LUCKNOW, Uttar Pradesh — Maulana Syed Kalbe Jawad Naqvi, the most powerful Shia Muslim leader in India, says his community has always had a soft spot for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), but is troubled by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s relentless anti-Muslim rhetoric and his name-changing spree in Uttar Pradesh.
Often described as ‘a minority within a minority,’ Shia Muslims support the BJP. While community leaders say there are between 40 to 70 million Shia Muslims in India, a Pew Survey from 2009 has them at 16 to 24 million, around 10 to 15 percent of the Muslim population in India.
For the 2014 Lok Sabha election, Jawad had called on his community to support the BJP — by cutting Congress Party votes — if need be.
In a recent conversation with HuffPost India, Jawad, whose family has been at helm of Shia Muslim affairs for over two centuries, talked about why Shia Muslims support the BJP and whether Adityanath is hurting his party’s chances in the 2019 general election.
What do you make of Yogi Adityanath’s remarks about Muslims?
It is tiring. If you don’t work and just keep giving divisive statements then I don’t think anyone would like it. The public wants the dirt that is flowing in their gallees and mohallas to be cleaned up. The public is not convinced by slogans. The public wants work. No one is impressed with hollow words.
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BJP has made him its star campaigner.
The strategy of making him star campaigner has failed. Where has it worked? Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh Telangana? If it hasn’t worked then how can one say it will work in the future? If he continues as a Hindu-vaadi then no community is going to like him. The BJP has moved from the track of sabka saath, sabka vikas. The public is not happy with the BJP. There is still time. If the BJP wants the support of Muslims and Hindus, then it should go back to sabka saath, sabka vikas. It should treat everyone equally. If Yogi ji is going to be the star campaigner then he should stop pitting one community against another. Neither the Hindus nor Muslims are happy. BJP is not going to get votes from mandir or masjid.
What do you make of the chief minister changing the names of cities?
It is not a good thing to change the names of cities. Someone else founded the city, but you are changing the name. The Shia rulers named Faizabad, what right do you have to change it? Establish your own city and then name it. You have no right to change the name of a city that someone else founded. Muslims ruled for 600 years, but they did not change the names of cities. Rampur is still Rampur. Ayodhya is still Ayodhya. Sitapur is still Sitapur. What if Rampur was changed to Allah-pur?
A hungry person comes to you for food, and you say that instead of Abdul Rehman, I will call you Abdul Ram. Will his stomach be full? This strategy of changing names is pointless. You must provide basic necessities. People can see that you are doing superficial things to cover up the lack of real work. The hungry are still hungry. The thirsty are still thirsty. The unemployed are still unemployed. What difference has changing names made?
Why has the Shia community supported the BJP?
There is good and bad in everyone. No one is 100 percent good. We consider which party hurts us the least. With the exception of a few things, the BJP has not hurt us. Other parties like Congress and the Samajwadi Party have hurt us. The Congress was in power for 55 years. The Sachar Committee report says the condition of Muslims is worse than Dalits. Who is responsible for it? Is it BJP, SP, BSP or is it Congress? It is Congress. The big communal riots - with the exception of the 2002 Gujarat riots - have all happened during the time of the Congress or under the Samajwadi Party. But the BSP, if it hasn’t helped us, it hasn’t hurt us.
Even Sufi sects have supported the BJP. The Wahabi elements in the Sunni have always hurt the Shia and Sufi communities and they have always been with the Congress or the SP. Our Muharram processions were banned for 22 years, but neither the Congress nor the SP helped. It was only when the BSP and BJP coalition government came to power in UP, our processions were restored.
What is your assessment of the BJP government at the Centre?
The start of a few things under the BJP were good, but the results were not positive. There was demonetisation to curb black money and terrorism. But they did not get notes printed, there were long lines and several people died. They announced it hastily. They did not make full preparations. Then, they promised to give Rs 15 lakhs (to every citizen), but it never happened. They have not fulfilled promises. The public is angry. But there have also not been any big communal riots. Muslims have not been hurt.
How can you say Muslims have not been hurt? What about all the lynchings in the name of cow protection?
The BJP is different from various organizations like the Bajrang Dal, Shiv Sena, Hindu Mahasabha, and Vishwa Hindu Parishad. These groups have hurt the BJP. Hindus have only ended up hurting the BJP. The Mahant of Ayodhya is not the BJP. Every Hindu who says or does something cannot be linked to the BJP.
These groups existed before 2014, but sinceBJP came to power in 2014, cow vigilantes have felt they can act with impunity.
These people should be given stringent punishments in a timely manner so they don’t spoil the name of the BJP.
What is your stand on the Ram Temple-Babri Masjid dispute?
If you can 100% prove that there was a temple, then no mosque can be built on the spot. Only the court can determine whether it is proved. If the court is convinced that a Ram Temple existed then we can give up the claim.
Shia Central Waqf Board chairman Syed Wasim Rizvi has said a Ram Temple must be built on the dispute and a mosque can be built elsewhere.
The persons who are making these statements are not leaders of the Shia community. Leaders have public support. Syed Wasim Rizvi can give his own house for the construction of the mosque. He is being used by the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh).
What about MLC Bukkal Nawab who says the same at Rizvi?
He is MLC, not MLA, who was chosen by the government. He is a government stooge. He has government support but no public support.
Why did you ask for a fatwa from Iraq on cow slaughter?
The Shia religious leadership is in Iraq and Iran. Some people believe in Iraq’s Sistani sahab and others believe in Iran’s Khomeini sahab. It is a 40-year-old fatwa. A letter was sent from us detailing the current situation, explaining that killing cows is getting Muslims killed.
What does the fatwa say?
If there is danger to your life, if there is danger to your honour, then doing this (cow slaughter) is haram.
The fatwa from Iraq looked as if the Shia leadership is doing the BJP’s bidding...
It’s not like that. Saving one’s life is a legitimate concern. Not eating cow will not kill a person. There is goat, buffalo, so you don’t have to get yourself killed in order to eat a cow. This was a fatwa iN support of Muslims. Save your life and your dignity. You have to follow the laws of the country that you are residing in.
Do you think the divide between Shia and Sunni Muslims have lessened or grown in the country?
Our effort is always that the divide should not increase. I believe it has decReased. If you see, in Lucknow, there was a time when no year would pass without there being one or two massive riots. But now, many years have passed without bloodshed. We spoke with the Shia public, the Sunni public, explaining that only we will suffer if this continues. It is the shops of the public that are burnt down in a riot, while the maulvis that instigate people are the ones who benefit in the end. They collect chanda in the name of rebuilding but use the money for themselves. People have heard this message.