The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Land backlash on Bukhari
- Shahi imam requested to leave Nandigram mosque

Nandigram, June 12: The shahi imam’s shot at playing peacemaker in Nandigram lasted barely an hour this afternoon, with a series of rebuffs persuading him to cut his trip short.

Syed Ahmed Bukhari, shahi imam of Delhi’s Jama Masjid, was requested to leave Nandigram town’s Jama Masjid by its imam after he asked a gathering to let the land-war refugees return. A fearful police refused to accompany him to the villages.

When a Bhoomi Uchchhed Pratirodh Committee leader chastised him for hobnobbing with the state government, Bukhari and his team decided it was time to leave.

The visitors had arrived around 1.45 pm under police escort from Calcutta. As Bukhari and his four companions got off their red Gypsy and stepped into the Jama Masjid, the police ringed the area.

“I have come here to listen to your problems. The chief minister promised me yesterday that not an inch of land would be acquired without villagers’ consent. You should allow the people who have left their homes to come back,” the shahi imam told the gathering of Pratirodh Committee supporters, using the small microphone over which the mosque’s imam offers prayers.

Bukhari pointed towards a bearded, 50-year-old man. “Please tell me the problems people have been facing here,” he said.

The man got up and told him the government had not asked for the villagers’ consent before notifying the land earmarked for acquisition.

“They should have taken the people into confidence. Fourteen people were killed in police firing because the government wanted to acquire land by force,” he said in Bengali.

Bukhari, who was accompanied by a translator, replied that the problems could be resolved only if peace was restored. “This is a secular government and the need of the hour is that Hindus and Muslims should stay together,” he said.

Suddenly, a group of people led by Gausul Annan, the mosque’s imam, interrupted Bukhari.

“Don’t try to divide us. It’s a matter of life and death -- both Hindus and Muslims survive on cultivation,” Annan said.

“You are the shahi imam, yet you don’t seem to know that mosques are not the place for political meetings. Please leave the place,” Annan told an embarrassed Bukhari.

By the time the shahi imam had stepped out, 20 minutes after he had entered the mosque, a large number of people had massed outside and were shouting slogans. The police escorted Bukhari to his vehicle.

The next stop was the Nandigram police station. After about 15 minutes of conversation, Bukhari asked the Haldia subdivisional police officer, Farhat Abbas, about the situation in the villages. He said he wanted to visit a couple of them.

“The police will not enter the villages, so you must go alone and at your own risk. Our advice is, return to Calcutta,” an officer said. The visitor nodded.

Around 2.45 pm, as Bukhari came out of the police station and walked towards the Gypsy, he was accosted by Trinamul leader Sheikh Sufian.

“You are here as the state government’s representative. If you really wanted to find out about the people’s sufferings, you should have gone to the villages instead of Writers’ Buildings. Why have you come to the police station'” Sufian barked.

Bukhari’s companions hustled him into the Gypsy and they drove off towards Calcutta. The shahi imam left for Delhi in the evening.

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