New Delhi: Former union minister Arif Mohammad Khan, one of the most vocal supporters of the Modi government’s move to criminalise Triple Talaq, made it to the BJP’s list of governors declared Sunday.
Khan, who quit the BJP in 2007 to protest against the party distributing tickets to “tainted” candidates, has, however, toed the BJP line on a number of issues. A vocal critic of “Islamic fundamentalism”, Khan has backed the abrogation of Article 370, dismissed the ‘myth of Muslim persecution’ in the present political climate, saying that the feeling of alienation in the community began in 1986 and not in 2014. In August, Khan told The Indian Express that there had been no major riots in the last five years, the period of the first Modi government’s tenure.
As the newly-appointed Kerala governor, Khan is only the second Muslim after Manipur Governor Najma Heptulla to be granted constitutional office by the BJP.
“Every political party identifies good Muslims for itself on the basis of three yardsticks — cultural capital (one must have an upper-caste, upper-class background), political correctness (stick to the existing dominant interpretation of being a Muslim in India), and the need to abide by party instruction,” political analyst Hilal Ahmed said of Khan’s appointment. “The current political situation says ‘Muslims need reform’, Modi requires someone who can articulate the same, so Arif fits the bill.”
“There is a strong possibility to present the Uniform Civil Code as a measure to reform Islam and Indianise Muslims, Khan is the perfect candidate for that,” he added.
The BJP and Kerala
In Kerala, even though the BJP failed to win a single seat, the party managed to grow its vote share from approximately 10 per cent in 2014 to 12.93 per cent in 2019.
In the assembly elections, the BJP’s vote share grew from 6.03 per cent in 2011 to 10.6 per cent in 2016 and it won its first-ever legislative seat in the state. Although the LDF won a clear majority in the state, the BJP finished second in seven constituencies.
Kerala, with a significant Muslim population of 26.56 per cent, is the fourth largest state in terms of Muslim population in India, according to the 2011 census.
“Kerala is an experiment since Khan is not a mass leader,” said Hilal Ahmed. “Khan has been sent there to intensify polarisation.”
Khan’s ‘reformist’ agenda
Prime Minister Narendra Modi quoted Khan’s speech in January this year when he delivered his Motion of Thanks to the President in Parliament.
“A former minister in the Rajiv Gandhi government said in an interview that its leaders claimed that it was not the duty of their party to uplift Muslims and if ‘they want to lie in gutter, let them be’,” Modi said. The minister referred to by Khan was former PM P. V. Narasimha Rao.
In some quarters across social media, Khan’s appointment is being hailed as a push for Muslim reform.
Arif Mohammad Khan has been appointed as the new Governor of Kerala. What a wonderful choice! The crusader who worked for the rights of Muslim women in India. And has contributed immensely in the political discourse in India. Hope to see him someday as the President of India.
— Aditya Raj Kaul (@AdityaRajKaul) September 1, 2019
The new Kerala governor, however, holds controversial views on his community.
In an interview with TheWire in June this year, Khan lashed out against the victimisation of Muslims in the current political climate and ‘Hindu supremacy’.
“How did they (Muslims) become so poor? Sir Syed said no one has made us poor,” Khan had said. “When the British started English medium education, a few years later 8,000 maulvis gathered and said that the English schools are a threat to Islam and opposed the education of Muslim children in English medium schools. So who is responsible for keeping us poor?”
Khan, a staunch supporter of the Modi government’s move to criminalise Triple Talaq even consulted with the Law Ministry on the issue. He had earlier said that in “the absence of a provision for punishment, (they) defy the judgment of the Supreme Court, would they not have defied the law enacted by Parliament?”
Rajya Sabha MP and senior Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi took a dig at the ruling party for its choice saying that the decision was “entirely expected”.
“Congratulations to #ArifMohammedKhan on being appointed as Governor of Kerala. An entirely expected decision. His statements made in the recent times were an indicator of him soon getting rewarded by the BJP. The reward is well deserved and was long-awaited,” Singhvi tweeted.
Congratulations to #ArifMohammedKhan on being appointed as Governor of Kerala. An entirely expected decision. His statements made in the recent times were an indicator of him soon getting rewarded by the BJP. The reward is well deserved and was long awaited.
— Abhishek Singhvi (@DrAMSinghvi) September 1, 2019
The Shah Bano moment
The four-time MP has a history of switching political parties and has previously held the portfolio Civil Aviation and Energy in the V. P. Singh-led Janata Dal government.
Born in Bulandhshahar, Uttar Pradesh, he contested his first election from Siyana on a Bharatiya Kranti Dal ticket but lost. In 1977, Khan won his first legislative election. Khan then went on to join the Congress and won two consecutive Lok Sabha elections, in 1980 from Kanpur and in 1984 from Bahraich.
In 1986, Khan was a minister of state in the Rajiv Gandhi-led government. He was told to defend the Supreme Court verdict granting Shah Bano alimony after her divorce. His speech was unanimously praised but the government changed its stance. It overturned the judgment by enacting the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986, after mass protests by the Muslim Personal Law Board.
Upset over the move, Khan tendered in his resignation. Soon after, he joined the Janata Dal and was made the union minister.
But Khan’s party-hopping didn’t stop there. He soon joined the Bahujan Samaj Party and was elected to the Lok Sabha in 1998. In 2004, came the watershed moment for Khan. Despite a call from then Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Khan was not taken back into the Congress and joined the BJP. He contested from Kaisarganj in 2004 but lost the election. In 2007, Khan quit the BJP.
- The copy has been updated to amend Hilal Ahmed’s quote.