By Pankaj Vohra
5th Apr 2014
In what has turned out to be a Imam versus Imam stand-off, Dr Mufti Mohammad Mokarram Ahmed, the Shahi Imam of the Fatehpuri Mosque in the walled city has made it clear that he did not endorse the opinion of the Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid, Syed Ahmed Bukhari that Muslims should vote for the Congress in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. He said that Muslims should vote for any secular party even if it was small or any Independent who could uphold the principles of secularism in this country. Even Syed Ahmed Bukhari's younger brother, Syed Yahya Bukhari, has come out openly against the call to Muslims to support the grand old party.
Speaking to The Sunday Guardian, Dr Mufti Mohammad Mokarram Ahmed said that "every candidate put up by any political party is not the same and different issues exist in different areas. So how can one back only one political party when there are so many others in different parties who can do a better job for the community?"
He said that a lot of changes had taken place in India as voters were today more educated and enlightened than before. They know what is good for them and they can also see through the designs of various political parties and candidates. "To bind them to one single organisation would therefore not be fair. They should be able to choose from the candidates seeking election and since 95% of people (read Hindus) are secular, it would not be difficult to make up their minds."
Dr Ahmed, who has often disagreed with the views of the Jama Masjid Shahi Imam, said that it was a coalition era and there were so many regional players who play an important role in government formation. The relevance of national parties is there but they too are dependent on these regional parties. Thus it is only appropriate that the freedom to elect a representative from any of the secular parties, regional or national, small or big should be left to the voters including those who are Muslims. "My appeal is to the Muslims to elect anyone who can provide a secular government and ensure peace and communal harmony''. Asked whether it was appropriate for religious heads and clerics of any religion to meddle in political affairs, he said that as a citizen of India and as a voter, he had every right to give his opinion to the masses. It is up to the people to listen to the appeal or ignore it.
The Fatehpuri Mosque Shahi Imam's appeal has brought hope back to the Aam Aadmi Party cadre who were demoralised after the Jama Masjid Shahi Imam appealed to the people to vote for the Congress. Delhi has a very large Muslim electorate and the common belief is that they would go with AAP given its ability to take on the BJP in next Thursday's Parliamentary poll in the capital.
Meanwhile, Syed Yahya Bukhari, the younger brother of Jama Masjid Shahi Imam opposed any move to support the Congress, "which is the most communal party". "If you ask any Muslim in the country, this is how they feel. Muslims say that BJP is a communal party, yes it is. But when BJP attacks the minority, it attacks from the front and Muslims can save themselves but Congress always backstabs them."
He was equally critical of the BJP and accused it of massacring Muslims in Gujarat. But the track record of the Congress was no better. "Whether it was Bhagalpur, Meerut, Moradabad or Surat, it all happened during the Congress rule. Even now innocent Muslims were being sent to jail."
The Jama Masjid Shahi Imam's support for the Congress comes after 35 years when his father, the then Shahi Imam, Syed Abdullah Bukhari had supported the Congress after his meeting with Indira Gandhi and her younger son Sanjay Gandhi in late 1979. Syed Abdullah Bukhari had brought Jama Masjid into the political arena three years earlier when at the instance of Babu Jagjivan Ram and Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna, he asked Muslims to support the Janata Party in 1977. In 1989, he had supported Vishwanath Pratap Singh against Rajiv Gandhi. Ahmed Bukhari's support to Congress was declared after he met Congress president Sonia Gandhi. The BJP has described the declaration of support as an attempt to polarise politics in the country.