Edited & Brought to you by ilaxi
M.J.Akbar's Interview with Dr. Rafiq Zakaria on CNBC TV-18 'Encounter' Show
‘Family planning is not anti-Islamic’ - M.J. Akbar Interviews Dr. Rafiq Zakaria
A scholar on Indian Politics and Islam, Dr. Rafiq Zakaria in his latest book, Indian Muslims: Where have they gone Wrong? concentrates on Understanding the problems that affect the community. In this interview which was first aired on CNB-TV-18's 'ENCOUNTER' he looks at these from a socio-historical perspective.
Q: So Dr Saab, why don’t we begin with the title of your book, where do you think Indian Muslims have gone wrong?
A: You see, I entered politics in a very sort of emotional way in 1937 when I was in the last year of my school. And by chance I was able to meet Mahatma Gandhi who was waiting at the Poona railway station, sitting on a bench waiting for the arrival of the train. And I rushed to him and I just asked him, "Gandhiji, what are you going to do about Hindu Muslim unity?" He was amused that a teenager like me dared to ask him such a question. But he smiled, and he said, "I’ll do everything that is possible and in my power, and if need be, I’ll die for it."
Q: Sir, has your love for Gandhi made you into a bitter foe of Jinnah?
A: In a way you can put it that way, because I also met Jinnah in 1938 when I was the general secretary of my college union. I took him to address our union (Ismail College at Jogeshwari, in now Mumbai)... And his speech was so bitter and he attacked the Congress, called the high command all kinds of names. And I travelled with him back to his residence, and I found him so aggressive about Hindu-Muslim relations that I felt that this is not going to help the Muslims.
Q: This was in 1938. If we stretch our minds back, then do you realise that this is after 1937, after the elections, and after the Congress refused to come into an alliance with him in Uttar Pradesh and Maulana Azad says very clearly in India Wins Freedom, that it was the Congress obstinacy that finally drove a man like Jinnah towards ideas of separation?
A: You are absolutely right and I have said that in my book The Man Who Divided India, that nobody tried as hard as Jinnah did to come to some kind of understanding with the Congress. There were two three reasons why it didn’t happen. One, Nehru’s allergy to Jinnah. He somehow or the other, could never get on. And if you see some of the letters he wrote to Gandhiji, specially when Gandhiji was attending the Round Table Conference, and the way he talked about Jinnah. And also in 1938, when we had invited him for the conference of Federation of Students’ Union, and the two of them were together called, he treated Jinnah with a contempt which took everyone aback and that is one of the reasons why I think that no proper understanding with Jinnah and Nehru could be arrived at. And that was in a way an obstacle to Gandhi-Jinnah talks also.
Q: And won’t you logically, if you take emotions aside, and we take aside the fact that Nehru was genuinely a great man... But in that case, isn’t Nehru as much responsible for Partition as Jinnah?
A: I have said that in my book, that I hold Jinnah primarily and mainly responsible because after all it was his insistence which resulted in Partition, you cannot deny that. But what was surprising was that Nehru and Patel easily agreed to the Mountbatten Plan and in fact the Cabinet Mission’s plan also failed because of the turn that Nehru gave to it and which even surprised Sardar Patel who called it an "emotional insanity" on Nehru’s part...
Q: This was at a press conference which Nehru...
A: And (it also) shocked Gandhi. But it was quite clear that somehow or the other Nehru was not prepared to share power with Jinnah and that to a large extent applied even to a majority of members of the Congress Working Committee. They sort of forgot Jinnah’s secular role till 1937, and the communal garb that he took... And specially the propagation of the Two-Nation theory that he did which alienated him completely from the Congress high command.
Q: But isn’t it true that in March 1947, Nehru and Patel actually got the resolution for the partition of Punjab passed without telling Gandhiji?
A: Gandhiji wrote to them and asked them as to how this happened, and they didn’t reply to him. And Gandhiji then also asked in that very letter that are you thinking of doing the same thing with Bengal? Therefore, they kept Gandhiji completely out of the picture when the crucial talks with Mountbatten took place. And Mountbatten, though he sort of talks ill of Jinnah, was really in league with Jinnah because that was the message that Churchill had given him, that whatever happens you see that Jinnah’s demand is accepted and these Hindus are taught a lesson because they are the ones who have driven us out of India.
Q: And knowing that Nehru was very close to Mountbatten, do you think that he was also in on this secret understanding?
A: No, I can’t sort of put Nehru in the dock as far as that is concerned, but Nehru was somehow or the other not ready to work with Jinnah or with the Muslim League because he felt that they are reactionary, they would be coming in the way of the progress of India, they are the people who will be obstacles and other things. You see they didn’t have the vision of a Lincoln. After all, Lincoln faced the same situation in America in 1860. The relationship between the North and the South was worse than between Hindus and Muslims.
Q: Yet, Jawaharlal Nehru always had the hand of Lincoln on his desk.
A: That is surprising. You see, he didn’t have the vision and courage of Lincoln, I am sorry to say. I am a great admirer of Nehru who had done a lot for India, there’s no doubt about it, specially as far as the freedom struggle was concerned and also for rebuilding India after Independence. But the fact remains that somehow or the other as Lohia has said... He was tired, he was... Lohia says he was hungry for power or whatever it is. And somehow or the other he came to the conclusion that let us get rid of these Muslim Leaguers and Jinnah and all these fellows and we shall have a more consolidated India to rebuild.
Q: Well, that’s a point on which many people outside the Congress might agree. But that makes it twice in Jinnah’s life that he was snubbed. Once by Nehru and in 1920 by Gandhi.
A: No, you see Gandhi tried his level best to come to an understanding.
Q: But isn’t it true that Jinnah was against the politics of the Khilafat Movement?
A: The whole question is, that Jinnah had no emotional attachments to Muslims. Let us be quite clear.
Q: Jinnah is 57 years ago. The past is the past. Why are Indian Muslims today still mired in poverty, still mired in some kind of intellectual backwardness? These are the charges against them. When people read, for example, the Muslim Personal Law Board chief saying that family-planning is anti-Islamic.
A: I think you have said in your book also and the other day during the launching of my book, that this whole business of numbers should not really affect us. And you are right there because what has happened is that the Muslims have always had a kind of insecurity as far as the Hindus are concerned. And, therefore, the entire politics of the Muslim leadership has been confrontationist. Right from 1906 if you see or even you go back to when the Congress was founded. And somehow or the other this confrontationist attitude against the Hindus... And Hindus also never seriously tried to ease that kind of insecurity that the Muslims felt, that resulted in Partition and after Partition also the Muslim leadership continued the same game of confrontation.
Q: Doctor Saab, you are a scholar. I think people would like to know a very clear answer. Is family-planning anti-Islamic or not?
A: Family planning is not only not anti-Islamic, but... I have written about it enough. There is the Quranic injunction about it that never take a weight which you cannot bear. There is also the...
Q: And in the Hadis there is the recognition of Allah’s...
A: There are a number of traditions about it. There are many ulemas who have sort of supported it, but more than that, the Al Azhar has given several fatwas in favour of it. Even the Grand Imam of the Masjidul Haram which is within the precincts of the Holy Kaaba and he is the sort of most respected religious leader, they have all said that family planning is not against the teachings of Islam. And more than that, the document that was passed unanimously by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1966, has been signed by every Muslim head of state including Saudi Arabia.
Q: Then why are Indian Muslim leaders particularly those who belong to the clergy, so anti-reform? Why are they so ... conservative is the most polite word I can use!
A: You see, they are because, the media we shall blame...
Q: You can hardly blame the media.
A: You see media always, and that has been the unfortunate part of it, that whenever anything wrong can be said about the Muslims or any pronouncement is made if you put them in a bad light, they will highlight it. And what is being done for a progressive attitude, progressive outlook, that is never never given any importance or highlighted by the media. Both electronic and the print, that has been my experience. I am giving you my own example. I have fought more than seven to eight Assembly and Lok Sabha elections and because I have been a "progressive or a reformist etc" 99% Muslims have voted for me.
Q: Doctor Saab, what is the validity, let us say, the moral validity of the Muslim Personal Law Board?
A: They have no validity whatsoever, because really speaking, all issues of personal law are decided by the courts. Under the Shariat Act this has been so provided, in 1938. And let me tell you, that at that time many Muslim members insisted that these cases of Muslim Personal Law should be heard and decided by Muslim judges. Jinnah was the strongest opponent of it. And it was because of Jinnah that that provision was not incorporated. And for instance, there is much talk of triple talaq. Even if the AIMPLB decides against it, it can’t be abrogated because of the Muslim Personal Law. Because it was approved by the Privy Council in 1919, that it was legal and it was valid. Now if it has to be abrogated, then you must go to the Supreme Court. It is our Supreme Court alone that can reverse the Privy Council decision. And even today, all your cases of inheritance, of marriage, of divorce and other things are decided not by the AIMPLB but by the courts. And that’s why the Personal Law here is known as Mohammedan Law.
Q: But then why are these people so averse to going to the Supreme Court, because they think that their power will be finished?
A: No, I mean after the Shah Bano case...
Q: What do you think about the Shah Bano case?
A: The worst thing that could have ever happened as far as the Muslim leadership is concerned. I think it has done more harm to Islam than anything else. And that’s what even Justice Javed who was then the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan... He said I’ve never known a more stupid way of agitating about a non-issue as the Indian Muslims did.
Q: Mrs Gandhi allowed... During her time the Muslim Personal Law Board was created I think at a meeting in Bombay and you were very close to Mrs Gandhi.
A: I was close to Mrs Gandhi, but Mrs Gandhi had nothing to do with... Please remember this thing. You see it got some kind of an importance because of its founder president popularly known as Ali Miyan. And the membership is predominantly Deobandis. And the Barelvis... 90% of the Muslims owe their allegiance to the Barelvis, not even 10% give their allegiance to the Deobandis. And the All India Muslim Personal Law Board has no enforceable authority in law and as far as the generality of Muslims is concerned, the Barelvis have refused to accept any kind of verdict by the All India Muslim Personal Law Board.
Q: But three things, burqa, polygamy and I think talaq, talaq, talaq. These are the three things which reinforced the image of Muslims being anti-women.
A: You see you have been very active both in politics and you are one of the most outstanding editors that India has ever produced...
Q: That’s very kind of you...
A: No, no, no. I want to ask you, have you ever taken any kind of a poll, as far as these issues are concerned, what is the reaction of the common Muslims? I mean, they go on passing some resolution expressing some views and you people go on highlighting it, but as far as the common Muslims are concerned, they are not bothered about all these things.
Q: The whole agitation against the Babri mosque, the fears that came in, did that give rise to certain kind of conservatism, or as some people say, even fundamentalism?
A: No, you see I’ve always told you that the main bane of Hindu Muslim relations has been the insecurity that Muslims have felt vis-à-vis the Hindus. And, therefore, when Babri Masjid was demolished, psychologically, practically every Muslim felt that perhaps these people are going to destroy every mosque. And there was even a widespread rumour throughout the Muslim mohallas that they will not allow you to do your prayers etc. So it was that thing psychologically that created a kind of a scare among the Muslims. And, therefore, they have still not got out of it, because the whole attitude of those who acclaim Hindutva creates that kind of a fear among Muslims and you cannot write it out. You see, Vajpayee talked of liberalism, secularism and other things, but really speaking, as far as the influential Hindus are concerned, they have become much more anti-Muslim than ever before. And the Babri Masjid (demolition) was a symbol of that hatred against the Muslims which they experienced.
Q: Do you see the Indian Muslims emerging out of the madrasa-poverty trap in the near future? Or is there any other way?
A: I am running about 15 colleges in my old constituency of Aurangabad. I am running here (Mumbai) three colleges, and I can tell you that you look at the university results now, and much larger number than ever before is coming into the merit list. Therefore, there is now that awakening among the younger Muslim generation to really stand on their feet, to harness their own talents.
Q: Is there a growing recognition among Muslims in our country that we have the privilege, that perhaps we are the only Muslims in the world to have enjoyed nearly 60 years of uninterrupted democracy?
A: That you are right. This is another aspect of it. In your speech you also referred to the Brahmins... Look at the Brahmins... It is a small microscopic minority. It was driven out of Tamil Nadu, driven out of even Maharashtra, but still because they sort of harnessed their own talents, their own energies, they have managed to hold their own.
Q: Lastly Doctor Saab, are you optimistic or are you pessimistic about Hindu Muslim relationship?
A: Well, really speaking after Gujarat I was very pessimistic. But then again after the Lok Sabha elections and the results in Gujarat itself, I have again come to the conclusion that Hindus will not be so aggressively hateful of the Muslims, and therefore...
Q: We must never really confuse some Hindus with all Hindus, and if India is a secular nation it is not simply because I as a Muslim want it to be secular but because by far the larger majority of Hindus of our country want it to be secular.
A note from Zakaria: To Akbar's question whether I was optimistic about the future of the Hindu Muslim relations, I failed to add that I could not but be optimistic because Hindu-Muslim unity had been my life long mission. I told Balasaheb Thakeray that he had said to Time Magazine that he would like to throw all these Muslims into the Arabian Sea but I told him,"Balasaheb, they would all swim back." He laughed and said, "You are right. We must all live in peace."