The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Jaya meal in mosques, after a year

Chennai, March 3: Blame the cook, or, maybe, he deserves a pat.

Pieces of cauliflower brought Jayalalithaa up short as she was about to kick off her free-meal scheme in mosques today. “Oh! This looks like chicken,” she exclaimed before being assured that the dish she was serving to poor Muslim devotees in a dargah of a Sufi saint was a pure vegetarian delicacy.

The “Anna Dhana” scheme the Tamil Nadu chief minister launched at the 600-year-old dargah of Hazrath Syed Moosa Shah Khaderi comes nearly a year after a similar scheme she started at temples across the state.

The purpose of the scheme was not lost on political observers. As Jayalalithaa served items from a full vegetarian menu, including biryani, sambar rice and curd rice, it was clear that she was applying the healing touch on minorities who have been shaken by her government’s recent anti-conversion law.

Under the scheme, up to 200 poor Muslims and non-Muslims would be served food either in a dargah or a mosque every Thursday, depending on the place.

The Tamil Nadu Wakf Board would manage the programme, initially on rotation basis.

The board, a government body that oversees administration of all mosque complexes and properties in the state, would create a corpus with donations from philanthropists to fund the programme, its chairperson, Bader Sayeed, said.

Muslims gathered at the dargah were overwhelmed when the compere described the scheme as yet another instance of “serving God through the people”.

Although observers saw the scheme as an attempt by the chief minister to assuage minority sentiment, Wakf board members dismissed suggestions that it had something to do with the anti-conversion Act. “Why link this with the anti-conversion law'” asked Sayeed.

The chairperson said it was the board that had sent the proposal for the Anna Dhana programme to the government for approval. “We picked up the cue from the temple Anna Dhana scheme launched on March 23 last year, as feeding the needy is a good thing,” she said. “The chief minister has extended all support for this scheme also.”

The general secretary of the All India Muslim Educational Society, A.A. Chowdry, who participated in today’s function, said: “We do not think that this is a move to appease us.”

Chowdry said it would help promote communal harmony and emphasised that it was not an ADMK party programme but a government scheme that was being implemented by the state Wakf board.

“Nobody has thought about it earlier and she (Jayalalithaa) has done it,” Chowdry said. That even non-Muslims would be given free food in a dargah or a mosque will show that “we are all part of this country”, he added.

However, Kadher Mohideen, state president of the Indian Union Muslim League, who was present, disagreed with the idea of serving free meals in mosques also. He said food was usually not served in mosques but only in dargahs where people congregate in large numbers once a week.

But Sayeed did not agree with him and added that non-vegetarian food could be served under the scheme at a later date, depending on “the money that we are able to raise”.

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