Subscribe to South Asia Citizens Wire | feeds from | @sacw
Home > Communalism Repository > India: Reluctant Democrats - Jamaat e Islami Hind (JIH)

India: Reluctant Democrats - Jamaat e Islami Hind (JIH)

by Javed Anand, 2 August 2012

print version of this article print version

Communalism Combat, July 2012

Meet Irfan Ahmad. Having started his educational jour-ney from a madrassa in North India, he is today assistant professor of politics in the School of Political and Social Inquiry at Monash University, Australia, and leads the country’s Centre for Islam and the Modern World. What got him there, quite possibly, is his book Islamism and Democracy in India: The Transformation of Jamaat-e-Islami, published in 2010 by Permanent Black. The book forms part of ‘The Indian Century’, a series of select books on India’s recent past. It has also been published by the Princeton University Press in the USA. "This is the most important book written on Muslims in India in the last three decades," says Dale F. Eickelman, a renowned US-based professor of anthropology and a scholar of Islam and Muslim societies.

No mean achievement for a first venture, an outcome of Ahmad’s PhD thesis on the subject from the University of Amsterdam. "You’ve come a long way, baby," one might say to him in appreciation. That, in short summary, is also what Ahmad has to say to/about the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH) in his book. Without quarrelling with Ahmad’s conclusion based on meticulous research, the fact remains that his conclusion, though not incorrect, is incomplete. A complete sentence about the JIH should read: You’ve come a long way, baby, but you’ve still got a long way to go. Though the JIH has in practice moved far away from its ideological moorings, it has yet to cut the umbilical cord that still ties it to the lethal ideology of Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi, the Jamaat’s founder.

That there is a movement within the Jamaat movement in India is true and that’s a welcome thing. But there is a limit to the extent you can play with ideas, how far you can go with verbal jugglery. How long can you "interpret" and "reinterpret" Maududi to legitimise a course of action which would have been absolute heresy for the good maulana? All that you achieve in the process is to stand Maududism on its head. What is needed is a clean break, a decent burial of the Maududian world view, but as of now the JIH is nowhere close to getting there. Ahmad’s otherwise engaging book fails to satisfactorily address the disjoint between Maududism – the bedrock of Jamaat politics – and its otherwise welcome departure – in the secular, democratic direction. Given this dislocation, to many Indian Muslims, the JIH looks in many respects like the mirror image, the Muslim version of the Hindu right-wing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

The Lenin of Islamism

To Maududi, the Lenin of Islamism, goes the dubious credit of "discovering" (Sayyid Qutb of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood was later to toe the same line and stretch it even further) that unlike other religions, Islam is not just faith and rituals, Kalima, namaaz, roza, Haj, zakaat. Above all, Islam is a "revolutionary ideology" whose goal is the capture of state power. To be a Muslim is to be a revolutionary whose entire being is dedicated to dismantling and overthrowing all man-made ideas, institutions, laws, isms – capitalism, communism, fascism – and grabbing political power to establish hukumat-e-ilahiya (Allah’s kingdom) and Shariah laws. Since there is no place for nation and nationalism in Islam, it is the bounden duty of a Muslim to strive through all means possible to establish Allah’s kingdom and Shariah rule throughout the globe: from Japan and China to Iceland and America. If Islam is the revolutionary ideology and Muslims the revolutionaries, for Maududi, the Jamaat and Jamaatis are its vanguard.

In short, here is Lenin’s famous "What is to Done?" thesis Islamised. Replace Marxism with Islam, communists with Muslims and the Bolshevik party with the Jamaat and there you have the complete blueprint for a totalitarian Islamic state.

For Maududi, the bloody partition of India was a great leap forward, since it had given birth to a dar ul-Islam, an abode of Islam (Pakistan). Admittedly, there was a little anomaly here, a little twist in the tale. The creator of the "dar ul-Islam", it so happened, was a beardless man whose commitment to Islam was suspect and whose avowal of secularism and democracy threatened to turn Pakistan into a Paap-istan (land of sin). But Maududi was confident that his Jamaat would ensure course correction and soon usher hukumat-e-ilahiya in Pakistan. The subsequent trajectory of the Jamaat and the fate of its agenda for Pakistan (and Bangladesh) lies outside the scope of this article, since the focus here is on the Indian version of the Jamaat.

Jamaat in dar ul-kufr

If a part of the partitioned country was dar ul-Islam, the other part – greater in size and larger in numbers – was "dar ul-kufr (an abode of infidels)" as Maududi saw it. The agenda of the Jamaat in the predominantly Muslim dar ul-Islam appeared simple enough. But what was the Jamaat’s rump – with all of 240 arkan (members) in 1948 – left behind in Hindu-majority India to do? Not much of a problem there, the maulana believed. If the transition of Pakistan into an Islamic state was a certainty, Maududi was also confident that there was "at least a 60 per cent chance for Islam’s success" in India too.1 If you believed there was "at least a 60 per cent chance of success" in whatever you seek to achieve, wouldn’t you "go for it"? So the JIH "went for it"; took up the challenge of transforming infidel India into a dar ul-Islam.

If you find this idea bizarre, hilarious, ridiculous or whatever, many Indian Muslims thought so too, even then. In his book, Ahmad narrates the account of a retired professor from Aligarh Muslim University who, as a student of the same university in the 1960s, had attended a lecture addressed by Syed Hamid Husain, then a prominent Jamaat leader. Formerly a communist, the highly westernised Husain had later embraced Maududism. During his lecture Husain attacked the ideas of secularism, nationalism and democracy, offering Islam as the only real alternative before India. Ahmad’s interviewee challenged Husain, arguing that it was "foolish" and "reactionary" to fantasise about an Islamic system in Hindu-predominant India. But an unfazed Husain asserted: "Yes, it is possible." Asked if Hindus needed to convert to Islam for the miracle to happen, his answer was no. Husain was simply reiterating the Jamaat line that just as a secular, democratic system remained un-Islamic irrespective of whether an Abdullah or a Ram Prasad presided over the affairs of state, so long as an "Islamic system" was established, it did not matter who was at the helm!

Maududi’s and the JIH’s conviction that India could be Islamised rested on three assumptions:

Assumption one: A very large section of Hindus who are victims of caste oppression can easily be won over to the fold of Islam. Why would lower-caste Hindus who did not convert to Islam through centuries of "Muslim rule" in India do so under the new secular, democratic dispensation? Because there was no Maududi and his Jamaat on the scene earlier, might well have been the response.

Assumption two: As the Jamaat’s monthly Urdu organ, Zindagi, argued in 1955: "If we consider the population of the whole world… we can say that every sixth man is a Muslim whereas out of 300 men, there is only one member of the Communist party. Despite their small number however, communism has captured one-fourth of the planet and is one of the two leading powers."2 (Yet another example of the Jamaat’s love-hate relationship with communists?) Numbers apparently did not matter; what did was the determination and sacrifices of the vanguard.

Assumption three: Since Hinduism did not have a "permanent world view", Hindus had no choice but to look to others for a system of governance. That is why they ended up adopting the "evil principles" of secularism, nationalism and democracy from the West. The task before the JIH was therefore straightforward: to tell the Hindu leaders of the Congress: "It is your duty (farz) to recognise, assess and examine… the Islamic principles and display the same objectivity you have adopted towards European democracy and Russian communism. We are sure that if you examine that then you would realise that in reality only the Islamic system is the guarantee of your and the world’s welfare."3

Jamaat’s recipe for India: Hindu state

Based on such comforting assumptions, the strategy proposed by Maududi and adopted by the JIH was simple: Goad the Hindu leaders of the Congress party to ditch the ideals of secularism and democracy, establish a "Hindu state". In short, the Jamaatis preferred that Indian Muslims live under a Hindu state rather than a secular state.

While deposing before the Justice Munir Commission (appointed to probe the vicious and violent anti-Ahmadiyya agitation in Pakistan in 1953), Maududi had stated: "I should have no objection even if the Muslims of India are treated… as Shudras and Mlecchas [the lowest castes and barbarians] and Manu’s laws are applied to them, depriving them of all share in the government and the rights of a citizen."4 Embarrassed by such a statement from their leader, Maududi’s followers continue to claim that the good maulana was misquoted by Justice Munir. But then, here is the 1950 statement of Maulana Abullais Islahi Nadwi, the first amir (president) of the JIH: "I request… the Hindu leaders to adopt only those principles and based on them, establish whatever way of life exists among them. We would prefer that (Hindu state) to the secular systems of Europe. In the (Hindu) system, if there is a provision of death for Muslims like us, we are agreed even to that."5

"For a Muslim, it is not even legitimate to breathe in a secular society unless he strove to convert it into a dar ul-Islam," said Maududi. However, his and JIH’s preference for a Hindu state seems to have been purely ‘tactical’. It was believed that a ‘Hindu state’ (to be installed with full encouragement from Muslims) cannot last long because Hinduism lacked a "permanent world view" and was cursed with the caste hierarchy. A "Hindu state" was sure to collapse and the JIH (Islam’s Bolsheviks) would quickly step in to seize the moment. As simple as that.

The commandments

Equipped with such an impressive theological arsenal, the 240-member army of the JIH enthusiastically launched its Islamist project in post-independence India. In the beginning the JIH chose to float an island of its own in the sea of kufr so that Jamaatis may lead an uncontaminated Islamic life. The organisation’s purist agenda included the following:

  • Jamaat workers were prohibited from participating in any way in the electoral process. No standing for elections, no voting, since Maududi believed it meant participation in the taghuti nizam (idolatrous system).
  • Staying away from elections was not enough. Every other component of the state apparatus, part of the system that propped up the un-Islamic system, was to be shunned.
  • Government service, particularly in the Indian army and judiciary, and the banking system were an absolute no-no. (Muslims inspired by Maududism resigned from their government jobs before joining the Jamaat.)
  • Joining the legal profession and practising as a lawyer was prohibited; taking cases to the courts was not permitted either except in extreme situations.
  • Leave alone government educational institutions, even studying in a Muslim-managed educational institution like the Aligarh Muslim University was out, since Maududi had called such institutions "slaughterhouses" for Muslims. Madrassas run by various Muslim outfits too were "slaughterhouses" although of a different kind. So were Muslims to stay illiterate? Not at all; the JIH would open darsgahs (schools) and saani darsgahs (institutions of higher education) which would impart true Islamic education and nurture future Jamaatis. Girls’ education was fine but co-education was out.
  • The JIH would have nothing to do with other Muslim organisations because they lacked the "fundamental perspective of Islam" (read did not subscribe to Maududi’s Islam).
  • Any dealing with banks, savings or pension accounts, educational or business loans, all were haram because interest equals usury which Islam prohibits.
  • Sinful practices such as listening to music, watching films, etc were all haram.
  • Birth control measures were un-Islamic and for women, the burkha was a must.

How on earth was the Jamaat going to transform anything with such self-imposed isolation? Daawah (invitation, propagation) is the answer. For starters, the JIH issued a daawah to top Indian leaders, including the then president of India, Rajendra Prasad, and prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. Sadly for Maududi’s followers, the response, if any, was not encouraging. In order to convert the aam aadmi (common man) to its cause, it published books and periodicals in several Indian languages. But here again, the progress was far from soul-stirring. According to the JIH’s own figures, as against 240 members in 1948, it had grown to only 981 members in 1960 when the total Muslim population in India then was around 42 million. It was not a very encouraging picture.

The vanguard behind the masses

As was only to be expected, the JIH found itself running into hurdles every step of the way. India’s secular, democratic polity and more so the Indian Muslims’ near total indifference to its agenda soon forced the organisation to rethink or be reduced to irrelevance. As it turned out, the demands of survival won over the dictates of ideology. Maududi had envisaged the Jamaat as the vanguard of the ummah (the global Muslim community). But if it has any presence on the Indian landscape today it is only because it chose, willy-nilly, to be led by the Muslim masses. Slowly but surely, the body that had set out to transform India was itself transformed. That this transformation was not uniform but zigzag and patchy is another matter.

The Jamaat’s step-by-step ideological retreat is best illustrated through its shifting stance towards the political, electoral process.

  • Soon after independence, the JIH switched from its original hukumat-e-ilahiya mission to that of iqaamat-e-deen (establishing religion). It’s just a change of terminology, both mean the same thing, the cadre was told. In that case, why change? The realisation, presumably, that harping on "Allah’s kingdom" would not only not go down too well with the Hindu majority, even Muslims might scoff at the absurdity of the proposition.
  • In the first two general elections of independent India – 1952, 1957 – Muslims were warned that taking part in the taghuti nizam was totally un-Islamic, haram. Indian Muslims however totally ignored the Jamaat and participated actively both as voters and as candidates. Finding itself totally isolated, the JIH was forced to revisit Maududi.
  • In a dramatic U-turn on the eve of the 1962 elections, the JIH mass-distributed a pamphlet in Urdu under a title in Persian: ‘Pas che bayad kard (What is to be done?)’. Lenin again! The pamphlet, penned by the JIH’s amir Nadwi, pleaded with Muslims to participate in elections, for not to do so would be "tantamount to suicide".6 Muslims had in any case been actively participating since 1952!
  • The ground for the shift had been prepared in 1961 when circumstances forced a new realisation on the Jamaat’s shura (highest decision-making body): "if the path of elections could be used for the goal of iqaamat-e-deen", participating in the "ungodly system" was acceptable, it decided. Interestingly however, in the resolutions passed by the shura, the phrase iqaamat-e-deen was given a quiet burial. Participation in the elections was now okay because it was "in the interest of Islam and Muslims". But conditions applied: a Muslim wanting to contest elections must shun non-Islamic parties; it was okay for a Jamaati to vote only "under some conditions"; votes must only go to a candidate who is "not from a non-Islamic party". For all practical purposes however, the JIH stayed away from the 1962 polls.
  • Until the early 1960s, the JIH would have nothing to do with other Muslim organisations because, as mentioned earlier, they lacked the "fundamental perspective of Islam". But eager to be part of a new political formation in North India in 1964 – the All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat – Nadwi assured its leader Syed Mahmood through the Jamaat’s mouthpiece, Radiance, that the JIH had full faith in the Indian Constitution and in a secular state. However, it remained opposed to sharing a platform with Hindus. All said and done, in the 1967 polls too, JIH members did not contest elections and the ban on its workers from voting remained in place.
  • In the aftermath of the emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi – during which period the JIH was banned and many of its top leaders jailed – the organisation took no official stand on the 1977 elections which dislodged Mrs Gandhi from power.

JIH in defence of secularism

Fast-forward to 1985. Though matters reached a flashpoint and the organisation seemed on the verge of a vertical split, the leadership at long last pushed through its resolve allowing Jamaat workers to vote. After nearly four decades of organisational twists and torments over the issue, Jamaat members were at last free to vote: for Muslim or even non-Muslim candidates. The only condition now was that the candidates be of good moral character, sympathetic to Muslim concerns and not affiliated to any party whose ideology is "clearly against Islam and Muslims".

The JIH which began as a staunch opponent of India’s secular, democratic polity (idolatrous system) had now turned into its active participant some 40 years later. Marking this shift, the phrase iqaamat-e-deen disappeared from the mastheads of the Jamaat’s publications. What’s more, with the rise of virulent Hindutva in Indian politics from the mid-1980s onwards, the JIH turned from mere participant into an ardent defender of democracy and secularism. In the aftermath of the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992, it even floated a platform, Forum for Democracy and Communal Harmony, wooing practising Hindus, communists and avowed atheists to jointly combat "communalism and fascism". Invited to the Jamaat’s ijtima (gathering) of 2002 were several Hindu high priests (shankaracharyas). One of them even blew a conch on the occasion and chanted: "Om, Om!" Had he been alive, what would Maududi think or say?

Along with the radical shift of the JIH on the electoral front, some other foundational Maududian myths also came into question. Maududi’s neat delineation of the world into dar ul-Islam and dar ul-kufr was one of them. Some Jamaat leaders now found democracy to be "an unexpected divine boon". Others claimed that India is neither dar ul-Islam nor dar ul-kufr but a dar ul-daawah. But for the devoted followers of Maududi, all this is heresy of the highest order.

In his book, Ahmad well captures the disgust of a Jamaat member from Delhi who was among many who quit the organisation when the ban on voting was lifted: "How on earth could Islam allow voting for taghut (idolatrous parliamentary system)? When I joined the Jamaat, we were told to eliminate taghut, secularism, democracy… everything against the Koran… We joined for iqaamat-e-deen. Now the Jamaat is fighting for iqaamat-e-secular democracy. Do you know about the Forum for Democracy and Communal Harmony?... What is it doing? It is fighting for the glory of secularism and democracy. You have also read Maududi. Tell me, what has secularism got to do with Islam? Where is the original ideology?"

Ahmad’s field research in India, conducted between 2001 and 2004, covered the cities of Delhi, Aligarh, Rampur and Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh and Patna in Bihar. As we shall see later, had he extended his work to cover the southern state of Kerala (where Muslims are around 24 per cent of the total population), especially post-2002, he would have found that the JIH had moved even further down the road to secularism and democracy.

In 2003 the Kerala unit of the Jamaat set up the Solidarity Youth Movement (SYM) which has since been involved "in generating mass awareness on a range of social issues as well as leading and participating in social movements against anti-people government policies, fascism, imperialism, terrorism and environmental degradation". Particularly noteworthy is the fact that: "We work closely with non-Muslim groups in Kerala, particularly leftists, who are concerned about similar social causes".7 The SYM has organised several statewide rallies to which it regularly invites nationally respected non-Muslim activists, most of whom are avowed atheists.

In the last two years the JIH has been fluttering its eyelids at communists who were once seen as its biggest ideological foes. In the 2011 assembly polls in Kerala, the JIH officially backed the communist-led Left Democratic Front (LDF), leading to the protest resignation of the organisation’s former political secretary, Hameed Vanimel, among some others. But the JIH stuck to its support of the communists’ front.

And in what some might see as a big leap forward, in April 2011 the JIH launched its own political party, the Welfare Party of India (WPI), which will henceforth participate actively in India’s "idolatrous system".

But this is where the good news ends. While Ahmad greets the gradual transformation of the JIH with an unqualified welcome, the JIH’s politics remain suspect in the eyes of many Indians, Muslims included. A clear indicator of this is the sharp response of many Muslims to the launch of the Welfare party.

Here, for example, are the comments of Sahil Khan: "The floating of the new political party by the Jamaat… represents a shift in terms of the Indian Jamaat’s strategy in the face of a transformed political context. Yet this does not necessarily mean a transformation of its overall ideology. Given the Jamaat’s particular understanding of Islam, which many other Muslims do not accept, it is not surprising that the move has provoked considerable debate, including visceral opposition, in Muslim circles."8

The core of the dilemma before the JIH continues to be this: because the organisation merely seeks to explain away this or that departure from Maududism or, at best, resorts to a ‘we-don’t-agree-with-everything-the-Maulana-said’ approach, it invites suspicion and sharp criticism from the left and the right. To the ardent followers of Maududi, the organisation is deviating from "true Islam". As for those (Muslims and non-Muslims alike) who consider Maududism to be a recipe for a totalitarian state (some even call it "fascist"), its movement towards secularism and democracy is seen more as an opportunistic, temporary, tactical move. For them therefore, the JIH is not very different from the Hindu right-wing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Secular Indians view the sangh parivar (the RSS, including its affiliates such as the Bharatiya Janata Party, BJP, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, VHP, the Bajrang Dal, etc) as neo-fascist, proto-fascist or simply fascist. Ironically, the JIH also considers the sangh parivar to be fascist. But the fact is that there are striking similarities between the two. Before we examine the similarities, let’s take a quick look at the background of the RSS and the sangh parivar.

Islamic state vs Hindu Rashtra

The RSS was founded in 1925 by a Maharashtrian Brahmin named Keshav Baliram Hedgewar who was heavily influenced by the writings of a fellow Maharashtrian Brahmin, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar (1883-1966), who championed the cause of a "Hindu nation (Hindu Rashtra)". If for Maududi, being a Muslim did not mean just namaaz, roza…, for Savarkar, being a Hindu had nothing to do with puja-paath (ritual worship). As elaborated in his ideological treatise, Hindutva: Who is a Hindu, India belonged only to those who considered it to be both a punyabhoomi (holy land) and pitrubhoomi (fatherland). Muslims and Christians were foreigners, since their holy lands lay outside India, and had no place in Savarkar’s Hindu Rashtra. (Though it could not be proved in court, many historians maintain that he was the mastermind of the conspiracy which culminated in the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi by Nathuram Godse, a former RSS worker. The RSS was banned following the assassination.)

The head of the RSS is referred to as the sarsanghchalak. Before his death in 1940, Hedgewar had, in a sealed envelope, named another Maharashtrian Brahmin, Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar (1906-1973), as his successor. For his followers, Golwalkar, who was the sarsanghchalak from 1940-1973, remains their most revered chief, respectfully referred to as ‘Pujaniya Guruji’ or as ‘Guru Golwalkar’. Critics of the RSS world view refer to him as the ‘Guru of Hate’.

Here is what Golwalkar wrote in praise of Nazism in his book, We or Our Nationhood Defined, first published in 1938: "German national pride has now become the topic of the day. To keep up the purity of the nation and its culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of the Semitic races – the Jews. National pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has also shown how well-nigh impossible it is for races and cultures having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by."9

Golwalkar’s message for India’s religious minorities was clear: "From this standpoint sanctioned by the experience of shrewd old nations, the non-Hindu people [read Muslims, Christians, Parsis] in Hindustan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and revere Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but the glorification of the Hindu nation i.e. they must not only give up their attitude of intolerance and ingratitude towards this land and its age-long traditions but must also cultivate the positive attitude of love and devotion instead; in one word, they must cease to be foreigners or may stay in the country wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment, not even citizens’ rights."10

RSS: JIH’s mirror image

To return to the similarities between the Jamaat and the RSS:

  • If Maududi fantasised about an Islamic state, for Golwalkar, the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha, "Hindu Rashtra (Hindu nation, Hindu rule)" was/is the goal. If Islam meant "revolutionary ideology" for the former, the catchphrase for the ideologues of the Hindu right was ‘Hindutva’. (Had Hindus heeded the sage advice of Maududi and the JIH, instead of a secular, democratic republic, India, post-independence, would have gone the way of a Hindu Rashtra.)
  • The RSS claims it is merely a ‘cultural’ organisation engaged in ‘character building and inculcating patriotism’; the Jamaat too pretends to be a religio-cultural body. That the RSS claim is a sham is an open secret, for it tightly controls the politics of its affiliate, the BJP. For secular Indians, the RSS is in fact the political party and the BJP its ‘parliamentary wing’. Having launched the Welfare party last year, the Jamaat too is at great pains to convince people that the WPI is an independent entity. Not many take this claim seriously, since, apart from anything else, the leading lights of the party are also top-level office-bearers of the Jamaat.
  • The sangh parivar’s ideal of a Hindu Rashtra is the polar opposite of a secular, democratic polity. That however does not stop the RSS from active participation in the country’s democratic polity through its proxy, the BJP. In fact, swearing by democracy, the RSS/BJP uses every opportunity to remind Indians that it fought for the return of democracy while it was the Congress under Indira Gandhi that tried to dismantle it by imposing emergency rule in the 1970s. The ‘Islamic state’ ideal is also completely at odds with the idea of a secular, democratic state. But the "transformed" Jamaat, as we have seen above, is a keen defender of secularism and democracy.
  • It is clear from the literature put out by both organisations that just as the RSS embodies social conservatism of the Hindu middle class, the Jamaat embodies social conservatism of the Muslim middle class. Both are archetypal patriarchal outfits, Male Clubs with their ‘women’s wing’ for adornment. Their views of an "ideal woman" are remarkably similar too: conveyor belts to transmit culture from generation to generation.

Whose Maududi is he anyway?

If there are many similarities, there is also a sharp, situationally defined difference between the two. The RSS sees in Hindu-majority India a favourable "natural climate" for its sustenance just as Pakistan is for the Jamaat. Some wonder whether the Jamaat in India is adopting a more benign posture only because it is compelled to buy time, given the rather "hostile milieu", unlike in Pakistan, Bangladesh or Jammu and Kashmir where the Jamaat shows its "true colours".

If there is scepticism about the Jamaat’s real motives from without, there is scathing criticism of the organisation from within the Maududian camp by those who accuse it of betraying the pristine ideals of "true Islam" out of cowardice or sheer opportunism. Apart from those who’ve left the organisation in sheer disgust, there are also those who are still within the Jamaat, perhaps dreaming of an opportune time to reverse the clock. But the most consistent and the sharpest critique of the JIH comes from the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). It is an organisation which emerged from the womb of the Jamaat to launch itself in the 1970s and which, since the 1990s, has, rightly or otherwise, been accused of involvement in numerous terrorist activities across the country.

Though the subtitle of his book might suggest otherwise, an examination of the Students Islamic Movement of India is an integral and critical component of Ahmad’s thesis on the JIH. It is by contrasting the radicalisation of SIMI – an offspring of the Jamaat – in response to the upsurge of virulent Hindutva from the 1980s onwards that Ahmad seeks to bring the transformation of the Jamaat into sharp relief.

India: From riots to crimes against humanity

Those familiar with the recent history of India will be aware of the growing communalisation of India’s polity since the mid-1980s thanks to the meteoric rise of Hindutva culminating in the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992, the Shiv Sena-led anti-Muslim pogrom in Mumbai in December 1992-January 1993 and the genocidal targeting of Gujarat’s Muslims by the Narendra Modi-led BJP government in 2002.

Since the 1980s onwards, from an era of "riots", India moved on to an era of one-sided, state-condoned and even state-sponsored carnage and pogroms targeting India’s religious minorities. In this post-riots scenario, the role of the state is no longer limited to its earlier partisan conduct. In the past three decades it has been an active accomplice, prime instigator, even chief sponsor of mass crimes. Nellie, Assam, 1983 (target Muslims); Delhi 1984 (target Sikhs); Bhagalpur 1989 (target Muslims); Mumbai 1992-93 (target Muslims); Gujarat 2002 (target Muslims); Kandhamal, Orissa, 2008 (target Christians) are the most gruesome reminders of this ugly reality.

Were we to go by the definition adopted by the UN’s 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, the Indian state emerges with the dubious distinction of having subjected its religious minorities – Muslims, Sikhs, Christians – to genocidal targeting six times in 25 years. It is a record that even many dictatorships would find tough to match. Thanks to this prevailing culture of impunity, in each case, the masterminds of the mass killings have gone unpunished while the police officers responsible for shocking dereliction of duty received promotion after promotion.

Given this backdrop, for well over a decade now not only secular activists but highly respected establishment figures – retired top-level police officers and civil servants – have repeatedly made two assertions: one, no communal carnage can last beyond 24 hours unless the state wants it to; two, "by its failure to protect the life and property of a section of citizens, the state sows the seeds of extremism".11

Prem Shankar Jha, a veteran journalist and columnist, writes regularly for the national and international media. In the midst of the 2002 Gujarat carnage, in an article he wrote for the Hindustan Times, he lamented: "For every one person who has been killed [Gujarat 2002] there are 10 whose property has been destroyed, breadwinner taken and the family rendered destitute. Not the centre, not the state, not a single political party, not a single industry association has even thought of setting up a relief fund to which concerned citizens can contribute to facilitate their rehabilitation. With such callousness at home, we will soon not need Pakistan or Kashmir to breed our terrorists for us."12 In another article written around the same time, he repeated the warning: "Would it be surprising if some of them [Muslims] are asking themselves whether Hindus will ever let them prosper in India and whether it would not be better to go out in a blaze of terrorist revenge?"13

Much the same thing was said in a different context by Antonio Cassese, the first court president of the 11-member bench of judges appointed to the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal to try the Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic and others for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes: "How could a woman who had been raped… or a civilian whose parents or children had been killed in cold blood quell their desire for vengeance if they knew that the authors of these crimes were left unpunished…? The only civilised alternative to this desire for revenge is to render justice."14

Indian democracy has been sadly lax in providing such civilised alternatives with regard to the delivery of justice in the context of post-independence communal violence. What we have seen instead is an undeclared culture of impunity for the perpetrators and masterminds of communal carnage and for police officers who are constitutionally obliged to impartially enforce the rule of law. The reports of various judicial commissions – appointed by different governments from time to time to probe incidents of communal violence, fix responsibilities and make recommendations – have two conclusions in common. One, the violence was never spontaneous but the result of meticulous planning, organisation and implementation by Hindu communal bodies. Two, the police and the administration showed anti-minority bias. Repeated recommendations by commission after commission on the imperative measures to pre-empt violence and to punish the perpetrators and derelict police officers have gone unheeded. It is in this climate of permissiveness that the culture of impunity has grown, with no accountability mechanisms in place.

As many peace-loving and justice-minded Indians have repeatedly emphasised in recent years, if the perpetrators of 1984 had been prosecuted and punished, the 1992-93 anti-Muslim pogrom in Mumbai may have been prevented; and if the perpetrators of 1992-93 had been punished, the 2002 genocide in Gujarat may have been pre-empted.

SIMI turns to jihad, khilafat

You do not have to be an al-Qaeda supporter to point out that the absence of justice creates the climate for the birth of extremism. Two months before India’s "26/11" (the 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai), in his Field Marshal KM Cariappa Memorial Lecture in Delhi, the then union finance minister P. Chidambaram foresaw "new waves of terror" in India. "Out of the hopelessness and despair of the Muslim community – and if not addressed firmly, the Christian tribal communities too [Kandhamal] – will rise new waves of terror," he warned. The national media chose to ignore the alarm bells rung by their favourite finance minister, or relegated this to a few paragraphs on the inside pages. Soon after he was made the union home minister in the aftermath of 26/11, Chidambaram spoke again: "We cannot fight terrorism effectively unless we fight communalism with equal determination."15

If the 1984 massacre of innocent Sikhs produced "Sikh extremism", the demolition of the Babri Masjid (December 1992), the anti-Muslim pogrom in Mumbai (1992-93) and the genocidal targeting of Gujarat’s Muslims (2002) sowed the seeds of "Muslim extremism". Terrorism is not the monopoly of any one religion. Discrimination and injustice saw the birth of extremism among the Tamil Hindus in Sri Lanka and the Catholics in Ireland. But when an extremism brought into existence by force of circumstances finds anchor in a pre-existing ideology of terror, a closer look at the phenomenon becomes necessary.

Enter SIMI. When it was launched with the JIH’s blessings in 1977, SIMI’s declared objective was "character building" to fight against the perceived twin evils of communism and capitalist consumerism with its "degenerate morality". In less than a decade however, this self-styled moral brigade had metamorphosed into crusaders for Islam, claiming for itself the mantle of "the real inheritor" of Maududism. In the mid-1980s SIMI had widely distributed eye-catching stickers proclaiming: "Secularism, NO; Democracy, NO; Nationalism, NO; Polytheism, NO; Only Islam". The stickers adorned numerous Muslim homes and shops throughout India. From then on, Hindutva’s belligerence was matched by a rapid radicalisation of SIMI.

In December 1991, at an all-India conference held in Bombay (now Mumbai), SIMI issued its call for jihad. As Ahmad spells out in his book, "By jihad it did not mean a battle against temptation of the self; SIMI stated that it meant killing the enemy."16 In SIMI’s analysis, the agenda of the Hindutva forces was not limited to demolishing mosques and killing Muslims; its real goal was to wipe out Islam from India. The task before the jihadis was therefore to "attack the root: polytheism". In other words, SIMI proposed to wipe out idol worship from India. Having taken to jihad in 1991, in 1996 SIMI added the re-establishment of the khilafat (caliphate) to its agenda.

Ahmad writes: "Now jihad was not only for the defence of Muslims under attack from the sangh parivar and the police but was also for the establishment of the caliphate."

Without jihad, opined SIMI’s mouthpiece, Islamic Movement, "a revival of the caliphate is not possible". In keeping with Maududi’s internationalism, if not stated in so many words, SIMI clearly implied that since Muslims and Islam were being targeted not only in India but elsewhere in the world too, its own jihad was part of a global jihad with caliphate as its goal. Further, in an argument that Maududi would heartily endorse, SIMI proclaimed that if Prophet Muhammad was a "mercy upon mankind" (rahmat al il alamin), he was also "a prophet of wars". Once jihad, shahadat (martyrdom) and khilafat had become its catch-all, SIMI embraced the Muslim Brotherhood’s epigram: "Allah is Our Lord, Muhammad is our Commander, Koran is our Constitution, Jihad is our path, Shahadat is our desire."

"SIMI’s declaration of jihad," says Ahmad, "did not stem from its members reading the Koran but from Hindutva’s violent mass mobilisation against Muslims through its campaign to build the Ram temple. Second, the SIMI became radical because the Indian state failed to practise secularism."17 Agreed that the anti-Muslim hysteria generated by Hindutva and the reluctance, or refusal, of the Indian state to impartially enforce the rule of law created the political climate in which SIMI’s militant idiom could find some resonance among a section of Indian Muslims. But surely it is one thing to talk about a hounded, targeted group being pushed towards extremist thinking and quite another to dress up your resistance to injustice in the theologically loaded idioms of jihad, shahadat and khilafat? Why would SIMI quote Maududi back to the Jamaat except to indicate where it got its inspiration from: Maududism, certainly, with a sprinkling perhaps of Qutbism. And who else but the JIH introduced SIMI to the Maududian world view?

Credibility in question

Yes, faced with the reality of secular, democratic India, the JIH was forced to depart from the core ideas of Maududi. But it contented itself by explaining away its departure from these ideas through re-interpretation or seeming disagreements with Maududism here and there while maintaining a facade of overall ideological fidelity. Such pragmatism, or opportunism, was bound to create problems for the JIH. If, on the one hand, those opposed to Maududi’s Islamism found its equivocation suspect, Maududi’s devoted followers were bound to be outraged by such treachery. And in this they clearly had the good maulana on their side: "After all, what is the worth of that Islam which can be followed only in a specific context and, when the circumstances change, then it is abandoned and a different ideology is adopted according to convenience?"18

You cannot continue to swear by Maududi, for whom secularism, democracy, nationalism, were "evil principles", and simultaneously be ardent defenders of those very ideals without putting your credibility into question. There is more than credibility at stake here. If the JIH’s embrace of secular democracy et al was sincere, the Jamaat owed it to itself as much as to others to undertake a searching critique of Maududi, to pinpoint the fallacies of his core theses, to give Maududism a decent burial, dissolve the JIH and found for itself a new name in tune with its new politics. This the JIH has never attempted. As a result, the ghost of Maududi still inhabits the Jamaati universe and Maududian cobwebs continue to cloud its edifice.

A friendly encounter

Here’s a personal example. In response to an article I wrote for an Indian daily some five years ago, I received a polite call from the secretary of the public relations department of the Maharashtra state unit of the JIH. The JIH, I was told, had some issues with what I had written about the organisation and was keen to discuss this. I readily agreed and we had a three-hour conversation at the Mumbai office of the JIH, Maharashtra, where four senior office-bearers were present.

Here are a few examples from our friendly encounter:

Me: In the global marketplace of ideas, the Jamaat invites Muslims and non-Muslims alike to the Maududian ideal of a Shariah-driven Islamic state. The best case scenario for a non-Muslim in your dream state is the status of second-class citizenship. Why on earth should any sane non-Muslim be enthused by this offer?

Response: My hosts question my contention that in the Islamic state envisaged by Maududi, a non-Muslim would be consigned to second-class citizenship.

Me: I quote certain passages from ‘Jihad fi Sabilillah (Jihad for Allah’s sake)’, a booklet based on a 1939 lecture by Maududi, and from the Munir Commission report.

Response: "Are you sure you are not misquoting?"

Me: I produce the booklet (in Urdu and in English) along with photocopied pages from the Munir Commission report.

Response: "In any case, we don’t agree with everything that Maulana Maududi said," I am then told.

Me: If you don’t agree with some or all of the contents of ‘Jihad fi Sabilillah’, why should you be publishing and distributing it? Shouldn’t the JIH at least preface the booklet, explaining clearly to readers its disagreements with the booklet’s contents and with an explanation as to why you are circulating such a problematic text?

Response: To the credit of my hosts, they agree that I may have a point here.

Me: I gently point out how putting such booklets into circulation would, if anything, be counterproductive for the JIH. Were a non-Muslim to read such a pamphlet, won’t he or she be put off Islam forever? If a young Muslim with an impressionable mind read such material, wouldn’t he or she be rendered a total misfit in a secular, democratic society like India? Having been influenced by such ideas, wouldn’t such Muslim youth find SIMI more attractive than the JIH?"

Response: There is some disagreement, arguments and then an awkward silence.

Me: Non-Muslims accuse Muslims of double standards. They say that wherever Muslims are in a majority, they want Shariah law and an Islamic state; they only want democracy and secularism wherever they are in a minority. Isn’t that your view too: an Islamic state for Saudi Arabia and Iran, secularism and democracy for India? Does that sound consistent?

Response: What’s wrong with that? The Islamic state is far better than a secular, democratic state.

Me: Better for whom and by what criteria? Shall we return to ‘Jihad fi Sabilillah’?

Response: There are some smiles but no coherent response.

Me: Your dream of an Islamic state in India makes no sense to me.

Response: None of my hosts retort that this was in the past, that the JIH is now in favour of a secular state. Instead, one of my hosts remarks: "If the communists can dream of a Marxist state, why can’t we talk about an Islamic state so long as we go about it in a totally peaceful manner?" Ah, communists never seem to be far from the Jamaati’s mind.

Me: So you are still dreaming of an Islamic state in India?

Response: Why not? The day we are able to convince enough Indians about our vision…

It is getting late. I am treated to lunch. We part company, agreeing to revert to these questions another day. (This has not happened yet.) I am left with the distinct impression that at least for my hosts – four senior office-bearers of the JIH in Maharashtra – an Islamic state and Shariah law in India are still not a closed chapter.

JIH’s telltale Constitution

Could it be that the Maharashtra unit has yet to internalise the JIH’s transformation? The organisation’s Constitution, which can be easily accessed on its website, is quite an eye-opener.19 Ahmad, it seems, never visited the official website. Or perhaps he did not see much merit in pointing to the gulf between what the JIH still preaches and what it practises.

We learn from Ahmad’s book about the welcome shifts in the JIH towards embracing secularism and democracy, inter- and intra-religious pluralism, etc. That this is so is empirically demonstrated by Ahmad through numerous practical examples. But let’s take a look at its Constitution:

Iqaamat-e-deen: Ahmad points out that from the mid-1980s onwards, the expression iqaamat-e-deen disappeared from the mastheads of JIH organs as also from its public discourse. But Article 4 of its Constitution states: "The objective of the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind is Iqaamat-e-Deen, the real motive of which is solely the achievement of divine pleasure and success in the hereafter…There is not even a single aspect of human life ranging from beliefs, rituals and morals to economic, social and political aspects which may be beyond its pale… Iqaamat of this Deen means that it, in its entirety and without exercising any discrimination or division, should be sincerely followed and followed single-mindedly. It should be so enforced and given effect to in all aspects of human life, individual as well as corporate, that the development of the individual, the reconstruction of society and the formation of state should all conform to this very Deen."

Pluralism: Article 6 states: "Every citizen of the Indian union, whether male or female, and irrespective of the community or race to which he/she belongs, is eligible to the membership of the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind provided that he/she… bears witness, after understanding the creed, La Ilaha Illallah Muhammadur Rasulullah, with its explanation (mentioned in Article 3), that the same is his/her creed…" In other words, only Muslims are welcome and for that, reciting the Kalima itself is not enough. The JIH must satisfy itself that the aspirant has internalised its import. Article 9 further stipulates that "every member of the Jamaat shall have to endeavour that he/she should sever contacts of affection and friendship but not… general human relations with transgressors as well as iniquitous and god-neglecting people and should establish contact and connection with righteous and god-fearing people…" In other words, any relationship of "affection and friendship" with idol-worshippers and atheists is out of the question.

Idolatrous system: Along with lifting the ban on voting in the mid-1980s, the JIH is also said to have relaxed its requirement that a member of the Jamaat must not hold a government job or approach the courts. But Article 8 states: "It shall be incumbent on every member that he or she should… relinquish any key post which he/she holds under an ungodly governmental system, or the membership of its legislature or a judicial office under its judicial system." Article 9 has two further stipulations: "Every member of the Jamaat shall have to endeavour that he/she should… in case of being part of any ungodly governmental system or being instrumental in giving effect to its laws, should readily part with that means of sustenance… [and] not go to un-Islamic law courts for settlement of matters except under compelling necessity."

Islamic state, Shariah laws: More important than all of the above is the "Ideology of Jamaat-e-Islami Hind" section on the JIH’s website where the Maududian world view may be revisited in its undiluted splendour: "Jamaat believes that this world and everything that is in it has been created by the one god. He alone is the creator and sustainer of life in all its forms. Not only this; He is the ruler and the sovereign, and omniscient, possesses the sole prerogative, absolute privilege and unfettered right of giving laws to mankind, through prophets, to regulate the entire mundane activity of man… It is thus the duty of man, who is the vicegerent of god on earth, that he should not only worship god but also live his whole life according to His law and render allegiance to Him, the lord and the sovereign."

The challenge from Kerala

India’s southern state of Kerala has an unusual demographic mix. While Hindus constitute around 56 per cent of the state’s population, Muslims make up for about 24 per cent and 19 per cent are Christians. Thus Muslims and Christians – the two religious communities in India which have been at the receiving end of militant Hindutva in the last two decades – add up to nearly half the state’s population. In the case of Muslims, apart from the Muslim-majority state of Jammu and Kashmir, only Assam in the North-east has a higher percentage of Muslims (28.43 per cent according to official estimates) while the proportion of Muslims in Kerala and West Bengal is roughly the same. But it is only in Kerala that a Muslim party has since independence gained a firm foothold and has frequently been part of the ruling coalition. Even today it is part of the Congress-led United Democratic Front government with several of its ministers in the state cabinet. Surprising though it may sound, the name of the party is the Muslim League (its full name being the Indian Union Muslim League – IUML). This is the same party, remember, that spearheaded the demand for the creation of Pakistan.

Following partition, the IUML became a purely Indian entity although some of its leaders still refer to Mohammad Ali Jinnah as "hamare Qaid-e-Azam (our great leader)" along with the honorific "Rahmatullah alaihe". While a party with a name like the Muslim League, its leadership exclusively Muslim and its support base overwhelmingly Muslim, remains problematic in a secular democracy, one thing seems clear: though aligned to a particular religious community, the IUML has from the beginning echoed Jinnah’s secular agenda for Pakistan just as the JIH remained committed to Maududi’s Islamic state ideal. The aims and objectives adopted by the IUML at its inception in 1948 were:

  • "To uphold, defend, maintain, and assist in upholding, defending and maintaining the independence, freedom and honour of the Indian union and to work for and contribute towards the ever increasing strength, prosperity and happiness of the people.
  • "To secure and protect the rights and interests of the Muslims and other minorities in the state; and
  • "To promote mutual understanding, goodwill, amity, cordiality, harmony and unity between the Muslims and every other community of India."

"The IUML has been working since its inception true to its objectives and upholds the ideals of secular democracy and social justice. It has a vision of safeguarding the cultural identity of the Muslims, making them capable of their share [in] nation building and to equip them to face the challenges of changing times with religious commitment and [a] national outlook." This is how the party recounts its history on its official website.20

Contrast this with the Constitution of the Jamaat and its programmes in the initial years post-independence. The radical difference in the outlook of the IUML and the Jamaat accounts for their radically different trajectories since 1947. The IUML has been represented in the Indian Parliament since the very first elections in 1952 and as mentioned above, it has been part of coalition governments in Kerala on several occasions. What’s more, as chief minister, the charismatic IUML leader CH Mohammed Koya led a coalition government in 1979 with support from the Congress party.

In comparison, until the boom in the petro-economy in the 1970s which drew a large number of Keralites to jobs in the Gulf countries, the influence of the JIH in Kerala was limited to a few pockets. Alive to new possibilities, the JIH piggybacked on the resulting prosperity in Kerala and today it has perhaps its strongest presence in this southern state, more than anywhere else in the country.

In an article titled ‘Socially Engaged Islam: A View from Kerala’, Yoginder Sikand showers praise upon the state unit of the JIH that would mesh well with Ahmad’s views on the progressive transformation of the Jamaat in India. Sikand writes: "Unlike much of the rest of India, Islamic organisations in Kerala are heavily involved in various forms of social activism, not limiting themselves simply to religious education and preaching or to petitioning the government for sops. This is one of the major reasons for the remarkable social, economic and educational progress that Kerala’s Muslims, who account for around a fourth of the state’s population, have witnessed in recent decades. Among the major Islamic movements in Kerala is the Jamaat-e-Islami."

Sikand proceeds to elaborate on how, through the institution of several forums and activities – the Dialogue Centre (for promoting intercommunity dialogue and understanding), Dharma Dhara (the communications wing of JIH, Kerala), Jana Sevanam (microfinance schemes for helping the poor), Majlisu Taaleemil Islami (the banner under which it runs 150 schools, some 200 part-time madrassas and about a dozen Arabic colleges for Islamic higher studies) and the Solidarity Youth Movement (launched in 2003 for engaging with all sections of society to generate mass awareness on a range of social issues) – the JIH has established an impressive presence in Kerala.

Launched in 1987, the Malayali daily, Madhyamam, which shares the Jamaati world view but is not its mouthpiece, has today an impressive circulation of some 2,00,000 copies. JIH, Kerala, is clearly a well-oiled machine and funds do not seem to be a constraint.

As Sikand observes in his article, "The Kerala JI’s headquarters are located at the Hira Centre, an imposing multi-storey building in the heart of Calicut (Kozhikode), a town which for centuries has been a major Muslim centre. Enter the building and the stark contrast with North Indian Muslim organisations – even with the JI’s units in the north – is immediately evident. The building is sparkling clean and well maintained and it has separate offices for its different wings, which are staffed by a team of professionally qualified activists (and not just maulanas)."21

Ironically, the state with the strongest JIH presence also happens to be the state which has seen the strongest challenge to Maududism in recent years. The story of the JIH and the fate of Maududism is perhaps best concluded with an account of this mass campaign.

If the petrodollars repatriated by Kerala’s Muslims employed in the Gulf were helpful in the JIH’s growing muscle, a number of developments in the late 1980s and early 1990s gave the JIH an opportunity to propel itself. The pro-JIH daily Madhyamam played a significant role, fishing in troubled waters, discrediting existing Muslim leaders and organisations. The newspaper’s launch in 1987 preceded a major split in the Samastha Kerala Sunni movement in 1989. This presented Madhyamam with an opportunity to highlight the opportunism of the existing leadership and its lack of commitment to the community.

The demolition of the Babri Masjid, which came as a rude jolt to Muslims across India, created a major tumult within the IUML in Kerala. Many within and outside the party wanted the IUML to sever its links with the Congress party which was in power in Delhi but had failed to prevent the demolition. The IUML’s reluctance to do so resulted in a split within the party and disenchantment with it among a large section of Muslims in the state. A little later, the Kerala Nadvathul Mujahideen, among the most powerful Muslim bodies in the state, also split.

In this climate of growing disenchantment among Kerala’s Muslims, the JIH saw a big opportunity for itself. However, it was soon to face major competition from a different quarter.

As discussed above, the resurgence of virulent Hindutva from the mid-1980s onwards and the unchecked demonisation of Muslims and Islam resulted among other things in the radicalisation of a section of Indian Muslims. SIMI was one manifestation of this phenomenon. In 1989 Kerala saw the birth of the Islamic Sevak Sangh (ISS), pitting its name and its politics against the sangh parivar’s Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The ISS was among the several Hindu and Muslim organisations that were banned in the immediate aftermath of the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Following the ban, the ISS leader Abdul Nasir Maudany floated another organisation, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Though he has never been convicted in a court of law, Maudany was jailed for long years for his alleged involvement in terrorist activities. In 2010 he was arrested once again, this time by the Karnataka police, for alleged involvement with some Muslim extremist groups. While the PDP has lost much steam in the process, other extremist groups influenced by Maududism have surfaced to create problems for the JIH as well as the IUML.

The ban on the ISS in December 1992 and on SIMI in 2001 (soon after the 9/11 attacks in the USA) saw the mushrooming of several district-level organisations of Muslim youth in Kerala, with charitable and welfare activities as their ostensibly limited goals: the Malappuram Young Muslim Association, the Wayanad Young Muslim Association, the Kozhikode Young Muslim Association, etc.22 Soon however, these organisations came together to form the National Development Front (NDF). In 2006 the NDF from Kerala, the Karnataka Forum for Dignity from Karnataka and the Manitha Neethi Pasarai from Tamil Nadu merged to form the Popular Front of India (PFI). In turn, the PFI announced the formation of a political party, the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), in mid-2009.

Judging by the names of these organisations, their pronouncements and the information posted on their websites, one would imagine them to be bona fide organisations fighting for democracy, human dignity and fundamental rights for all. But as many Muslims from these southern states will tell you, the PFI and its constituents are far from democratic outfits. According to these Muslims and not just the intelligence agencies and the police, the PFI and its predecessor, the NDF, are nothing but SIMI reincarnated.

Never mind the others, even the JIH’s Kerala unit was forced to go public and distance itself from the NDF/PFI just as it had done earlier with SIMI. In April 2008 the JIH mouthpiece in Malayali, Prabodhanam, published a hard-hitting article titled ‘Jihad Unlimited’ blasting the NDF for "ridiculously imitating" Hamas and the Chechen Mujahideen. It charged the NDF with moral policing and wrongly interpreting jihad, which was bound to spoil the lives of "gullible youth".23

Here in Kerala, we have a replay of the Jamaat-SIMI feud elsewhere in the country, which has been dealt with above. The significant thing about Kerala however is that many Muslim organisations recognised this as an intra-Maududian feud and decided to launch a massive statewide campaign targeting Maududism itself. That the three-year-plus campaign between 2008 and 2011 was no flash in the pan is evident from the fact that it was spearheaded by mass organisations like the youth wing of the IUML, which claims a membership of over six lakhs, and both factions of the Nadvathul Mujahideen.

Why were these mass organisations so perturbed? Some might argue that the IUML was merely protecting its electoral base but this misses the larger point. It must be pointed out that although the sangh parivar has long had a strong presence in the state, the BJP in Kerala has so far failed to win a single seat in the state assembly, let alone one in the national Parliament. The reasoning of the Muslim organisations involved in the campaign was simple: It is to the credit of Kerala’s Hindus that they have shunned the sangh parivar’s communal politics. If nothing else, it was the reciprocal duty of Kerala’s Muslims to oppose communal and extremist Muslim bodies. The failure to do so would implicate the state’s Muslims in opening the doors to communalisation of the state.

For KM Shaji, the dynamic president of the IUML’s Youth League (and now a member of the state assembly) who held countless public meetings across the state challenging Maududism, there is a world of difference between the politics of the Muslim League and the Jamaat. According to him, being in the IUML, it is possible for a Muslim to remain true to his faith as well as to his country and its secular, democratic polity: there is no contradiction, no tension between the two. But if you subscribe to Maududi’s ideology, you are trapped in an ethical morass, compelled to live the life of a hypocrite or a misfit as a citizen, apologetic about your ‘Indianness’.

Interestingly, if the Youth League and the Nadvathul Mujahideen provided the numbers for the campaign, the ideological thrust was provided by an ex-Jamaati, CT Abdurahiman, head of the Dayapuram Educational and Cultural Centre in Calicut since its inception in 1984. According to NP Ashley, a young teacher and activist associated with Dayapuram, ‘CT Sir’, who is well versed in Islamic texts and Islamic history, wrote a critique of Maududi in Malayalam titled ‘The Roots of Muslim Terrorism’ during the campaign. Over 1,000 copies of the booklet were sold in Calicut city within four days. When I met him at Dayapuram in 2008, ‘CT Sir’ told me that ideologically speaking, Maududism, Nazism and Stalinism have much in common.

That this mass campaign was highly successful is evident from the results of the assembly polls in Kerala in May 2011. Clearly, the Jamaat as well as the NDF/PFI/SDPI failed to leave an impress. "The very impressive performance of the IUML in the elections only means that Kerala’s Muslims have said an emphatic no to communal, extremist politics in Islam’s name," says Ashley.

It remains to be seen whether the Jamaat-floated Welfare Party of India is a non-starter. As mentioned earlier, the party’s launch itself was greeted by widespread scepticism and criticism. To those wedded to the Maududian world view, this was final proof of the JIH’s betrayal of its founder. Those opposed to it voiced the concern that if it were to take off, the WPI would achieve little more than fanning Hindu communalism.

The Kerala example shows that until it snips its umbilical tie with Maududi, the JIH will continue to find itself squeezed from both ends: between anti-Maududi Muslim organisations such as the IUML on one side and radical outfits like SIMI/NDF/PFI, with their claims of being the real inheritors of Maududism, on the other.


1 Irfan Ahmad, Islamism and Democracy in India: The Transformation of Jamaat-e-Islami, 2010, Permanent Black, India (for sale in South Asia only), and Princeton University Press, New York (for sale in the USA).
2 Quote in Ahmad’s book.
3 Quoted in Ahmad’s book.
4 Report of The Court of Inquiry constituted under Punjab Act II of 1954 to inquire into the Punjab Disturbances of 1953 (popularly referred to as the Munir Commission report). The report can be accessed from the website of Muslims for Secular Democracy (India):
5 Quoted in Ahmad’s book.
6 Quoted in Ahmad’s book.
7 Yoginder Sikand, ‘Socially Engaged Islam: A View from Kerala’;
8 Sahil Khan, ‘Indian Jamaat-e-Islami finally discards its long-standing pretence of being a benign religio-cultural organisation’; http://newageislam.comNewAgeIslamIslamAndSpiritualism_1.aspx?
9 Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, We or Our Nationhood Defined, 1938, p. 37.
10 Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, ibid, p. 52.
11 Teesta Setalvad, ‘Who is to blame?’, Cover story, Communalism Combat, March 1998;
12 Prem Shankar Jha, ‘Separating fact from fiction’, Hindustan Times, March 13, 2002;
13 Prem Shankar Jha, ‘Why Narendra Modi has to go’, Hindustan Times, April 10, 2002; WHY%20NARENDRA%20MODI%20HAS%20TO%20GO
14 Chris Stephen, Judgement Day: The Trial of Slobodan Milosevic, Atlantic Monthly Press, New York, 2005, p. 98;
16 Ahmad, ibid.
17 Ahmad, ibid.
18 Quoted in Ahmad’s book.
21 Yoginder Sikand, ibid.
22 NP Ashley, through email to this writer.