? There was total silence, as in a graveyard. Nobody got up to even make a false claim that yes, I will accept a Muslim as my son. So what adoption are you talking about?