The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Arif in pocket, BJP angles for Alvi

New Delhi, March 1: One minority leader in its bag and another leaning towards it, the BJP is eyeing another catch from the same community.

Bahujan Samaj Party’s Rashid Alvi may follow Arif Mohammed Khan as the ruling party’s next big Muslim political representative, with Congress’ Najma Heptullah being openly wooed after her lavish praise for the Prime Minister.

A senior cabinet minister who has known Alvi for years is persuading him to join the party soon, BJP sources said. What may swing the deal is deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani’s “soft spot” for him, the sources added.

Alvi’s disenchantment with his party can be traced to BSP chief Mayavati’s stand that he would not be renominated from Amroha — from where he is the Lok Sabha MP — and would have to fight from Sambhal against Mulayam Singh Yadav, following rumours that the Uttar Pradesh chief minister would enter the fray.

Mayavati had another Muslim in mind for Amroha, BSP sources said.

But Alvi is apparently not keen on shifting from his seat. Sources said he would make a last attempt to persuade Mayavati and would “look at other options” if she refused.

Though the Congress had made the first overture to Alvi, the BJP sniffed it out — in what has settled into a familiar pattern — and projected itself as a more “attractive” alternative. Another factor that reportedly put Alvi off the Congress was the uncertainty over its likely alliance with the BSP. If the tie-up materialised, sources said Mayavati would ensure he is denied a ticket.

Alvi is likely to announce his decision in a couple of days, sources close to him said. They added that Arif’s entry and Heptullah’s inclination had prompted Alvi to rethink about the BJP though he has been one of the party’s most strident critics in Parliament.

His calculation is that even if he fails to swing a Lok Sabha ticket from the BJP, he could perhaps wrest a Rajya Sabha berth or the post of governor or ambassador, the sources said.

“As things stand today, the BJP is the only party that is magnanimous towards Muslims. It showed the way by making Shahnawaz Hussain a cabinet minister and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi a general secretary,” a source said.

Like Arif and Heptullah, Alvi, too, considers himself a “secular” Muslim who would fit the BJP’s expectation of a minority leader, the sources said.

“For him, Muslim fundamentalism is as abhorrent as majority communalism. He would like the Ayodhya issue to get resolved through talks,” one of them said.

BJP sources, however, ruled out fielding Alvi from Amroha because one of its own former MPs, ex-test cricketer Chetan Chauhan, had won from there three times.

The BJP believes its Muslim acquisitions would help “soften” the party’s international image, especially in West Asia, after the beating it took following the Gujarat riots.

But the sources clarified that few in the party thought of Arif, Najma and Alvi as “electoral” assets because “domestically, we realise Muslims still have a problem with us”.

“We have no illusion that any of these three or the other Muslims we had earlier approached will fetch us the community’s votes,” a source said.

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