New Delhi: The Waqf Act is the latest target of fascist Hindutva forces, following masjid, azan, hijab, halal, and other issues related to the Muslim community. Amidst numerous court cases contesting the legality of the Waqf Act, Harnath Singh Yadav, a BJP MP, has managed to introduce a private members’ bill in the recently concluded winter session of Parliament that aims to repeal the Waqf Act, 1995.
Intriguingly, the bill was introduced in the Upper House of Parliament without the presence of multiple opposition members who were required to cast votes. Consequently, some of them said that since it was called thirty minutes earlier than usual, they had left the house.
The Waqf Repeal Bill, 2022, was introduced by BJP member and former RSS Zila Pracharak Yadav, who took advantage of the absence of many opposition members to argue that such a law is unique to the world and should not be permitted in a secular country like India. As soon as Yadav got up to introduce the bill, he was met with protests from RJD, TMC members, DMK, CPI, CPI (M), and members of Congress. Due to sharp disagreements over the introduction, there was a split vote, with 53 members supporting the bill and 32 opposing it. Eventually, the bill was approved for introduction.
Yadav, who hails from Mainpuri, UP, pushed for the Act’s repeal, arguing that its provisions “violate secularism and unity principles and cause conflict and hatred” in society. The Act was introduced in 1954 to regulate and declare Waqf properties. According to him, the Act’s “unconstitutional” provisions give the board the power to “seize properties owned by people, governments, and religious organizations while preventing them from filing a lawsuit.”.
Opposition members vehemently opposed the bill
CPI (M) member Elamaram Kareem highlighted the concerns of the Muslim community over the bill. “I oppose even the introduction of the bill. It is a serious concern among Muslims that their fundamental rights to keep the waqf assets to themselves are at stake. So, this bill should be rejected,” he said.
Another CPI (M) member, John Brittas, also opposed the bill, describing it as “divisive.” Mohamed Abdulla, a DMK MP, stated that he and his IUML colleague Abdul Wahab were unable to attend the House because it was reconvened at a different time.
“For the last 60–70 years, the House has met at 2.30 p.m. to allow the Muslim members to offer Friday prayers. Now, it has been moved ahead by half an hour, and we were not consulted,” Abdulla underlined.
When Abdulla brought up the matter, RS Chair Jagdeep Dhankar responded that it was done to make sure that both houses resumed operations simultaneously.
It is noted that the RS Chairman decided to resume the Rajya Sabha proceedings at 2 p.m., the same time as the Lok Sabha, instead of the customary Friday time of 2.30 p.m. Lawmakers have a chance to introduce bills every Friday, but the majority of private bills are not successful in doing so.
Besides this private bill, there are as many as 120 petitions filed by BJP-RSS activists in various courts across the country, challenging the validity of the Waqf Act. In response to a notice by the Delhi High Court on a public interest litigation (PIL), the Union Government told the court in March this year that 120 petitions have been filed across the country under the Waqf Act. The court granted the government time to take appropriate instructions on the transfer of the petitions to the Supreme Court.
The bench of Chief Justice Satish Chandra Sharma and justice Subramonium Prasad, while hearing a PIL by former Delhi BJP spokesperson and lawyer Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay challenging certain provisions of the Waqf Act, asked the Union government counsel to seek instructions on taking steps for the consolidation of all the cases.
The petitioner, Upadhyay, who is known for filing anti-Muslim PILs, argues that the Waqf Act was created in the name of overseeing Waqf properties, even though adherents of Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism, Judaism, Bahaism, Zoroastrianism, and Christianity do not have comparable legal protections.
Upadhyay told the court that the Act was ‘anti-secular” because no other law existed to manage the assets of other faiths.
The government, in an application filed in the current petition, sought an extension of three months for filing the reply and said that “apart from the instant case, nearly 120 writ petitions challenging one or more provisions of the Waqf Act 1995 are pending before various courts.”
All these activities of RSS-BJP members show that they are desperate to keep the communal pot boiling and divert public attention from the burning issues. They rake up any trivial matter related to the Muslim community, like azan, mosques, Muslim personal law, and others.
Former Union Minority Affairs Minister K Rehman Khan termed the private member’s bill absolutely nothing but mischief. Speaking with the Islamic Voice, Rehman Khan said the BJP is committing so many mischiefs to deflect the people’s attention from real issues. On the constitutional validity of the Waqf Act, he said it is a time-tested law and has been in effect since the British era. Citing examples of other laws such as the Hindu Charitable Act, Sikh Gurdwaras, and Religious Endowment Act, 1973, he blasted Yadav’s arguments that Waqf Act provisions “violate secularism and unity principles. Like the Public Property Act, waqf law is there to protect and preserve waqf properties from encroachment and adverse possession, Khan added, who also headed the Joint Paramilitary Committee that published a voluminous report on the condition of waqf properties in the whole country.
Echoing his views, Inam Ur Rehman, Assistant Secretary, Jamaat Islami Hind, said the waqf law is not new, as the Waqf Act was enacted during British time in 1923, called the Mussalman Waqf Act of 1923 and the Mussalman Waqf Validating Act of 1913. Furthermore, several state governments, such as UP, Bihar, and West Bengal, etc., have enacted their own laws on Waqf, Inam Ur Rehman told Islamic Voice.
Challenging the waqf law’s validity in itself is a very absurd idea, as recently the Supreme Court ruled in a case that the Maharashtra State Waqf Board under Section 40 and other sections of the Waqf Act are all right and directed the Waqf Board to exercise the powers and decide the cases of disputes pending before it, he said. He also exposed a BJP member’s falsehood that if the waqf board declares any public property as waqf, it becomes a waqf.
It is noted that during the 1,000 years of Muslim rule, Waqf properties were created all over the Indian subcontinent. Even today, the Waqf Board is the third largest owner of real estate in the country after the Ministry of Railways and the Ministry of Defense.
The Prime Minister High-Level Committee, led by former Delhi High Court Chief Justice Rajender Sachar, stated in its 2006 report that Waqf Boards own 500,000 properties totaling 600,000 hectares of land worth 12 billion rupees.
Delhi is dotted with Islamic monuments and buildings. According to Delhi Waqf Board records, there are about 1,600 Waqf properties in the National Capital Territory of Delhi.
If such properties are not safe in the capital, one can get an idea of what their condition will be in the rest of the country.
But the Minority Affairs Ministry seems to be least concerned about the state of affairs of waqfs. Even for more than one year, there has been no full-fledged secretary appointed to the Central Waqf Council, and the Waqf Development Corporation has been defunct for the last eight years. Khan said that the present government and the minority ministry are not interested in minority issues. The current minister, Smirti Irani, doesn’t know anything about minority issues, and she has no commitment to the ministry, the former minister said.
Rehman Khan said that the private bill would never pass because the Rajya Sabha uses a lottery to decide which bills are to be discussed. Khan served as the Rajya Sabha’s deputy chairman. Bills introduced by members of parliament who are not ministers are referred to as private member’s bills. Even though the majority of private bills have not been introduced, relatively few of them have become laws. However, ahead of the upcoming general elections in 2024, Yadav’s Waqf Repeal Bill, 2022, has all the makings of mischief. A political analyst claimed that Yadav was not the author of the bill but rather the ruling party and that he was used as a pawn to introduce it into parliament.
On the fate of the private bill, Rehman Khan said it would not see the light as there is a lottery system in Rajya Sabha to take up any bill for discussion. Khan was the deputy chairman of the Rajya Sabha. Legislation introduced by MPs other than ministers is known as a private member’s bill. Relatively few private member bills have become laws, despite the fact that the majority of private bills have not been introduced. However, Yadav’s Waqf Repeal Bill, 2022, has all the trappings of mischief ahead of the forthcoming general elections next year. A political commentator said the bill was not of Yadav but of the ruling party, and allegedly his service was used to bring in parliament.