Jamaat-e-Islami Hind: Changed Political Outlook?

20 May, 2014    ·   4453

Ayesha Khanyari says that the Jamaat will survive as an ideologically driven civil society movement in the near future

At the New Delhi chapter of the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH), Ameer-e-Jamaat Maulana Jalaluddin Omari, the central head of the JIH, recently said, ‘‘The Jamaat is committed to upholding the values of democracy, secularism and the principles of the Indian Constitution. We are against the parties which oppose diversity. The very language of cultural assimilation is a threat to the spirit of our Constitution.’’

The Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) is a major Islamic organisation formed in undivided India by Maulana Abul Ala Maudoodi in 1941. In the seventy years of its existence the JI has undergone several changes; after Partition, the Jamaat was trifurcated into Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan (JIP), Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH) and Jamaat-e-Islami Kashmir (JIK). In 1974, a unit in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir was also established.  The Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami developed from the Jamaat wing in then-East Pakistan and is the largest Islamist party in Bangladesh today.

JIH: Moving Away from its Roots?
The JIP and JIH shared some concerns initially, but the discourse and rhetoric shaped by the different environments they were placed in have now set them wide apart.

The Jamaat had its emergence in the period prior to the partition of the Indian sub-continent when contesting visions of nationhood emerged. Amongst Muslim theorists of the sub-continent, Jamaat leader Maudoodi represented a third strand that denounced both the composite nationalism framework of Jamiat-e-Ulema Hind and Muslim nationalism of the Muslim League. He held that the idea of territorial nationalism was antithetical to the ideal Islamic state.

In Pakistan, Maudoodi and JIP were successful in the establishment of an Islamic nation. The 1951 provincial elections brought JIP into Pakistan’s mainstream political discourse. The JIP went on to emerge as a major political party in Pakistan.
In India, the Jamaat transformed itself into a cultural organisation devoted to addressing the growing influences of securalism and communalism. It set up networks of educational institutions - both schools and colleges. The JIH had no electoral compulsions and thus kept its members from taking part in elections.The Jamaat’s main aim was the establishment of Hukumat-e-Ilahiya, an Islamic state. Maudoodi was against secular democracy and obligated Muslims to boycott elections as he described democracy as an anti-Islamic political system.

However, over the years due to tremendous pressure, the JIH has worked towards the modification of its political outlook by taking part in democratic processes. Therefore, the Jamaat gradually reconciled itself to secularism and democracy which it had condemned as ‘haram’ (forbidden) and antithetical to Muslim beliefs. Jamaat, however still calls its acceptance of secularism as a concession made for utilitarian purposes without necessarily compromising its philosophical dimension. In essence, the Jamaat has stayed away from active electoral politics and confined itself largely to ideological work through its active cadre and mass support.

Welfare Party of India: The Secular Wing of Jamaat?
In 2011, the JIH launched a political party, the Welfare Party of India (WPI), under a leadership that included both top functionaries of the organisation and members from the wider Muslim community and outside, including a Christian priest, to participate in electoral processes in a secular and democratic setting. In the 2014 Parliamentary elections the WIP contested 29 Lok Sabha seats - 9 in Bengal, 9 in Maharashtra, 5 in Kerala, 3 in Andhra Pradesh, 2 in Uttar Pradesh and 1 in Karnataka.

The WPI, which provides scope for alternative politics, is averse to joining other parties as it wants to emerge on its own strength. As compared to the Jamaat, the WPI is a more secular organisation which works with not just Muslims but also Christians, Dalits and other minorities. It presents itself as a party committed to the principles of justice, freedom and equality by seeking the empowerment of the weak, oppressed and marginalised sections.

JIH Today: Leadership, Ideology and the Future of Jamaat
The JIH has increasingly adapted itself to the democratic polity in India. In terms of its leadership, Jamaat is more secular and moderate today, taking into cognizance the leadership of the WPI that works towards the upliftment of different sections of society.

The Jamaat’s support for the WPI is also reflective of the changing position of the JIH in relation to India's secular democracy and its gradual ideological shift towards religious pluralism and tolerance. Most of the members of the Jamaat are educated lower or middle class Muslim workers. It is this section of the Muslim population that is courted by major political parties for their pivotal votes. At the time of elections, the mainstream camps appeal to these sections for votes and later forget about the promises of social and financial development. Hence, the WPI provides an opportunity for the marginalised sections to come together.

The Jamaat will survive as an ideologically driven civil society movement in the near future. Though the WPI contested elections in certain pockets of India, it failed to make any impact. The Jamaat has a wide social base; it deals with a good deal of welfare programmes and enjoys social legitimacy. By supporting a secular party like the WPI, the Jamaat does not limit itself to the religious circles alone. Although the WPI lacked the sufficient strength to win a majority of the seats it contested in the Lok Sabha elections, it certainly created an electoral space for itself.