Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi Image Credit: Supplied

It is difficult to be Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Minister of Minority Affairs, in today’s India. He is the “Muslim face” in the national party that openly stands for assertion of the Hindu identity. Two recent historic judgements have deeply impacted the Muslims in India even though their public response has been muted. However, the long chapter of history has been closed but what does the government think about it? In an exclusive interview with the Gulf News, the affable minister Naqvi shares his thoughts.

Your Ministry carries out projects ‘Hunar Haat’ and ‘Nayi Roshni’, to help Muslims, but critics say imparting a feeling of dignity should be your main focus.

This (Narendra Modi) government’s focus during the last 6 years has been equal opportunities for poor, minorities, Dalits. In the Covid period under the Garib Kalyan package more than 31% of the beneficiaries were from the minority community. Under the Kisan Samman Nidhi, 28 % beneficiaries are from the minority community. In villages where electricity had not reached, 50% villages were minority dominated. Now they have proper power connections. We have never tried to take credit for this as it is our responsibility.

There have been two big judgements in recent times. Ayodhya property dispute that the Muslim petitioners lost and the Babri Masjid demolition case where all accused got acquitted. How deeply has it impacted India’s Muslims?

A week before the Supreme Court’s decision there was a meeting of about 100 important Muslim religious leaders, social workers and educationists at my home. They said, “Sir, we do not need appeal from the Government, we want the RSS people in this meeting”. So, Krishna Gopalji and Ramlalji from the RSS, joined. The meeting went on for 5 hours. And everyone unanimously decided that whatever decision is taken by the Supreme Court (whether in favour of Muslims or anyone else) all will respect it. And no victory party shall be held nor any kind of a procession will be taken in protest. Everyone agreed. The judgement came and you saw that the country accepted it peacefully. Only then, the work for the construction of Ram mandir began. After the judgement of the CBI court, two important statements came. One is of son of Mohammad Hashim, who was the main litigant of the Ayodhya title suit. He said that the Ayodhya issue stands closed now and we must accept the highest court’s judgement. Second, there was a statement by the RSS: respect the verdict but no need to celebrate it. No one should look at it from the perspective of winning or losing. Instead all should respect it. So both the communities have reacted to this in a very balanced and sensible way. Our country is the biggest democracy in the world where people can voice different opinions but by and large both sides are restrained. For us this issue is closed.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi in New Delhi Image Credit: PTI

Aren’t the Indian Muslims subdued these days?

The Indian Muslims know that they are born in Hindustan and they will be buried here. Everyone is confident, no one can make them leave this country. India is their land, they were born here, and they will die here. And their constitutional rights are guaranteed. Ever since Modi ji came to power we have given more than 4.5 crore of scholarships to minorities — 50% of these are to girls, it’s a record. All Muslims have belief that we need to get beyond controversial issues and focus on genuine issues such as employment and education. Under Modi ji India’s relations with all Islamic countries have become better. Our relationship with the UAE and other Gulf countries are the best ever.

But, the case of Akhlaq or beating of innocent Muslims in trains have created insecurity.

Look India is a big country. A few (9-10) isolated cases do not make a rule. You cannot assess the freedoms in India on the basis of some stray incidents. Of course, these cases can never be justified and whoever did this must be punished, and they are being punished. But, on the basis of this how can you say, this is happening in the entire country? Don’t forget, there has been a Maliyana, Meerut and Malegaon in this country. In this country there was Bhiwandi and Bhagalpur riots where thousands of people died. At that time there was the Congress government. Were the Muslims not scared then? Coming back to 2020: You should ask — what is the priority of Modi ji and our government? Without peace, prosperity is not possible. Modi ji has used very strong words against fringe elements. The message is clear: we are working for Indians — and that includes everyone. So, I don’t believe that there is an atmosphere of fear. Yes. there have been few criminal acts, but you cannot make that criminal act into a communal act. For the last 3-4 years a record number of Muslims have joined services like IAS and IPS. So, this is the guarantee of development without discrimination, development with dignity. In any open democracy, the entire country cannot be on the side of one political party.

Your critics say you are not the representative of the Muslims.

I am not representative of the Muslim. I am not representative of the Hindu. I never practised the politics of Hindu, Muslim, Sikh nor do I approve of it. This Ministry (minority affairs) — we inherited it. Modi ji did not create it. In 2006 the Congress party made it. Why was it made? I don’t know. Secondly, no one can call himself the gatekeeper of his community. This cannot be so in any democratic system. I am the first Muslim who won the parliament election in 1998 from BJP ticket. So even at that time I did not say that I have come as the representative of the Muslim community. But I am a practicing Muslim. I am proud of this. I do not hide it ... I read the salat (prayers), keep roza (fasting). I follow the duties of Islam. But nationalism is a priority for us. The commitment to our country will always be first. The gap between Hindus and Muslims is not because of Modi ji. Since the time of the Jan Sangh our political opponents — whether Mrs. (Indira) Gandhi or her successors, have painted the BJP as a villain — especially in the minds minorities — for personal political gains.

Sheela Bhatt is a senior Indian journalist. She is based in New Delhi.