It was a much sought after relief for the troubled Congress. The so called Shahi Imam of Delhi’s Jama Masjid, Syed Ahmed Bukhari has announced that “secular” Congress remained the electoral choice of the Muslim Community, in the coming General Elections. Bukharis are in this endorsement business for long. Last time, the same man offered his and ‘Muslim Community’s’ support to Samajwadi Party and even before that to Bahujan Samaj Party. But this time he was more categorical by firmly backing the beleaguered Congress and termed the two mainly Uttar Pradesh based parties as unreliable.
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Reportedly, the ‘corruption crusader’ Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) tried earlier to garnish Bukhari’s support in favour of their party. But Bukhari declined their request. Supposedly he smelt ‘RSS’ support behind AAP! He has categorised in the same way, the outfit, India Against Corruption led by Anna Hazare! About the heat and dust created by AAP, he made his position clear:
“The India Against Corruption (IAC) movement, from where this party started, was masterminded by RSS. They are supporting this party to divide secular forces. Muslims need not get fooled by them.”
Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party also tried their best, to obtain Bukhari’s blessing and support, but failed this time.
Earlier, to create some kind of political clout during the election time, Bukhari reportedly met with 300 plus Muslim Clerics and Muslim Activists from across the country. They first met on March 22 and discussed critical political issues and pondered about the minority support in the forthcoming elections. After the important meeting, they had formed an eleven-member review committee which also met two other parties SP and BSP apart from Congress.Those who were instrumental from Congress to get Bukhari’s support are Congress leaders like Ahmed Patel and Rajiv Shukla.
The Samajwadi Party was not qualified for their support, obviously due to their inability to control the recent Muzaffarnagar riots. About the Bahujan Samaj Party, the view was that it was too opportunist and thus can’t be trusted! The AAP issue was prominent in their meetings. But AAP and BJP were outright rejected. Bukhari was too open to denounce them. “BJP cannot be trusted. We cannot forget the Gujarat riots. As far as Aam Aadmi Party is concerned, they will only help BJP come to power by splitting minority vote,” he said.
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Support And Sentiments
Bukhari’s real influence among the Muslims in general, has always been suspected. But Bukhari’s tilt toward Congress came after, Congress President Sonia Gandhi met him personally and asked for his support pointing that so called “secular” vote should not get divided. Apart from Congress’s deal masters Ahmed Patel and Rajiv Shukla’s intense meeting with the Imam, his meeting with Sonia Gandhi showed the desperation of the party, in face of tough competitions for Muslim votes from SP and BSP and in the recent times, from the Aam Aadmi Party. While meeting the Muslim delegation led by the Imam of Jama Masjid, Syed Ahmed Bukhari, Sonia reportedly harped on the minority sentiments and fears and reminded them that she had entered politics only to save “secularism” in the country! She reminded them that the benefits to minorities given by the Congress led Central Government hadn’t reached the Muslims as expected, obviously because the Non-Congress States were not doing enough to pursue the schemes ahead. Then she fervently appealed to the delegation for ensuring that Muslim votes must not split!
Later, Bukhari told to the media that he was supporting the Congress because the nation was in danger from communal forces. “We should ensure secular votes are not divided.” He made it clear that the Samajwadi Party was “responsible for the Muzaffarnagar riots” and labelled the Bahujan Samaj Party as the “opportunistic” party. Also he was quite categorical, “Supporting regional parties will be a waste of vote.”
Apart from the parties like SP, BSP and AAP questioning the rationale of the Imam’s present edict, it is not only the BJP which is objecting. Clearly enough, a section of the Congress party itself, specially the Muslims in the party are critical of the party’s wisdom. They have reminded that in 2004, in the very first General Elections after the 2002 Gujarat riots, he had supported BJP against Congress! The general perception among them is that Bukhari changes his political stance quite frequently. For this, many within the community do not take him seriously. Also Muslim vote is not a monolith to be guided by a single Cleric!
A Delhi Congressman pointed out that even in Delhi, at Chandni Chowk, in the vicinity of Jama Masjid, the present MP Kapil Sibal is winning without the Imam’s blessings or edict. MLA Shoaib Iqbal, from Matia Mahal,had won every time even after Bukhari had appealed to Muslims not to vote for him! Many Congressmen suspect that hobnobbing with Bukhari may cause Congress dearer! This may send a wrong signal to the majority community, which will indirectly benefit the BJP.
The sharpest criticism of Syed Ahmed Bukhari’s support to Congress came from his younger brother Yahya Bukhari. He has now publicly announced that soon he would expose the ‘Secret Deal’ between the Shahi Imam and Congress President Sonia Gandhi! “No party is more dangerous for the Muslims than Congress,” Syed Yahya Bukhari, the President of Jama Masjid United Forum exhorted in a press conference.
Yahya was too elaborate: “Check the record of last 30-35 years, whether it was Bhagalpur, Meerut, Moradabad or Surat! All these happened during Congress rule, even it is happening today…Whenever elections come, the Congressparty becomes friendly toward Muslims and seeks their votes. Why should they support Congress?“
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The Muslim clerics, leaders and the activists are also critical of the development. They simply questioned the Shahi Imam Bukhari’s decision to visit Congress President Sonia Gandhi to express his support. “It is not our culture to approach the Head of a political party to offer support. Whether it was Indira Gandhi, V P Singh or other Prime Ministers, they came and sought the Shahi Imam’s support!” they said.
While the prominent Shia cleric Kalbe Jawwad had said that the minorities are disillusioned and irked both with Congress and the BJP, the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, General Secretary Nusrat Ali, has said that in a democratic set up any individual can support any party! National Ulema Council President Maulana Aamir Rashdi openly castigated the Jama Masjid Imam Bukhari for“his Haazri(attendance) in Sonia Gandhi’s Durbaar“. He said that Congress has “always ditched the Muslims” and Bukhari should disclose what “deal” he has struck with the Congress! Maulana Khalid Rasheed Firangi Mahali, the Naib Imam of Lucknow’s Aishbagh Eidgah is in the opinion that such calls to vote on religious lines hurt the democracy! He said that, the Muslims were not bound to follow the political commands of Imam Bukhari. “I am sure the Muslims know what the problems are dear to them and would vote accordingly,” he made it clear.
Nothing Shahi About it
It is believed that the Emperor of Bukhara in Uzbekistan sent Syed Abdul Ghafoor Shah Bukhari, from Bukhara in Samarkand to hold the post of the Shahi Imam for the Delhi’s Jama Masjid,on the request of Mughal Emperor Shahjahan. The Bukharis are from that descend. But Royalty ended with the Mughals, once the British took over. No Shahi Farmans are issued any more in the past 300years or more to elect the Imam of Delhi’s Jama Masjid!
The present Imam Syed Ahmad Bukhari took the post in the year 2000, after his father Syed Abdullah Bukhari, retired after serving as the Imam for 27 years. Syed Abdullah Bukhari was born in Rajasthan. Traditionally, he was earlier the Naib Imam to his father, Syed Hameed Bukhari. In the year 2000 itself, the Delhi Waqf Board had contested in the Court that the mosque belongs to the Waqf Board and it alone has the right to nominate the next Imam.
The Jama Masjid in the recent times has become a centre of controversies. And the present Shahi Imam, Syed Ahmed Bukhari, is facing a horde of allegations from misusing his post and ignoring the law of the land!
Political Ambitions And More
The Bukharis’ political ambition and clout started growing since the year 1977,when the present Imam’s father, Abdullah Bukhari, issued an edict against the Congress and urged Muslims to vote for the Janata Party. Those were the post Emergency days, when Muslim’s were peeved with Congress for Sanjay Gandhi led forced ‘Nasbandi’(Vasectomy) of their males and massive destruction of Muslim dominated slums at Delhi’s Turkman Gate area. When the Janata Party came to power in 1977, Abdullah Bukhari tested the power of political patronage. But after just three years, in 1980, the same Abdullah Bukhari sided with Indira Gandhi and appealed to Muslims to vote for Congress! Congress won the 1980 General Elections, and there was no looking back for the Bukharis!
In 2000, when Syed Ahmed Bukhari became the Shahi Imam, there were speculations that he was in a hurry because he feared that if his father died before selecting him, his brother Yahya might harm his chance. So a critically ill senior Bukhari was brought to Jama Masjid in the grand ceremony that anointed him. In the 2012 UP Assembly Elections, Ahmed Bukhari sided with Samajwadi Party (SP). Interestingly the same Bukhari had opposed SP in the 2007 Assembly Elections,as well as in the 2009 Lok Sabha Election. SP gave a ticket to his son-in-law Umar Ali Khan. Khan however lost from Behat, which had around 80 percent Muslim population. Khan was then allotted a seat in the Legislative Council.
Reportedly Bukhari became more demanding. He asked SP to get his brother a Rajya Sabha seat and make son-in-law a Minister. The Party was not convinced. This brought an end of the Bukhari-SP bonhomie. Umar Ali Khan resigned from the Legislative Council. After the recent Muzaffarnagar Riots, there was no love left for SP. Interestingly, after his son-in-law’s resignation, Bukhari held a rally in Etawah, at the Yadav’s backyard. And in his speech, he talked much about Muslim-Dalit rights and even hinted that if anyone who can rule India, it was Mayawati!
People openly say that the Bukharis give an impression that the Jama Masjid is their family inheritance! Their job is only to lead the congregational prayers but they have now occupied the entire Mosque! Allegedly Bukhari brothers are occupying much of the spaces inside the mosque, even the Government built Guest House and Meeting Halls. People also say that the shop owners of the Meena Bazaar, the adjacent street vendors are always under the Imam’s patronage. Municipality simply ignores any aberration! There are allegations that income from the VIP gate parking amounts to Lacs, but no tender has ever opened and it is also not managed by the MCD!
There is a Non Bailable Warrant against the Imam since long. In July 2012, slamming the Delhi Police for failing to execute an earlier warrant against him, Metropolitan Magistrate Rajinder Singh issued a fresh NBW against Bukhari. The FIR, lodged with Lodhi Colony police station, had accused Bukhari along with two others – of rioting, obstructing and assaulting public servants from discharging their duties. The alleged incident took place on September 3, 2001, when police and civic agencies officials were reportedly trying to remove encroachment from near CGO Complex in Lodhi Colony. But a mob, led by Bukhari, reportedly stopped them.
Delhi Police has been unsuccessful to arrest him citing various reasons for the past many years. The Magistrate observed that legal provisions entailed initiating the proceedings of declaring Bukhari a proclaimed offender, but doing so would “undermine the authority of law.” “In my considered opinion, declaring accused Ahmed Bukhari a proclaimed offender would be a mockery of law and it would provide an easy escape route to the accused. It is surprising and shocking as well to see the police force not able to execute the NBW issued against Bukhari. Such inaction by police cannot be tolerated,” he said in his order.
What happened to the order is not known, but with political honchos hobnobbing with him, even Delhi Police is looking the other way!
By Deep Basu