Will a Muslim political party work at national level?
Since 1947, moves by sections of Muslims to form their own political party at the national level have met with suspicion, condemnation, opposition and resentment from different quarters, including the Muslim intelligentsia.
After the Partition, the Muslim League in India was rechristened as Indian Union Muslim League with the objective of becoming an all India party. It never received country-wide acceptance but it did survive and got respectable standing in Kerala.
Several decades later Syed Shahabuddin, the diplomat-turned politician, tried his luck at forming the Insaf Party but failed. His belief that the Muslims, other religious minorities, SCs, STs and BCs could work together as counter-balance to the national parties was shattered. He realised late in life that the nation was not ready for such a dispensation.
In the meantime, the national political parties began losing out to the rising tide of regional satraps. First it happened in Tamil Nadu and followed later in the Hindi heartland. Andhra Pradesh did not lag too far behind. Region and caste became two dominant factors in the new phenomenon.
Keeping in line with the national trend, some Muslim intellectuals said it was easier and viable to form Muslim parties at the regional level. They cited the example of IUML in Kerala, MIM in AP and All India United Democratic Front in Assam. Some others said that the Muslims did not have to form any political party of their own. They said that the Muslims, politically speaking, are being taken by regional parties as one of the caste groups which are at the lower end of the socio-economic strata. Following this trend, large sections of Muslims sided alternately with the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party in UP with pleasing results.
Concurrently, another section of the Muslims in UP tried to support the birth of a regional party of the Muslims and they were not disappointed. The Peace Party won four seats in the last Assembly polls in UP.
Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, on the other hand, had been thinking on a different plane. It feels that there is scope for a Muslim political party at the national level. After deliberating over the idea for years the JIH launched Welfare Party of India in New Delhi some 18 months ago. After opening its units in about six states, it is preparing to start its operation formally in Andhra Pradesh in October next. The AP unit has already chosen its president, Sultan Mohiuddin Mullick, a veteran Telugu writer and journalist.
The Welfare Party says that it would work in association with all religious and caste affiliations on the social justice plank. More specifically, it would like to carry along the marginalized groups such as SCs, STs and BCs. It would have, among its office-bearers, a large number of non-Muslims.
The formation of WP in Kerala has upset the Muslim League. It is going to face the similar situation in Assam and AP where AIUDF and MIM are well entrenched. They are bound to resist the appearance of the so-called Muslim party on their horizons.
The MIM has not reacted to the announcement that the WP will take off in AP soon. It shows that MIM does not take the formation of WP seriously. But it would definitely get into a combative mood the moment it perceives that the WP is trying to cut into the MIM constituents.
The idea of WP is still in formative stage. May be a couple of general elections down the line the Muslims would be able to tell whether they need their own party at the national level or be happy with the regional formations and alliances.