India’s first Shia political party distances itself from ‘extremist Sunnis’ as the community leans closer to the BJP

UP Shia Central Waqf Board Chairperson, Syed Waseem Rizvi, launched India’s first Shia political party. The party has been named ‘Indian Shia Awami League’.

At the launch, Rizvi distanced himself from “extremist Sunnis” and asserted that “Islam and society need to be protected from them”.

“Though the Shia community is a part of the Muslim minority, on account of being just 20% of the total Muslim population, it has been an object of oppression and exploitation of the fundamentalist section of the Muslim minority. Since the Sunnis constitute about 80% of the Muslim community, benefits under the government schemes meant for the minorities along with other social and political benefits are always reaped by them,” stated the official party release.

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In a conversation with ThePrint, Rizvi blamed Sunni extremism for riots and added that the Shia-Sunni conflict is irreconcilable. “Traditionally, vote bank politics has only catered to the Sunnis in India, since we are in minority…But when there are riots in the country because of Sunni extremism, we also get targeted due to our Muslim identity,” said the Shia leader before going on to state, “The Shia-Sunni conflict is irreconcilable…They (Sunnis) don’t even consider us Muslims, but because of them our identity is under threat.”

Waseem Rizvi has affirmed himself as a moderate Muslim in public life. In April, the Shia Waqf Board had moved the Supreme Court seeking a ban on the hoisting of green flags with crescents on them in Muslim majority areas which resembled those of a Pakistani political party. In his plea, Rizvi had alleged that it was a cause for tension between Hindus and Muslims. In February, he had asserted that Muslims who are opposed to the Ram Mandir at Ayodhya should move to Pakistan. He had further stated that those who want a Mosque to be built at the disputed site should join ISIS chief Abu Bakr Baghdadi. Earlier this year, Rizvi had also implored the Prime Minister to shut down Madrassas as they were breeding ground for terrorists. He appealed for the same in a letter to Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath as well. Radical Muslims had also put a bounty of 10 lakh rupees on his head for his remarks on Madrassas.

Reports have emerged thick and fast in recent times of the Shia community’s growing affinity towards the BJP. An influential leader of the Shia community, Maulana Syed Kalbe Jawad Naqvi, last year praised the Prime Minister and had advised his community against voting for the SP-Congress alliance in the Assembly Elections. He had also asserted that Muslims were safest under Modi and Yogi governments. The All India Shia Personal Law Board (AISPLB) has also passed a resolution seeking a ban on cow slaughter and asked the Center to ban the practice of Triple Talaq. Maulana Yasoob Abbas, the spokesperson for the All India Shia Personal Law Board, had even said, “The Shia community will continue to support the BJP if it ensures better education and job opportunities for Muslim women.”

Even during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the Shia community in Varanasi is said to have overwhelmingly voted for the BJP. “Shias are supporting BJP because of local issues. Muslims from the Sunni sect oppose our Taziya procession and Azadari during Moharram in Dosipura. There is also a dispute over an Imambada land. BJP openly supports us and now we will support in return,” one Maulana Aqeel had said. For its part, the only Muslim Minister in Yogi Adityanath’s cabinet, Mohsin Raza, hails from the Shia community. Shia Personal Law Board member Maulana Yasoob Abbas had also met Yogi Adityanath after the latter became the Chief Minister and asserted that a delegation from the Board would soon meet the Saffron Clad Mahant and request for the setting up of a commission to ensure the development of Shias.

Shias are believed to constitute between 15-20% of the Indian Muslim community. It will be intriguing to see how the Shia community’s overtures towards the Bharatiya Janata Party pans out while the latter would look to gain the support of the community without having to sacrifice its image as a ‘Hindutva’ party.

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