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Atishi, will AAP also treat Muslims as just a pliant, fearful votebank, asks Umar Khalid

Aam Aadmi Party is taking the Muslim for granted, with a sense of entitlement about their votes while short-circuiting real issues.

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Dear Atishi

The news of you contesting the Lok Sabha elections from the East Delhi constituency is a breath of fresh air. Expectedly, the forces of status quo, in both the Congress and the BJP, have launched a vicious personal attack on you. However, as a citizen who resides in the constituency you are contesting from, I wish to bring to you some concerns in the hope of a dialogue. Something your adversary Gautam Gambhir ran away from.

In February 2019, in Okhla, where I live, thousands of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) posters adorned the walls appealing to the people to vote for the party if they want to defeat the BJP. That is it. The posters had nothing more to them. These were customised posters for Muslim-dominated areas, whereas, in other areas, you were talking about the achievements of the AAP in terms of health care and education. What explains this double standard of your party in terms of the different strategies of campaigns for different areas?

The posters put up in Okhla | Umar Khalid

Does the AAP not have any tangible achievements to show in terms of the development projects it has undertaken in our area? What about the state of the much spoken about mohalla clinics and schools? Or do you yourself know the dilapidated state of many of the mohalla clinics in the area and that are hardly functional. Or the fact that the only school in the Muslim-majority region has been shifted out of the area (to New Friends Colony) leading to an increase in drop-out rates of children from within the community. Many areas within Okhla still do not have any piped water supply. The same parasitical lobbies of real estate builders, contractors and brokers that once used to dominate the Congress party’s organisational structure in the area have now thronged the AAP. The entire area lies in shambles, with open drains, open dumping areas and debilitated roads.

Also read: Is Kejriwal a true politician or unthinking dictator? The question that’s splitting AAP

The emergence of the AAP in the last six years gave rise to a lot of hopes and aspirations among the people of Delhi. For the Muslims, in particular, it allowed them a third option beyond the tried, tested and failed binary of the BJP and the Congress. During the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and, particularly, the 2015 Vidhan Sabha elections, the Muslims latched on to this new option and voted enthusiastically for your party.

Here was a party, in the words of journalist Jyoti Punwani writing in 2014, that without always invoking the older secular trope of fear, made the Muslims “feel the tangible pride of being part of a new kind of politics that does not see them as separate.” This new politics involved developing a new leadership from within the community and bringing the Muslim out of their ghettoised existence. But cut to 2019, we now see the AAP resorting to the same old Congressi tactics of doing politics in minority-dominated areas that it once claimed to break away from. And what is that? To take the Muslims for granted, to take the entire constituency for granted, to have a sense of entitlement about their votes while simply short-circuiting real issues.

Let me take the example of the continued presence, despite citizens protests for over a decade, of the highly toxic incinerator-based waste-to-energy plant operated by Jindal Group in the thickly populated residential parts of the area. It was set up during the Congress years with the stated aim of recycling waste, but using outdated technology, it has only contributed to the toxicity in the air of Okhla, making its pollution levels worse than even the rest of Delhi. The plant stands in violation of several rules of the environment ministry and has been the cause of several ailments in the area including bronchitis, asthma and cancer. Last year, in September a joint inspection by the Central Pollution Board and the Delhi Pollution Control Committee informed the National Green Tribunal that this plant is not complying with the emission standards and is leading to a drastic increase in air pollution in the area.

Also read: Indian liberals want to support everything Muslim, but that’s not the way to equal rights

Back in 2015, Arvind Kejriwal had assured the residents of the area that the plant would be closed down. Far from being closed, its owners, in fact, have now applied to expand the plant’s capacity.

In local conversations, whenever they have been approached by the residents, your party members say that the matter is not in the hands of the Delhi government. Why then, did Kejriwal assure the residents after becoming the CM in 2015, that he will ensure that the plant shuts down? Or, if the matter is indeed not in your hands, why hasn’t the Delhi government extended its support to the residents who have been protesting continuously against the plant, and holding several jansunwais. Aren’t you also replicating the older arrogant attitude of the Congress, which had turned a deaf ear to the pleas of the residents in this regard?

Protests against the Okhla plant | Umar Khalid

In the last five years of the Narendra Modi regime, violence against Muslims has increased, leading to an overarching feeling of fear and desperation amongst the community. In such a situation, all that dominates their psyche when they go out to vote is protection from such violence, and not their rights to rotikapdamakanshiksha and rozgar. But isn’t that what second class citizenship, that RSS aspires to reduce the Muslims to in their ‘Hindu Rashtra’, all about?  That the minorities stop aspiring for a better life and live in perpetual fear. In such a context, it is supposed to be the task of the ‘secular’ forces, who claim to be an alternative to the BJP/RSS, to counter this agenda of hate. But, what have we witnessed instead? Far from speaking out against this larger majoritarian shift in Indian politics since 2014, there is a failure to even address basic civic and economic issues that plagues the everyday lives of Muslims.

Also read: AAP wanted to be party with a difference, but it’s talking about cows, caste like any other

The precarious condition of the Muslims over the years has benefited not just the agenda of parties like the BJP, but also parties like the Congress. Who would know better than you that, historically, the Congress has largely relied upon raising the spectre of the BJP to appeal to the Muslim voters, rather than working much for the betterment and empowerment of the community. The findings of the Sachar Committee Report stand as a bitter testimony to that. It is indeed saddening to see the AAP now moving towards the same.

To conclude, when it comes to the question of defeating the BJP in the upcoming elections, the AAP doesn’t need to tell the Muslims how to vote strategically. Strategic voting has been a compulsion for the Muslims for decades now as they have had to shoulder the burden of secularism disproportionately. They have done that before, they will do so again. After all, they know they will pay the highest price if the BJP returns to power in 2019. But, nevertheless, the question would still stare at you. Would the people of my neighbourhood always be taken for granted as a pliant vote-bank? Or would they be treated as equal citizens?

I wish you to reflect on this and also wish you all the best.

Umar Khalid

The author is an activist and former JNU student. Views are personal.

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  1. Umar,
    Well written but far from reality.
    Muslims themselves are partly responsible for the kind of politics that is played with them. If you insist on keeping rights like triple talaq, multiple wives, and cow eating then obviously your rights to education employment and health will take a backseat.

    Muslims of todays India need reformers more than politicians. It’s the rigidity of the religion that’s holding them back. And this gets exploited by opportunists like (INC,AAP) and targeted by others(BJP).

  2. “The precarious condition of the Muslims over the years has benefited not just the agenda of parties like the BJP, but also parties like the Congress. Who would know better than you that, historically, the Congress has largely relied upon raising the spectre of the BJP to appeal to the Muslim voters, rather than working much for the betterment and empowerment of the community. The findings of the Sachar Committee Report stand as a bitter testimony to that. It is indeed saddening to see the AAP now moving towards the same.”

    – Umar Khalid in an Open letter to Atishi.

    I am largely in agreement with Umar. Creating fear in the minds of Muslims about the spectre of Hindutwa, and making them into a monolith, has been seen as a substitute for social development by lazy anti-BJP politicians also. Social development is a necessary corollary to social justice or inclusive politics. The Muslim growth is a social growth of Muslim women, Dalit Muslims and Muslim poor!

    But where I disagree with Umar is on his omission of the name of the Okhla MLA Amanatullah Khan. In a quick Okhla trip, I found many people blaming Amanatullah Khan for the fruits of social sector growth not reaching the area and for the real estate interests in the area. I don’t know how far they are true. But that aspect should have found expression in Umar’s letter. Arvind Kejriwal and Atishi can’t be the only people to introspect and course correct; some of all this should belong to the area’s MLA as well, especially when other areas have done well.

    And if Kejriwal is to take action against a Muslim MLA, don’t you think a number of people are going to come and say it is an anti-Muslim step? They are not going to ask what has this Muslim MLA done for the fellow Muslims! So not just AAP but also the community political narratives need rethinking!

  3. Mr Umar Khalid why have you started Vidhwa Vilap ……. You want Azadi naa…. That’s not possible under this Govt atleast… And now what do you expect from AAP….. Which Muslim leader till date has asked or tried to improve the condition of Muslims in this country….. One voice raised by Arif Mohd Khan was silenced by the so called Sikular Govt….. All muslim leaders sent their children to English school and instruct their followers to follow Shari’a Law….. What Owaisi has done in his Hyderabad where BJP never tasted power ever….. Why Muslims level in Hyderabad not raised to the level of their Hindu brethren…… Muslim leadership has failed Muslims and you expects from AAP to raise the level of Muslims….. AAP has come to such a pass that there is no difference left between AAP and any other political party….. Even it has sunk below the level of mainstream political parties…. What do you think that how many cases of cow vigilantes happened under Modi Central Govt…… Atleast Modi Govt record is better than previous Khongress Govts…. Bhagalpur riots where 1000 Muslims butchered under Khongress Govt, Hashimpura riots, Meerut Malayana, 1984 Sikh Genocide with 4000+ cold blood murders and many more by Secular Govt as per your anthropology….. So don’t expect anything from anyone….. If you want to raise the level of Muslims then visit ghettos created by the Muslims and ask them to move forward from only Madarasa education and add scientific knowledge in to Madarasa education…. The only way out….


    Mr Khalid

    Your article sounds like a ‘vidhwa-vilap’. A bizzare and abnoxious piece of VICTIMHOOD CRY from the ccommunity which supposidly ruled the country once from this city.
    Kindly ponder the following points:
    Who asked muslims to do hizrat in 1947. And who asked the proportion to stay back.
    Why couldnt they develop socio-economic equity despite being sizeable proportion of city since 1947.
    Is there a collective, organised community based effort to raise specific issue (at least urban n contemporary) and chase them to conclusion. Even tbough its NCR.

    The truth is muslim society have turned into a human equivalent of a ‘bai-ji’ of banarasi kotha. It cries foul play and romanticises the past, its a inward looking, ghetto of most deplorable human minds. Its community leaders display character of a pimp, and community life is nothing but a tiering saga of puritarian-despotism.
    I speciafically ask, is there a rellay hunger strike and mass demontration aginst that factory (tactics u praticed in JNU) or atleast jihad decalred in jumma namaz.
    The problems are in muslim society but U Mr Umar wants some third person to fight for you. After all muslims of delhi belong to glorified mughal times and offcourse the ruling class u know. Soo the king dreams, issue order. And slaves sorts there problem. Isnt.


    In pain, but not in vague

    Your comrade,Mazid

  5. It is time that those psuedo secularists raising the bogey of “Hindu Rashtra” clearly explain to all what does the term mean. If BJP and RSS indeed aspire to take us back to times when Muslim rulers were not predominant in our country it would be the times when the kings were followers of Dharmic philosophy ie Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. And what was the status of minorities during that period? They were treated as equal citizens. So exactly what is this second class citizenship status that our pseudo secularists talk about in the context of Hindu Rashtra? As far as Muslims in India carrying the burden of secularism is concerned, look no further than Kashmir valley, where ethnic cleansing of minorities has been carried out, by the majority Muslim community. I am not even getting to what was the minority population in Pakistan and Bangladesh in 1947 and what it is now. It is high time to call out the fear mongers and divisive forces masquerading as liberals and secularists.

  6. Very interesting questions raised by the Author, as many political parties only use minorities’s insecurities as tool to cash their votes, rather than doing some positive work for their all round growth and development….

  7. Umar raises very important points. This is the kind of BS that AAP should have avoided. Kejriwal and Sisodia must tell us why the only party that ever refused the support of the Imam of Jama Masjid is stooping low. Electoral adjustments and tactics to beat the BJP we will tolerate but becoming Congress we will not, TINA is not a path.

  8. Parties like Aap came into politics via apolitical forum and ended up as any other party. One of the main reasons are national parties BJP and Congress have ensured that they don’t grow. Also, BJP which was raiding apolitical aap to oust Congress thought it would join BJP was in for rude shock, when they faced defeat at the hands of AAP is going all out to liquidate AAP ably supported by Congress. It is for the people to take a call whether they want non BJP or Congress, or continue to suffer at the hands of BJP or Congress

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