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28 October 2012

SPECIAL REPORT: Congress Party, BJP attempting to divide Muslims, ropes in rival sect Muslim clerics for Gujarat poll campaign

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By Abdul Hafiz Lakhani

Ahmedabad/Surat: Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in a desperate attempt to hold on to power and arrest the likely dip in vote margin has decided to bring for the first time ever a Muslim Barelvi sect Mehbub Ali Baba Saheb, the head of a shrine in Surat and president of the BJP’s minority cell, as a star campaigner of the party for the upcoming assembly elections in the state. Ever since chief minister Narendra Modi came to power in 2001, this is for the first time that the state BJP has chosen a Muslim leader for this role.

Baba Saheb’s name has come as a surprise for all as the Hindu nationalist party has not included senior leaders and party’s Muslim faces, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and Sahnawaz Hussain as star campaigners. His name emerged for the role as the party is leaning towards Muslims in a bid to improve its image that was tarnished after the 2002 communal riots in the state.

Interestingly, Ali was the first political appointment as chairman of the Gujarat Haj Committee in 2011. The post is usually filled up by any senior Muslim bureaucrat. Baba Saheb is instrumental in organising the felicitation ceremony for 200 Muslim councillors of the local body who are from BJP.

“I’m very happy that the party has named me as the first Muslim star campaigner. I’ll campaign for the party and try to convince Muslim voters about development work done under chief minister Modi’s tenure,” said Mehbub Ali.

Apart from support from Barelvi Muslim sect, BJP is also heavily banking on Bohra Muslims to get votes. Bohra Muslims, a breakaway Shia Muslim sect, have been traditional supporters of BJP and have largely kept themselves aloof from mainstream Muslims.

BJP's decision to field Barelvi cleric Mehbub Ali Baba Saheb as a star campaigner has come close on the heels after the rival Congress Party succeeded in roping in a Deobandi sect Muslim cleric Maulana Ghulam Mohd. Vastanvi as its star campaigner. Maulana Vastanvi , who was sacked as the vice-chancellor of Darul Uloom Deoband for allegedly praising Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, has appealed to Muslims to vote for the Congress Party recently in a minority meeting in Surat last week.

Though, Maulana Vastanvi has not officially joined the Congress Party, but it seems that a secrect deal for election campaign is on the cards.

Maulana Ghulam Mohd Vastanvi, who was sacked as the vice-chancellor of Darul Uloom Deoband for allegedly praising Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, recently said it was a crime to praise a “zalim” (tyrant) and that he never praised Modi.

Addressing a rally organised by the minority cell of the Congress Party at Tarkeshwar in Mandvi taluka of Surat district last week, he said, “I have never praised Narendra Modi...to praise a tyrant is a crime."

He told the audience not to vote for Modi in the upcomingAssembly elections and instead vote for the Congress Party.“Sadbhavna Mission carried out in state is like deception and (there is) nothing more in it. In 2012 elections, we have to kick Narendra Modi out and give votes to the Congress Party and for this all communities should unite...Modi has won twice and people know what is going on in the BJP as Keshubhai Patel has left the party and formed his own party,” Vastanvi told the gathering.

The MBA graduate cleric's diatribe also come a day after Congress party's convener of media cell Asifa Khan joined BJP, giving Modi's Sadbhavana Mission a new face.

Maulana Vastanvi also said that Modi talking of Sadbhavana was akin to going for pilgrimage after committing 100 crimes. Coming out strongly in support of Congress, Vastanvi urged the nearly 1,500-strong crowd to vote for the party. "I request you to vote for the hand in this election. We should be united for a better government. If your vote goes to Congress, it will change the situation in state and country. I request you to value your vote and use it wisely," he said. 

In a veiled warning to the community against parties luring them with money, he said, "It is a matter of 'note' and 'vote'. If you take the 'note', it will be gone in few days but if you cast your vote wisely, it will ensure development." 

Vastanvi also urged Muslims to concentrate on better education and strongly advocated unity among all communities in the country. Vastanvi shared the dais with Dr Tushar Chaudhary, Union minister for road and transport; Kadir Pirzada, member of Gujarat Congress core committee; Congress MLAs Kuwarji Halpati, Gyasuddin Shaikh, Punaji Gamit and Ishwar Vahiya. 

When questioned, Vastanvi said, "I was approached to advise the community and therefore I came. I advised them what I think is the best for them." Asked if he would campaign for Congress, he said, "Currently I have no plans. I am an educationalist and will continue my work." Vastanvi runs Jamia Islamia Ishaatul Uloom (JIIU) in Akklakuwa in Nandurbar of Maharashtra.

Maulana Faiyaz Laturi, a cleric and president of Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, Surat, has criticized Ahmed Patel, political adviser to UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, for not attending an event organized for minorities by the Congress on Sunday.

Laturi was addressing a gathering of around 1,500 Muslims organized by the Congress in Tadkeshwar of Surat district.

"Many Congress leaders attended the event but we were excepting Ahmed Patel, who did not come. Muslims consider you their own so you should also consider us your own. People like the Congress party. Modi gained popularity by doing bad things, you should gain popularity by doing good work," said Laturi.

Congress sources in Delhi, however, said that Patel was at no stage supposed to attend the gathering. Given the tight calendar of political engagements in the capital planned months in advance, it would not have been possible for him to attend, said a source. Patel could not be reached for his comments.

Laturi also raised the issue of harassment by 'Jiv-Daya' activists and alleged that police are also helping them.

He also demanded removal of Haj Committee chairman Sufi Sant Mehboobali Bawa for his alleged derogatory speech against Deobandi Muslim community.

Responding to Laturi's comments Kadir Pirzada, member of Gujarat Congress core committee, said, "Ahmedbhai sent a message to me that he was busy in a work for national interest hence he could not come. However, he is always present to support the community people in Gujarat. He recently announced grant of Rs 1.5 crore for improvement of cemeteries in state."

Gujarat's ruling BJP has lodged a complaint with the Election Commission seeking to bar ousted Vice-Chancellor of Darul Uloom Deoband Maulana Ghulam Mohammad Vastanvi from entering the state following his allegedly provocative utterances against chief minister Narendra Modi.

Vastanvi was removed from the post of vice-chancellor of Darul Uloom Deoband, the second largest Islamic seminary in the world, for praising Modi's development policy in January 2011.

BJP's media cell convenor Jagdish Bhavsar said "the statements made by Vastanvi, during a Congress party minority cell programme in Surat, are provocative and harmful to the state's peaceful atmosphere. We have complained to the Election Commission to bar Vastanvi from entering Gujarat".

"Vastanvi's utterance of wrongful words against Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi is a violation of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC)," Bhavsar said, adding the Surat BJP unit has demanded his arrest and strict action.

Maulana Vastanvi has used the platform of Congress Party to incite communal passions among various communities and tried to create a rift in state's communal amity," Bhavsar added."Vastanvi's utterance of wrongful words against Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi is a violation of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC)," Bhavsar said, adding the Surat BJP unit has demanded his arrest and strict action.BJP national vice-president Purushottam Rupala said the use of words "zalim" (tyrant) against Modi and asking Muslims to vote for Congress is a violation of MCC.

BJP national vice-president Purushottam Rupala said the use of words "zalim" (tyrant) against Modi and asking Muslims to vote for Congress is a violation of MCC. The Election Commission should take strict action against him for using such words."

The Election Commission should take strict action against him for using such words."Addressing a public rally organised by the minority cell of Congress at Tarkeshwar in Mandvi taluka of Surat district yesterday, Vastanvi had said it was a crime to praise a "zalim" (tyrant) and that he never praised Modi."To praise a 'zalim' (tyrant) is a crime. I never praisedGujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi," Vastanvi said.

[Abdul Hafiz Lakhani is a senior Journalist based at Ahmedabad, Gujarat. He is associated with IndianMuslimObserver.com as Bureau Chief (Gujarat). He can be reached at lakhani63@yahoo.com or on his cell 09228746770]

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