Ghulam Mahmood Banatwalla, who left for the heavenly abode on June 25 and was laid to rest the next day, was indeed a Muslim leader of great eminence. In an age of political instability, when politics is the way of hoarding wealth, when politics is the last refuge for scoundrels and criminals, when the Election Commission stands hesitant about clamping a blanket ban on politicians with criminal background to enter the political corridor, when Machiavellian jiggery-pokery is practised in the field of politics at any cost – even at the cost of national interests, when positive values like honesty and discipline are considered worst policies, when human rights of citizens are violated at ease for political gains, when innocent people are harassed and tortured for petty ends, and powers-that-be fail rather miserably to nab hate-mongers, G.M. Banatwalla rendered a selfless service to the nation. His was a bold, gifted and outspoken voice in the Lok Sabha.
In this bleak political backdrop, the key role Banatwalla played along with his colleague late Ibrahim Sulaiman Sait in placing the Indian Union Muslim League in the centre stage of national politics will be remembered for years and decades to come. There are Muslim political leaders galore in the various political parties but no other Muslim leader ever came to the fore for the cause of the community and to raise their voice for the betterment of the community and protection and safeguard of its human and Constitutional rights. It is here that Banatwalla stood tall and outstanding. He will be remembered for the clean politics he practised and for his forceful presentation of Muslim perspective in the Shah Bano case in 1986. A private Bill he moved later prepared the ground for changes in the Muslim Personal Law. He was the Parliamentarian who first spoke up for a ban on Salman Rushdie’s blasphemous novel Satanic Verses. Banatwalla’s sad demise is the great loss for Muslims in India as there is no one left in the Lok Sabha who would raise his voice as powerfully and forcefully as Banatwalla used to do for the cause of Muslims.
An M.Com., B.Ed. and LLB and lecturer in Commerce in a college, Banatwalla renounced his teaching profession to enter full-time politics in Maharashtra in 1964. He won elections to the Maharashtra Assembly in 1967 and 1972. After establishing his contacts with Muslim League leaders in Kerala, Banatwalla emerged as a leader of the party to make his debut in the Lok Sabha elections from Ponnani. When Ibrahim Sulaiman Sait was elected president of the Muslim League, Banatwalla took over as all-India secretary of the party.
That Banatwalla won seven times from Ponnani since 1977 defeating his rivals by massive margins brings into limelight his greatness and eminence as well as popularity as an able Muslim leader.
This is high time our political and community leaders realised the need of disciplined and clean politics as well as selfless service to the nation to bring our beloved nation out of the political mess she has been in. This is the lesson we should learn from the late G.M. Banatwalla.