An open Letter to Sharjeel Imam…

Dear Sharjeel Imam

You are pursuing research in Modern Indian History from prestigious Centre for Historical Studies in the Jawaharlal Nehru University, having graduated in Computer Engineering from the premier IIT, Bombay.

With this kind of education, someone slipping towards Right-wing Islamism makes me feel sad and disappointed. Very brief, one or two telephonic conversations, that I had with you, before snapping any contact with you and your ilks, almost a year ago, I had become almost sure about your Rightward deviance. Yet, I kept praying that someday in the near future your education will lead you mend your ways and will help you change your worldview.

That has not happened with you, as yet. Some academics, academic-politicians, and others kept indulging and encouraging you to help you develop certitudes about your ideational misadventures. To me, they have contributed to your ruin

A university student keeps experimenting with adventures and misadventures with ideas and many settle down with certain conclusions about their worldview, by the time they reach their 30s. These (mis)adventures of ideas are hardly taken as errants or deviances. These are taken as journeys in the realm of ideas.

I happen to have read an opinion piece on Faiz Ahmad Faiz by you, with your friend as a co-author (TwoCircles.net, dated February 3, 2017). You declared the Leftist poet to be Islamic. Coincidence is: the Hindutva Islamophobic state, having got irked with Faiz’s poem, Dekhenge, instituted an enquiry to find if Faiz could be declared an Islamist to vilify all the protesters to be Muslim Right-wing and thereby de-legitimize the anti-NRC protests.

Yet another coincidence, your co-author and friend posted an excerpt (www.heritagetimes.in, dated October 18, 2019) from a book (1909) by V D Savarkar (1883-1966), War of Independence. This is a short biography of Maulvi Ahmad his heroic roles in the movement of 1857. The author/editor, however, chose not to give a short disclaimer about the ‘evolution’ of Savarkar, who having published the patriotic book, went on to become a theoretician of anti-Muslim hatred, of Hindutva (1923), someone who wrote clemency letters to the colonial state, as against many co-prisoners in the same Port Blair’s Cellular Jail, preferring to suffer and sacrifice their lives. The excerpting ‘author/editor’ chose to ignore the facts that the colonial state rewarded Savarkar with a pension of Rs 60 a month. Savarkar ended up as an author of Six Glorious Epochs, wherein he justified rape of Muslim women in communal violence as a political weapon.

Regular contents of the website, www.heritagetimes.in, seem to suggest that it is essentially dedicated to cataloguing the contributions of Muslim freedom fighters. Excerpting from Savarkar’s book, without the editor’s disclaimer about the author’s credentials, may possibly suggest that the website is now trying to enhance some acceptability of Savarkar among the Muslims. Or, may be, I am reading too much into it? If so, please forgive me.

Some Liberal-Left kinds of portals have also been indulging you by publishing pieces like ‘It’s Time We Absolve Jinnah’ (The Wire.in, dated May 7, 2018). You preferred not to discuss what happened to the state and society of Pakistan, the nation created by Jinnah. True, Jinnah alone could not have divided India. State power was with the British; and majoritarianism within and outside the Congress was no less responsible for the Partition of India. In the popular narratives of partition historiography, this aspect has been downplayed. This has contributed much to the harbouring and spread of anti-Muslim hatred in India. Moreover, the contemporary sub-continental majoritarianisms have much to do with such developments in the colonial era.

With patience, I just wished and hoped that in course of time, you will evolve as a curious learner to look into all these multi-layered historical dimensions, rather than playing an exclusionary politics singularly upon Muslim victimhood.

Meanwhile, I came to hear of your visits to AMU. In your efforts towards persuading/ indoctrinating some students, I am told (please do correct me, if I am mis-informed), you ran a small group of students, in the name of ‘Iqbal Study Circle’. Your recruits came mostly from the Islamist student outfit. One wonders, why the Islamist student outfit dropped/kept off its own banner? In the name of identity-assertion, this Islamist fringe group asserted its politics into the anti-NRC protests. This partial overlap of identity-assertion and Right-wing Islamism made many people apprehensive and cautious about endorsing such a move, even though they did agree with identity-assertion. You also told that you will shout Nara-e-Takbeer and that the Hindus shall have to reciprocate by saying ‘Allah-o-Akbar’, and you further added that the Hindus can’t ask Muslims to chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’. How do you justify it? Does not this alienate Hindus who could otherwise be quite willing to join the protest to safeguard the Constitution?

Earlier, you withdrew yourself from the Shaheen Bagh protests. Many have already been suspecting you to have done so only at the behest of the Amit Shah controlled Delhi police. Surprisingly, despite your withdrawal, you continued with your agitation and landed in AMU to address the protesting students, on January 16. The Aligarh police and the AMU administration were aware of your moves. Yet, you were allowed to come in, deliver a long speech. Why did you get this privilege of protection to that extent?

In your long speech, you made many condemnable and silly remarks. You declared Gandhi as the biggest Fascist of 20th century. You warned the historian Irfan Habib not to speak on Modern Indian History, something the Right-wing majoritarian forces have always been saying, Irfan Habib. One does not understand why should you launch your attack against Constitution, against Gandhiji, against the Left and the Congress regimes right at the moment when the Hindutva regime needs all such attacks against the abovementioned forces? Don’t you think, you are just playing into the hands of Hindutva forces at this moment? One just hopes you are not on the payrolls of the Hindutva regime and its agencies.

While many academics have been raising objections on certain provisions of the Constitution, you declared the whole text to be a fascist one. To me, many of these remarks are either condemnable/deplorable or debatable or both. These remarks are certainly not seditious. Don’t you know, despite its arguable limitations, this very document is derided by the Hindutva as an impediment in their way of Hindu Rashtra?

But we all know, and people of your worldview know it even better, that a majoritarian state is always looking for a Muslim in India to prove him/her a seditious, fifth columnist. If s/he is not a Hindu, s/he is not spared. A desperate BJP regime, having been cornered and exposed on its blatantly discriminatory citizenship law, was frantically looking for someone like you as a scapegoat to declare the whole protest across India to be the protests of unpatriotic, fifth columnists. Yet, you chose to tread this kind of path, which impedes the ongoing protests against NRC. This is what makes us further suspicious about your intents and credentials.

Your withdrawal did not deter the Shaheen Bagh protests. It also did not help the governing BJP in sabotaging and fizzling out the protests, either. Rather, the protests went on to spread and intensify and widen its social base. Your withdrawal from the Shaheen Bagh protest and then joining in the AMU protests further raises our suspicion about your intents and credentials. Many ask a question: if you are passionately peripatetic about addressing the protesting crowds, rather than educating a university, you may have chosen to educate the rural/mofussil masses.

The bigoted state has slapped sedition charges against you, an archaic colonial law, a lethal weapon in the hands of the state to go for a selective witch-hunt against the dissenters. In my considered opinion, it is disproportionate victimization that you are subjected to. Reports are coming in that members of your family (at Kako, Jehanabad, Bihar) are being harassed by the police. Police of as many as five provinces are after you. A Pragya Thakur, praising Gandhiji’s killer, Godse, a Puja Pandey (of Hindu Mahasabha, who shot at Gandhiji’s effigy in Aligarh), a Griraj Singh, pouring out hate-filled, divisive, venomous remarks day in and day out and many more of the Hindutva brigade are not only left off, some of them rather go on winning elections after elections.

Sharjeel Imam, you, bearing a Muslim name can’t be let off. You, being a kind of aspirant to become a political trader of Muslim victimization, knew the discriminatory practices better than most of us would do.

We are also told that for long your late father and your brother were associated with the JDU, the ruling party in Bihar. Yet, the Bihar police seem to be unsparing to your family. We are told, recently, one of your brothers joined the RJD. Is it then, a political vendetta against your family? Nobody knows about the family of a Komal Singh, an accused among those who unleashed violence against JNU students and teachers on January 5. But the police, media and the whole world has been able to get hold of your family. After all you bear Muslim name. If your brother is really with the RJD, his party has not come out openly against this witch-hunt against your family. Tejashwi Yadav had taken weeks even to tweet on the lynching of Zainul Haq Ansari in Sitamarhi on 20 October 2018. Yet, your brother joined the RJD in 2019.

I would therefore persuade you not only to give up Right-wing Islamism but also to stand up to resist all kinds of chauvinists across communities. Need I remind you, they feed upon each other?

I think the malevolent police will not be able to produce evidences to the effect of sedition and treason. I therefore, hope that the judiciary will not find you seditious. My worry is: once you come out of it, you stature among the Islamist will further grow. This is what the state, more so when led by majoritarian Righ wing, would wish you to become. Islamism would thus come to the rescue of Hindutva. We, the students of History know it better than this happens often enough. This is what makes me worried as a citizen of India who is at the moment a scared and dreaded of the regime and its ways.

By Mohammad Sajjad

(Mohammad Sajjad teaches Modern and Contemporary Indian History at the Aligarh Muslim University and has published few books including, Muslim Politics in Bihar: Changing Contours.)


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