I met Shri M. J. Akbar recently. A short while ago M. J. Akbar first joined the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party, with immediate effect, appointed him as its spokesperson. Akbar Sahib has remained among the big role models in journalism and possibly is among those few living role models on whom English and some Hindi journalists want to model their careers. In my mind was the question — why after all did M. J. Akbar prefer to join the Bharatiya Janata Party? The M. J. Akbar that I know — there are many people along with me on the path he has shown and taught us — and in the minds of several amongst us the question arose whether M. J. Akbar joined the Bharatiya Janata Party out of an attraction or temptation for the Rajya Sabha, whether he wants to become a Minister in the Modi Government, whether these two desires remained dormant in his mind, out of which Rajiv Gandhi did not fulfill one desire, and after that those who replaced him — Narasimha Rao and Sonia Gandhi — completely sidelined a personality like M. J. Akbar. The series of questions never end, but when M. J. Akbar invited me to have coffee with him, I got an opportunity to find out the truth.
When I met M. J. Akbar, in answer to Akbar Sahib’s question I asked, ‘how are you feeling after coming into mainstream politics’? M. J. Akbar told me in his usual style, smiling, in fact almost laughingly, why he had joined the Bharatiya Janata Party. Actually, Indian Muslims have traditionally remained against Hindu extremist forces and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Bharatiya Janata Party have become symbols of extremist Hindu forces. After Independence, Muslims have never voted for the Bharatiya Janata Party. After Independence the Jan Sangh was formed. In 1977 the Jan Sangh became a part of the Janata Party and in 1978-79 when the Janata Party split, the Jan Sangh came forward in the form of the Bharatiya Janata Party and from then till now has been working in the form of the Bharatiya Janata Party.
I felt during my talk with M. J. Akbar that he took the decision to join the Bharatiya Janata Party because he wants a dialogue to take place between the Muslims and the Bharatiya Janata Party. Alongside, the Bharatiya Janata Party should get to know about the real issues of Muslims. It is a matter of irony that the Muslim faces of the Bharatiya Janata Party never brought it face to face with the real issues of Muslims…M. J. Akbar understands history, M. J. Akbar understands the problems of Muslims and M. J. Akbar also understands the pain of Muslims.
According to assumptions or what is clearly visible, neither does the Bharatiya Janata Party want to take the Muslims along with it and neither do the Muslims want to go along with the Bharatiya Janata Party. The Bharatiya Janata Party has always given prominence to some Muslim faces, but this was only so that nobody could raise against it the allegation that it was hundred percent hardcore Hindutva or Hindutva hardliner.
Sikandar Bakht, Arif Beg and now Shahnawaz Hussain and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, these are the names currently known in the country as the Muslim faces of the Bharatiya Janata Party. It is for the first time that a person whose name is M.J. Akbar has joined the Bharatiya Janata Party. M. J. Akbar has never been an admirer of the Bharatiya Janata Party. In his reports on the riots the truth has always been revealed that the hand of the RSS was behind the riots.
After talking with M. J. Akbar I felt that his attitude has not changed at all and he is very clear on this and believes that with his coming the Bharatiya Janata Party will not get the votes of the Muslims. He also believes that Muslims will attack him, the way attacks are being made in the social media. There can also be public attacks on him, but M. J. Akbar is prepared for this. I felt during my talk with M. J. Akbar that he took the decision to join the Bharatiya Janata Party because he wants a dialogue to take place between the Muslims and the Bharatiya Janata Party. Alongside, the Bharatiya Janata Party should get to know about the real issues of Muslims. It is a matter of irony that the Muslim faces of the Bharatiya Janata Party never brought it face to face with the real issues of Muslims. They did not even get the Muslims to talk with the Bharatiya Janata Party. The kind of politics they wanted, they talked according to it with the Bharatiya Janata Party and in this whole picture a new character has entered, whose name is M. J. Akbar. M. J. Akbar understands history, M. J. Akbar understands the problems of Muslims and M. J. Akbar also understands the pain of Muslims.
After the entire talk with M.J. Akbar, I have come to the conclusion that for the first time such an individual has gone to Narendra Modi who can make Narendra Modi understand the characters who have been portrayed in the history of Indian Muslims and can also explain to him how ordinary people have been drawn into the struggle of the upper classes between themselves. At the same time, he can also explain to Narendra Modi the contradictions in the kind of lives Muslims are living and the kind of lives Muslims would like to live. Narendra Modi has a lot of faith in M. J. Akbar. Narendra Modi has faith in M. J. Akbar, because it seems to him that neither will M. J. Akbar ever become a sycophant, nor will he come under someone’s influence and give him the wrong information. Behind this is ten years of interaction between Narendra Modi and M. J. Akbar, during which M. J. Akbar’s attitude and his analysis probably influenced Narendra Modi. Now the question is in what way Narendra Modi will develop his understanding for the country’s Muslims.
Those who are outside the Bharatiya Janata Party believe that Narendra Modi will not form any separate understanding about Muslims and this attitude of his can be deduced from Amit Shah’s utterances and behaviour. Amit Shah is of the belief that we will not view Muslims in a different or separate fashion, but see them as a poor section of India and whatever plans and schemes will be made for the poor, Muslims will get a share in them. The Muslims want that special schemes should be made for them in the same way that special schemes have been made for the Dalits and the backward classes. Amit Shah refuses to do this. I too believe that Narendra Modi will refuse to do it, but now the voices of Indian Muslims have reached the Bharatiya Janata Party – in the form of M. J. Akbar.
If people in the Bharatiya Janata Party believe that M. J. Akbar, after joining their party, will leave it or deviate from it with that understanding and intelligence for which he is famous, it seems to me it is a misperception. The truth is that the Bharatiya Janata Party has got in the form of M. J. Akbar a strong, intelligent person, who understands very well the issues of Muslims as well as non-Muslims. The work that M. J. Akbar did for the Times of India was important for him, but the work he did for Sunday, Ravivar and the Telegraph is exceptional. The M. J. Akbar we know is the M. J. Akbar of Sunday, Ravivar and the Telegraph, whose bold writing did not spare whoever was a transgressor or malefactor. That is why M. J. Akbar’s joining the BJP is a good sign.
M. J. Akbar’s joining the Bharatiya Janata Party has troubled secular forces, but there is from this the possibility of one benefit for the country. At least the Bharatiya Janata Party will find it easier to understand a down trodden Muslim community which has reached almost the state of Dalits in Indian society. If the Bharatiya Janata Party comes to power and M.J. Akbar becomes a part of that Government in Narendra Modi’s Cabinet, then there should be no doubt that a person is there who will place the issues of Muslims before Narendra Modi boldly and with courage and will at least expend all his energy in keeping the Bharatiya Janata Party and the RSS away from the politics of riots. My own belief is that M.J. Akbar’s joining the Bharatiya Janata Party is that of a sensible, bold, fearless person joining it and this should be considered to be in the interest of the country.