The importance of Arif Mohammad Khan

Arif Mohammad Khan, Governor of Kerala, does not miss the opportunity to refer to his progressive position in the Shah Bano case to vindicate high morality in the face of critics. He did this in his recent meeting with Jamat-e-Islami’s MediaOne TV channel. While he is fine with the BJP attacking Muslim practices from a secular standpoint, the twists and turns of his political career tell a more complex story.

Khan is the latest of the anti-Congress acolytes led by former Prime Minister VP Singh, who still holds public office. Like Arun Nehru and Satyapal Malik, the other original members of VP Singh’s Jan Morcha, Khan also found his ultimate political home in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). He demonstrates the failure of Indian politics to create a viable secular party to the right or left of Congress. The “anti-congressism” of the Socialists and Vice President Singh on the left and the Swatantra Party on the right have never been able to keep themselves out of Congress as national parties and ultimately all variants aligned closely with the BJP at some point. in his political journey.

Arif Mohammad Khan’s political career is interesting because many saw him as a Muslim reformer. He certainly took progressive positions on the customs and practices of Muslims in India, which is reflected in his famous stance against his friend and Prime Minister Rajeev Gandhi and his opposition to triple talaq. However, he has always been ideologically right-wing and anti-left.

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He started out as an anti-left student leader at Aligarh Muslim University and became president of the student union in 1972-73. He was discovered by Piloo Mody, one of the founders of the center-right Swatantra Party. Mody took his protégé with him when he merged the Swatantra Party with Chaudhary Charan Singh’s Bharatiya Kranti Dal (BKD). Khan rose to become Secretary General of the youth wing of the BKD and contested his first election under the BKD banner for the Legislative Assembly of Uttar Pradesh and lost. He won the same seat in 1977 after the BKD merged with the Janata Party, a conglomerate of anti-congressists opposed to Indira Gandhi’s Emergency.

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While his move from the Swatantra Party to the BKD and then to the Janata Party was ideologically consistent, the subsequent transition to Congress seems opportunistic in retrospect. Although he was jailed during the Emergency, Khan campaigned for Mohsina Kidwai of the Congress in Azamgarh in 1978, and two years later, he joined the Congress and won the Lok Sabha seats of Kanpur in 1980 and Bahraich in 1984.

1986 was a turning point in Khan’s career when the Supreme Court’s Shah Bano ruling gave Muslim women the right to alimony. The Congress initially sent Khan, a minister, to defend the sentence in Parliament. However, in the face of opposition from the Muslim clergy and the Muslim Board of Personal Law, he backed down. A different minister, ZA Ansari, was then sent to oppose the Supreme Court ruling in Parliament, and a law was enacted to overturn the ruling.

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Circumstances and media hype gave Khan the halo of a Muslim reformer, publicly humiliated by Rajeev Gandhi’s political leap. Since then, Khan’s harsh definition of secularism and his position on the ills of Muslim society in India have remained unchanged, although the context of that debate has been considerably altered by larger political changes. Instead of addressing the community as a reformer, he has preferred to work through the BJP and consequently his political pronouncements have taken on an anti-minority tone consistent with BJP ideology.

After his expulsion from Congress in 1987, Arif Mohammad Khan, along with party rebels Arun Nehru, VC Shukla and VP Singh, formed Jan Morcha with Satyapal Malik. Vice President Singh became Prime Minister. His National Front government was supported by both the leftist parties and the BJP. No one expressed any doubt about the BJP’s support, although the government fell after the BJP withdrew its support over the Ram Rath Yatra issue.

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After failing to convert his anti-corruption platform into a party that was both anti-congressive and secular, most of VP Singh’s acolytes eventually joined the BJP. Satyapal Malik was appointed governor by the BJP and was their cat’s paw in Bihar, Jammu and Kashmir, Goa and Arunachal Pradesh. Arif Mohammed Khan also moved to the BJP after another opportunistic stint with the Bahujan Samaj Party and was appointed Governor of Kerala in 2019. His political restlessness, despite reaching a high constitutional post, shows that he harbors even greater political ambitions.

An assiduously cultivated image as a reform Muslim serves him well. He readily cites both the Indian Constitution and the Holy Koran, opposes the ‘appeasement of minorities’, criticizes madrasa education and the wearing of hijab by young girls at school and university. By holding the Muslim community responsible for its problems, his secularism believes that the minority community does not need special protection. He is consistent with the BJP’s position that special protection for minorities is “pseudo-secularism”.

Arif Mohammad Khan’s constitutional secularism abhors the designation of citizens as part of majority or minority communities and suits the BJP. The party can defend a “model Muslim” like Khan as the leader the community never had. It allows them to attack other would-be Muslim leaders as “fundamentalists” or backwards, from Imam Bukhari at one point to Asaduddin Owaisi today. Khan is an important foil for aspiring Muslim leaders who will not be unaware of the community-laden context in which identity politics plays out today.

While non-BJP state governor-government clashes now take place on a daily basis, Khan is especially important to the BJP. Its tough stance allows the BJP to push its anti-minority narrative, which rationalizes violence against the community for its callous choice of food (beef), dress (hijab in educational institutions), religious practices (loudspeakers in mosques to call worshipers to prayer, Namaz offering in public places) and social customs (triple talaq, refusal to accept a Uniform Civil Code). His interpretation of secularism places the onus on the community to relinquish markers of its social and religious identity or risk being portrayed as opposed to the secular values ​​of the Constitution.

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(The author is a journalist based in Delhi)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.