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BJP on secular star’s radar

New Delhi, Oct. 28: Arif Mohammad Khan, once considered the strongest voice of the secular politician, is reported to be contemplating joining the BJP.

Khan had shot into the limelight in the eighties when he stunned Rajiv Gandhi by opposing the official Congress line in the Shah Bano case despite being a favourite of the then Prime Minister. But, sources close to Khan said, a shift would take place only after the next Lok Sabha polls because the image-sensitive Khan does not want to be perceived as an “opportunist”.

These sources as well as those in the BJP said no “high-level” talks have yet been held but conceded that “well-meaning mediators” were at work. “He wants to return to the mainstream and sees our party as the best option in the present scenario,” a BJP leader said.

Khan was a founder-member of the Jan Morcha, which came into being when V.P. Singh resigned from the Rajiv Gandhi government over the Bofors gun and HDW submarine deals.

Once the Janata Dal government fell, his career took a beating in Uttar Pradesh, his home state, from where he lost the 1991 polls at the height of the Ram wave. His entry into the Bahujan Samaj Party won him a Lok Sabha seat from Bahraich but he later fell out with Mayavati.

Khan was out on a limb since then. During the post-Godhra violence, he teamed up with Ram Vilas Paswan to work among the riot victims and later joined Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party. But sources close to Khan admitted it was “nothing more than a means of staying afloat, a sounding board”.

The sources said he had been echoing the BJP within and outside the country on some issues. The focus of his submission was the Congress was “responsible” for “reducing Muslims to their present plight” and Ayodhya was essentially its creation.

While touring Saudi Arabia last month, Khan articulated his version of the Gujarat violence to show up the Congress in a worse light than the BJP, the sources said. He repeated the same points at recent meetings in Uttar Pradesh, underscoring how chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav was tilting towards the NDA despite living off Muslim votes.

A former associate of Khan said his primary compulsion in considering the BJP option was Uttar Pradesh’s caste politics that gave him no elbow room. If the Congress and the BSP were to have an alliance, there would be no space for the LJP.

On the other hand, the BJP would showcase his prospective entry as a “coup”. Unlike its current crop of Muslim representatives, Khan comes with the credentials of 1987 when he stood up against the Congress decision to overturn the apex court’s ruling that allowed divorce maintenance to Shah Bano.

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