By Yoginder Sikand, NewAgeIslam.com
25 Jan 2011
For some reason, which I cannot fathom, sections of Urdu Press seem to be sensationalising the ongoing student protest and succession dispute in the Dar ul-Uloom, Deoband, and are fervently backing what appears to be a mounting wave of opposition to the newly-appointed rector of the institution, Ghulam Mohammad Vastanvi. Hamara Samaj and Daily Sahafat (published simultaneously from Lucknow, Mumbai and Delhi), in particular, continue to publish sensationalist and even possibly baseless allegations against Vastanvi, and continuously repeat with banner headlines on the front page the claim, which Vastanvi has refuted, that he has praised Narendra Modi. The paper goes so far as to even suggest that Vastanvi is an ‘RSS agent’, without providing any substantial proof at all. Below I have summarized and translated some of the latest news about the ongoing tussle in Deoband, as reported in the 25th January issue of the Delhi edition of the Daily Sahafat.
The cover-page story of the newspaper is titled ‘Expulsion of Students Leads to Environment of Sorrow and Anger in the Dar ul-Uloom, Deoband’. According to the report, a large number of students of the Deoband madrasa are continuing to protest Vastanvi’s appointment. Faced with the angry students, Vastanvi was forced to order the expulsion of nine of them, but this only further stoked their comrades. On the advice of the head of (one wing of) the Jamiat ul-Ulema-e Hind, Syed Arshad Madani, who is also a teacher of Hadith at the Deoband madrasa, three teachers of the madrasa met with Vastanvi. They explained to him that expelling the students would only further worsen the situation, for which he would be responsible, and advised him to revoke the expulsion orders. Thereupon, Vastanvi ordered that the expulsion orders be rescinded, and assured the protesting students that their demands would be placed before the governing council (majlis-e shura) of the madrasa. He also stressed that the students should call off their strike and that classes be resumed. However, despite this, the students are keeping up with their protest, raising anti-Vastanvi slogans and demanding that he be expelled. They have insisted that if an emergency meeting of the madrasa’s governing council is not held for this purpose, the situation might turn, as the newspaper terms it, ‘even more explosive’.
A ‘wave of sorrow and anger’ has engulfed the madrasa, so the article goes on to say. Irate students are boycotting classes and are still on strike. Rumours have gripped Deoband town, and, overall, the situation, is tense. Vastanvi visited the madrasa to calm the students down, but he was not able to finish addressing them, being forced by them to go back. They demanded that he apologise to Muslims for his reported statements and that he be removed from his post. It might be, so the Daily Sahafay claims, that if the situation worsens, the madrasa administration might have to seek the help of the police and paramilitary forces, although it has so far denied this.
Speaking to journalists, the head of a Deobandi students’ group, calling itself the Jamiat ul-Tulaba, Saeed Jamil Bijnori, the report continues, has declared that the students will continue to protest until a meeting of the governing council of the madrasa is held and it decides to expel Vastanvi. He should be replaced, Bijnori insists, with someone who, as he puts it, ‘is compatible with the glory of the Dar ul-Uloom, Deoband’.
Meanwhile, or so the report claims, a certain Zakwan was injured when Vastanvi’s son Muhammad Huzaifa hurled a stone at him. A student of the madrasa has also accused a senior teacher at the madrasa, Maulana Abdul Khaliq Madrasi, and a certain Muhammad Munir, of injuring him.
In another story, titled ‘Maulana Vastanvi is Not Suitable to be Rector’, the paper reports that Ahmed Patel, a senior Congress leader, who is said to be a close confidant of Sonia Gandhi, has denied that he has close links with Vastanvi. He clarified that he had been meeting Vastanvi in just the same way as many other Muslims had met him. Patel, so the report claims, believes that Vastanvi is not suitable for the post of rector of the Deoband madrasa. According to ‘reliable sources’, the report continues, Patel had ‘scolded Maulana Vastanvi on the phone for his wrong statements.’ A year ago, the report says, Vastanvi had visited Ahmed Patel in his house along with a ‘leader’ (whom it leaves unnamed) from Maharashtra and requested Patel to help make this ‘leader’ a Member of the Legislative Council. However, Patel is said to have turned down this request saying, ‘Either you run madrasas or do politics. Both cannot be done together.’
‘Interestingly,’ the story continues, ‘Maulana Vastanvi’s son Mufti Huzaifa has been claiming Ahmed Patel as his own mother’s father and, on that basis, has being making political claims.’ Huzaifa, it says, boasts that he ‘can make the provincial units of the Congress in Gujarat and Maharashtra to act according to his wishes. From distributing tickets [to political candidates] to other administrative work, he says, no one can oppose him.’ ‘But today’, the report declares, ‘these false claims have been fully exposed after Ahmed Patel very clearly denied any such closeness.’
Shortly after being appointed as the rector of the Deoband madrasa, the report adds, Vastanvi again went to Ahmed Patel’s residence to meet him. This initially suggested that he might have a ‘very close relationship’ with Patel and the Congress, but when he issued a statement that appeared to support Modi, it became apparent that, as the report says, ‘his heart has a dark spot.’
The report concludes by mentioning that Patel has denied that he had any special relation with Vastanvi. Nor, he stressed, did he want to interfere in the Deoband madrasa. ‘According to reliable sources’, the report reads, ‘Ahmed Patel goes so far as to say that a religious scholar who has relations with Narendra Modi, butcher of Muslims, cannot be ours.’
The same issue of the Daily Sahafat highlights the views of Syed Nizamuddin, a leading Deobandi scholar, member of the Deoband’s governing council and Amir-e Shariat of the Imarat-e Shariat of Jharkhand, Bihar and Orissa, on the ongoing tussle in Deoband. It reports that Nizamuddin has demanded that a meeting of the governing council of the Deoband madrasa be held at once to decide Vastanvi’s future. The controversy over Vastanvi, he said, had greatly pained Muslims associated with the Deobandi tradition throughout the world. He condemned Vastanvi’s reported statement about Modi as ‘based entirely on politics and a challenge to the glory of the Dar ul-Uloom, Deoband’. He noted that although Vastanvi had apologized for his statement, there was no doubt that his statement would ‘hurt the sentiments of Muslims across the globe’, adding that it was impossible for Muslims to tolerate that an institution such as the Deoband madrasa, which is widely respected by Muslims across the world, be used to make such a statement.
The newspaper also highlights the voices of other Muslim clerics who have loudly denounced Vastanvi, despite the latter’s subsequent clarification that he had not intended to provide Modi with a ‘clean chit’, which is what has incensed many Muslims now opposed to him most. It refers to the rector of a leading Deobandi madrasa, the Madrasa Shahi at Moradabad, Ashhad Rashidi, as saying that it appeared that the employees, teachers and students of the Dar ul-Uloom, Deoband, seem to be ‘unanimous’ that the institution will gain nothing from Vastanvi’s presence and that, instead, he will only ‘damage’ it. This is because Vastanvi ‘is not even aware of the Deobandi school of thought (maslak), its ideology and conditions.’ Hence, ‘it is not proper for him to stay on in the Dar ul-Uloom.’ The report refers to Rashidi as claiming that on becoming rector of the madrasa, Vastanvi began to imagine that he had become an important leader and an occupant of a ‘political post’. ‘Had he been really familiar with the conditions and history of Deoband’, the report goes on, Vastanvi ‘would not have issued his pro-Modi statement.’
Another article in the same issue of the Daily Sahafat claims that Narendra Modi has been trying to get Vastanvi to share the dais with him at a Republic Day function to be held in Gujarat on 26th January. This, it says, has further angered many Muslims. The article declares that what it calls Vastanvi’s ‘Modi worship’ (modi parasti) will ‘cost him dear.’ It quotes Mohammad Saeed Noori of the Raza Academy, Mumbai (an outfit associated with the Barelvis, bitter opponents of the Deobandis) as denouncing what he calls Vastanvi’s ‘Modi-worshipping statement’ (modi parasat bayan), which, he says, ‘has caused him to lose all respect among Muslims’. He expresses his surprise that the Deoband madrasa is ‘still tolerating’ Vastanvi even after this.
The report mentions that in support of Vastanvi it could be said that the Times of India (which first carried Vastanvi’s remarks about Modi) routinely distorts news about Muslims, and that when Muslims issue clarifications or denials of such reports, the paper refuses to publish them. However, it claims (with regard to Vastanvi’s insistence that the Times of India had distorted his comments in order to wrongly present him as praising Modi) that senior Times of India journalists maintain that their paper has received no rebuttal from Vastanvi as yet. They also insist, so the report says, that Vastanvi’s remarks were not distorted by their paper.
Finally, the Daily Sahafat carries a note issued by an outfit that terms itself the Jamaat ul-Ulema-e Hind (not to be confused with the Jamiat-ul Ulema-e Hind), that claims that there is now a country-wide agitation against what it calls the ‘wrong and politically-motivated’ decision of the Deoband madrasa’s governing council of appointing Vastanvi as rector. It holds Vastanvi and the governing council responsible for the controversy. It demands that the governing council remove Vastanvi immediately from the post of rector and appoint a ‘non-political’ person in his place. Alternately, it demands that Vastanvi step down ‘on moral grounds’.
If the governing council of the madrasa does not ‘wake up’ and if Vastanvi continues to ‘display stubbornness’, the statement continues, the Jamaat ul-Ulema-e Hind would be forced to issue a command to ‘all its members and graduates of the Dar ul-Uloom to descend in lakhs on Deoband’ to settle the matter. It concludes by condemning the reported violence against the protesting students of the Deoband madrasa and by demanding ‘strict action against their oppressors [zalim]’, announcing that ‘it is determined to get the zalims out of the Dar ul-Uloom, Deoband’.
A regular columnist for NewAgeIslam.com, Yoginder Sikand works with the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion at the National Law School, Bangalore.