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In a new league
Badruddin Ajmal, the perfume baron who founded the AIUDF in Assam, and Dr Mohammed Ayub, the orthopaedic surgeon who launched the PPI in UP, are unsparing in their criticism of mainstream secular parties like the Congress and Samajwadi Party, whose failure to address the aspirations of the Muslim community is the chief reason for their rise.
"These parties are ready to take Muslim votes, but they do nothing for Muslims, " says Ajmal who prefers to describe the AIUDF as a party led by a Muslim rather than a Muslim political organisation. His objective, he declares, is to ensure that the community gets commensurate political representation, which it has been denied despite its numbers. "According to the percentage of Muslim population in India, we should have 86 MPs. But in this Lok Sabha, we are only 28, which is just a little over five per cent, " he points out. He adds that his target is to make a splash in the Lok Sabha where critical decisions regarding the welfare of Muslims and other backward communities are taken.
Ayub is vitriolic. "The Congress is no different from the BJP," he declares. "They follow the divide and rule policy of the British. Both have exploited the religious sentiments of Hindus and Muslims to make them enemies. But Muslims have seen through their game."
Like Ajmal, Ayub too prefers to describe his party as a secular force that believes in social justice for all. He points out that one-fourth of the 21 candidates he fielded in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections were non-Muslims. He intends to stick to the same ratio in next year's assembly polls in UP.
"We are fighting not just for Muslims but all backward sections. We want Dalits, Muslims and other backwards to govern so that the spirit of the Constitution is properly implemented with social justice for all," he says.
Both parties have a long way to go. While the AIUDF has made a mark with impressive electoral gains in just six years, the PPI so far has acted chiefly as a spoiler for the Congress and the SP. But it has managed to establish its credentials as a pressure lobby for the Muslims. Worried by the growing political strength of the PPI among the weaver Ansari community, the UPA government announced a Rs 3, 000 crore welfare package in the 2011-12 budget and the Congress has promised to waive Rs 700 crore of electricity dues if it wins UP in 2012.
Both leaders scoff at concerns about communal polarisation. "Why should there be polarisation?" asks Ayub. "We are citizens of this country. Our children need computers and mobile phones. They want a good life, like everyone else. What is there to fear? Muslims will play a positive role in governance."
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