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Shahi Imam backs Congress and Lalu

New Delhi, April 4 (PTI): The Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid, Syed Ahmed Bukhari, today declared his support to the Congress, saying it will “strengthen” secularism and termed communalism as a “bigger threat” to the country than corruption.

He also announced supporting the Congress ally RJD in Bihar and Trinamul Congress in Bengal.

Bukhari appealed to Muslims to support the Congress and ensure that secular votes are not divided, days after his meeting with Congress president Sonia Gandhi sparked a row.

“For the coming Lok Sabha elections, I announce support for the Congress. We have to fight united against communal forces,” he told a media conference here.

Bukhari said though the Muslim community has grievances against the Congress, a decision to support the party was taken as the “country cannot be allowed to go to the communal forces”.

“The nation faces danger from communal forces. We should ensure secular votes are not divided,” the Imam said.

He said the country was facing a bigger problem of communalism and “communal forces are working day in and day out to break the country”.

The announcement by Bukhari came three days after his meeting with Sonia that raised hackles of BJP, which accused her of communalising politics and said it was case of violation of the model code of conduct.

Muslims account for around 15 per cent of the 814 million voters in the the country and play a crucial role in deciding electoral outcome of various constituencies in a number of states including Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Bengal and Assam.

“If we had our own party, we would not have been in such a bad situation. Other communities like Akali and Yadavs have their own parties,” he said.

Attacking the Samajwadi Party, he accused it of betraying the Muslims by not fulfilling its promises. “It is also responsible for the Muzaffarnagar riots.” He termed the BSP as an “opportunistic party” and said supporting regional outfits will be a “waste of vote”.

“We will not support either SP or BSP. Supporting regional parties will be a waste of vote,” he said.

The BJP today accused Congress of “communalising” the elections after Shahi Imam of Delhi’s Jama Masjid declared its support for the ruling party and asked the Election Commission to take cognisance of the matter.

The BJP said Congress has been accusing it of practising communal politics but it has been itself “exposed” after seeking support of Muslim clerics for votes.

“The Congress talks secularism but walks communalism,” said party vice-president Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi.

“Congress has been badly exposed. It has been labelling us as a communal party but now it has itself been unmasked,” he added while reacting to declaration of support to Congress by the Shahi Imam, three days after Sonia Gandhi sought it.

Naqvi’s party colleague Ravi Shankar Prasad said Congress leaders were seeking support of the people like Bukhari as they failed in all fronts.

“We condemn Imam Bukhari’s statement. This government is desperate. They know they are going to lose very, very heavily. Therefore, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi try to communalise the whole election. They have failed so Shahi Imam Bukhari has come to the front,” Prasad said.

“The Election Commission must take note of this rant communal appeal,” he said.

Naqvi, the Muslim face of the BJP, said the Congress was trying to “communalise” the elections to divert attention from the issues being highlighted by BJP like development, price rise, unemployment and good governance.

He insisted that Bukhari’s appeal would have no impact on the voters. “In this election, the Congress will lose not only electorally but also morally,” he claimed.

Bukhari, who had a meeting with Congress president few days ago, today declared his support to Congress, saying it will “strengthen” secularism and termed communalism as “bigger threat” to the country than corruption.

The Congress today downplayed the support extended to it by the Shahi Imam, saying the party never appeals to people to vote on religious lines.

Against the backdrop of the BJP approaching the Election Commission alleging that the meeting between the Shahi Imam and Sonia Gandhi could polarise elections, the party said the Congress chief meets leaders and prominent personalities who call on her.

“The Congress’s stand on minorities remains what it was before the meeting (with the Shahi Imam). Minorities require to be part of the democratic process.... They should also share the fruits of development. The Sachar committee and the Minority Affairs ministry were set up with that in mind,” Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala told reporters here.