A group of students are burning a bonfire of a Urdu newspaper here. In another corner of the Darul Uloom — the 145-year-old Islamic seminary — the talibs (students) carry out intense discussions on the possibility of forming an alternative students union.
Local political leaders are busy
on their mobile phones— sending updates to their bosses on the situation at South Asia's oldest and largest 'madarsa'.
"A tempest is brewing, the fight between the forces of obscurantism and modernism has reached a decisive," said Badar Kazmi, vice-president of the Muslim Majlis of Uttar Pradesh.
Three days after Darul Uloom's newly-appointed vice-chancellor Ghulam Mohammed Vastanvi threatened to quit and left Deoband, this sleepy, dusty town of western UP has been abuzz with conspiracy theories.
Aggressive Facebook and SMS campaigns are on favouring Vastanvi's continuation.
Intelligence officials prowl the hallowed precincts of the seminary, keeping a check on the rising tension.
"My phone has not stopped ringing our brothers across the world want to know about the controversy," said the seminary's deputy vice-chancellor Maulana Abdul Khalique Madrasi.
The institute's 'majlis-e-shoora' (governing council) is scheduled to take a decision on Vastanvi's offer to resign at its meeting on February 23.
Vastanvi — who holds an honorary MBA degree — had announced plans to acquire 200 bighas of land for the construction of medical, engineering and pharmaceutical colleges.
"The students will be the happiest if Vastanvi's plans get implemented. But the old guard comprising the faction led by Arshad Madani is not allowing this to happen," said Anwar Ali, a student at the seminary.
Leader of a breakaway faction of the Jamait-Ulema-I-Hind (the clerical and political wing of the seminary), Madani refuses comment on the allegation.
The air at Deoband is thick with intrigue. One handbill accuses Vastanvi of giving a clean chit to Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi for the 2002 riots. In another, he is charged of violating the puritan spirit of the seminary — by attempting to 'pollute' it with westernised political thought.
And a realistic fear that the situation may turn nasty. "The Madani family is desperate to perpetuate its influence ... by using muscle power. This time, we will give them tit for tat," local Samajwadi Party leader Mavia Ali said.
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