Sunday, March 22, 2015

Interview with Muslim League leader

"Indian Union Muslim League stands stigmatised"

Former Kerala Education Minister and senior IUML leader E T Mohammed Basheer is known for his candour in Parliament. Elected to the Lok Sabha from the Ponnani constituency in Kerala, he is a member of the parliamentary standing committee on social justice and empowerment and the parliamentary consultative committee.
As Education Minister in Kerala between 1991 and 1996, he was instrumental in promoting the concept of self-financing colleges in the southern state. 
Mr Basheer spoke to NIRENDRA DEV on various issues of national importance.

Do you subscribe to the view that the rural-urban divide is becoming obvious in government policies as well as the Indian Parliament? In the chaos of development and smart cities, are Indian villages getting lost?

Broadly I agree. But in terms of Indian Parliament, I won't say villages and issues of villages are not raised. The general attention to rural India is there from Parliament and the elected MPs. From Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MG-NREGA) to several other schemes, the villages remain in focus.
Look at the issues members of both Houses of Parliament, rising above party affiliation and rural and urban India, raise - on agriculture, health and developmental issues. So it will be wrong to say that the voice of the village is getting lost in Parliament.
I am stating this from my experience in Parliament, my interactions with friends from other parties as also from my experience in Kerala.

Coming to specifics, how are the government schemes generally tailored? Are you satisfied with the manner in which they are framed? Is there an urban focus? Some leaders are saying while we talk of 'smart cities', nobody really talks about a 'smart village'?
Yes, to an extent urban focus is more these days. But this has to do with education and awareness levels in urban pockets. But no government or politician worth his salt can actually skip the problems of villages. Fortunately, villages still are important to politicians and that's the political reality both for the Central government and Parliamentarians and for the state governments and MLAs in the state assemblies. During my seven-year stint as Education Minister in Kerala I had first-hand experience of this.

Then what about Budget 2015-16? Critics say that in the form of 'reformist' budget, it is actually a pro-rich and a pro-urban one.
Yes (Smiles). If you ask me on the budget 2015-16, it's a different story altogether. I am definitely unhappy with the first full budget of the Modi government. You are right when you say it’s pro-rich. But more than being pro-rich, the Budget is actually pro-corporate and pro-business houses. But at the same time, I am not surprised as the NDA regime is well known for its pro-corporate tilt.

So what's the basic problem with this year's Budget?
Essentially there is a complete lack of a holistic approach. The budget simply has not been able to focus on all sections of people. That's a big failure in any budget. They seem to have been carried away with the slogans. They have a number of slogans. For instance, there is “Ek Bharat, Shreshtha Bharat” and then “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas”. But there's no concrete action. These cannot be mere slogans but should be a commitment to the country and people, particularly to the youth, to take the nation to new heights. That has not happened.

Do you have concerns about the Modi government? For instance, Ghar Wapsi and other threats to minorities.
These are definitely a matter of concern. The fundamentalist elements in the country have been let loose since this government assumed power. Episodes like Ghar Wapsi are unwarranted. These are totally against the towering claims of development the BJP and the Prime Minister promised. 
IUML leader Basheer, MP

But what's happening politically? Why are the Congress and all of you in the Opposition not making the Government more accountable, especially in the Lok Sabha and in electoral politics?
Opposition unity is certainly not up to the mark, I will not hesitate to admit that. With the situation in the country - when workers’ rights are denied and communalism is on the rise - we have a great opportunity but that's not happening. We are also failing.

Coming to your party, the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), does it face the challenge of being stigmatised due to historical reasons?
I have to agree with you. The stigma is more in north India. Of course, we have a small base and are a small party but it is open to all people -- of all castes and creeds. We have a number of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes now and also an MLA. But you are right, the stigma has stuck due to Partition.

In the wake of the alliance in Jammu and Kashmir between PDP and BJP, there is already chatter in social media that the day is not far when BJP and IUML can strike an alliance. Your comment.
Yes, people could be talking about it. But we rule out any such alliance with BJP directly or indirectly. Even in Kashmir, the adjustment is only an unholy alliance. It has no meaning and it’s there only for power sharing. From our end in the IUML, I rule out any such arrangement with BJP, which does not believe in secularism at all. 

Another Muslim-based party, All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen of Asaduddin Owaisi has allegedly opened back channel talks with Hindutva forces and has been able to establish a base in Maharashtra.

We have heard all this, but we have no intention to open either front channel or back channel nexus with the BJP. In Kashmir, the unholy alliance between PDP and BJP cannot go beyond a point. BJP is already tasting the bitterness while in the  long run the alliance will  harm PDP. 

ends  (Published in The Statesman, March 21, Saturday 2015)

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