The Islamist inclinations of Raza Academy is no secret. Over the years, they have been involved in a series of violent protests. While they appeared to have grown quiet in recent times, the organisation reared its ugly head again after Uddhav Thackeray became the Chief Minister of Maharashtra.
Since then, the Raza Academy has targeted France for defending the right to make cartoons of prophet Mohammed. They also called for Islamic countries to issue a fatwa against ‘devil’ French president Emmanuel Macron. More recently, they held demonstrations against Saudi Arabia over its decision to open cinema halls at Madina City. All of this was, of course, the group’s gradual progression on the road to perdition.
Raza Academy first gained notoriety after its morcha at the Azad Maidan ground in 2011 turned violent. The protest was held against the alleged atrocities committed against Rohingyas by the Burmese Army. The protest subsequently turned into a riot and two were killed in retaliatory firing by the police.
Thus, it is not the first time this year that a protest organised by the Islamist group turned violent. Terrible scenes have been observed in Maharashtra and curfew has been imposed in some parts of the state. The group’s influence was particularly felt in Nanded where they had called for a sit-in protest.
During the same, some youths attempted to barge into mixed-residential areas. When they were stopped by the police, they resorted to stone-pelting. Subsequently, the police had to use force to control the mob. BJP MLA Nitesh Rane described the group as a “terrorist organisation” and demanded a ban on the same. On Sunday, he announced that he would lodge a formal complaint against the group.
While the violence appears to have been controlled for now, the antecedents of the group does provide great cause for concern. When a group believes Saudi Arabia’s harsh interpretation of Islam is not stringent enough and multiple protests called by the group have turned violent a decade apart, it is indeed cause for grave concern.
Thus, some serious questions have to be asked here. Why is the Raza Academy witnessing a sudden revival under the current ruling dispensation in Maharashtra? What has happened between 2011 and now that the group suddenly feels confident enough to publicly advocate its hardline stance? Some serious questions have to be asked here.
Uddhav Thackeray met Raza Academy leaders
In January 2020, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray met leaders from Muslim organisations, including the Raza Academy, over the Citizenship Amendment Act and the NRC. They demanded that the Government pass a resolution against the CAA and NRC in the state Assembly.
While no such resolution has been passed, it did provide the Islamist organisation with the legitimacy that they so crave. Later in October, Raza Academy threatened to move Court if the Eid-e-Milad procession was not permitted during Covid-19. In April this year, the group wrote to Uddhav Thackeray and requested that Mosques be kept open during Covid-19.
The Islamist group has tasted quite a bit of success in recent months. In July 2020, the Maharashtra Government accepted its demand to ban the movie ‘Muhammad: The Messenger of God’. The Iranian movie was the country’s for the Best Foreign Language Film category at the 88th Academy Awards. But the group took objection to the fact that the movie portrayed prophet Mohammed as a child and that was not considered permissible.
In February this year, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) issued an unconditional apology towards the Muslim community following a complaint by an Indian Islamic organisation backed by the Raza Academy. The allegation was that the BBC had displayed a portrait of the prophet of Islam.
Nothing succeeds like success
A wise man once said, “Nothing succeeds like success.” And that is precisely what we are seeing here. Emboldened by their newfound legitimacy and occasions where its demands have been complied with, Raza Academy feels confident enough to assert itself with newfound vigour.
They believe that they can continue to assert itself on civil society and they can win crucial concessions for itself in the process. It has already worked for them once or twice, why would they believe it will not work for them again?
The downside of it, of course, is the fact that their ranks comprise of zealots who can easily cross the line into unlawful conduct. That is what we observed during its call for a sit-in protest at Nanded. And shop owners and the police had to bear the costs of it.
Recent events in Maharashtra once again demonstrate the danger in providing legitimacy to such Islamist groups. They are never satisfied with what they have and their thirst of imposing hardline Islamic values on others is never satiated. Until and unless they are relegated to the fringes of society with harsh restrictions and strict measures, there is the serious threat their influence will continue to grow and their credibility will be augmented.
Now is a good time to take efficient measures to curb the group’s growing influence. Or the country will have to pay a huge price later.