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No door too far, no pole too high
Cong uneasy over Sonia’s imam meet

Madhusudan Mistry (on top of the electricity pole), tries to replace Narendra Modi’s posters with his own in Vadodara on Thursday. (PTI)

New Delhi, April 3: Sonia Gandhi’s decision to meet Syed Ahmed Bukhari, the Shahi Imam of Delhi’s Jama Masjid, has not gone down well with many Congress leaders.

State units in Assam, Bengal and Uttar Pradesh, where the Muslim population is high, are particularly unhappy, sources said.

These leaders believe there was no need to send out any explicit message to Muslims as the BJP was certain to seize upon any overt gesture.

Narendra Modi has already grabbed the chance to accuse Sonia of communalising the elections. The BJP today submitted a memorandum to the Election Commission to take a “serious note” of the meeting between Sonia and the Shahi Imam on April 1.

The memo alleged that the Congress was lately “turning totally communal and making desperate efforts to throw a red herring and drag the BJP into a messy dialogue of religion-driven electoral politics”.

The Congress feels Modi’s attempt to equate interactions with religious figures to communalism will not wash because some BJP leaders make a beeline to seers. But Congress leaders fear that the impact of the controversy on some sections of Hindus would be negative and harm the party.

Exhortations by religious leaders ahead of elections are not uncommon.

The Shahi Imam’s father, Abdullah Bukhari, had issued a fatwa in favour of the Vajpayee government in 2004, when the scars of the Gujarat riots were fresh. Abdullah Bukhari has been using fatwas since 1977 and the first political beneficiary was the Janata Party that was fighting Indira Gandhi at that time.

Some Muslim leaders had floated a Himayat committee to gather support for Vajpayee in the 2004 general election.

The Shahi Imam had been opposing and supporting the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh, depending on the equations with Mulayam Singh Yadav. The Shahi Imam’s appeal to defeat Shoaib Iqbal, an Independent candidate from the Jama Masjid area, has been falling on deaf years for over a decade now.

Congress leaders said Sonia did not invite the cleric and the meeting was organised by Meem Afzal, a former spokesperson for the party.

Asked about Modi’s charge of fuelling communalism, Congress spokesperson Anand Sharma said: “In a secular democracy, meeting religious leaders is not a crime. Anybody can meet a priest or maulavi, go to a temple or mosque or church. But we don’t use religion for political purposes, the country knows that is done by the RSS, VHP and the BJP.”

Sharma said: “It is Modi who has either been distorting facts or using communal symbols. He has no wisdom, no vision, sense of history, philosophy or economics. He only has claims, a 56-inch chest and five-six kurta-pyjamas to change in a day. His statement on pink revolution during a rally in Bihar yesterday was a brazen attempt to create communal tension. What he said about cow slaughter and export of beef was nothing but falsehood.”

Modi had yesterday targeted the UPA government for the rise in export of meat, contending that the country needed another Green Revolution.

Sharma later released a letter he wrote to Modi on August 18, 2012, as Union commerce minister when this issue was raised by the Gujarat chief minister during the Assembly election campaign.

Stating that export of buffalo meat has been a consistent policy followed by successive governments, including the NDA, the letter said: “I hope that being a chief minister of a large state, you will exercise prudence and restraint while commenting on sensitive issues of public policy. It is unfortunate that in spite of the factual position, you have chosen to give a political slant to the government’s stand on meat export policy. Public discourse on policy matters must never be allowed to be trapped in partisan political agenda.”