Syed Abdullah Bukhari, 87, the 12th Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid who passed away on Wednesday morning, courted controversy during the time when he held the esteemed office of the sacred mosque in the last quarter of the 20th century.
A spokesman for the welfare of Muslims, Bukhari also had close connection with prominent politicians.
His proximity to Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna, former Uttar Pradesh chief minister, made him appeal to the Indian Muslims to vote against the Congress in the historic 1977 general elections.
It was an appeal, which changed the tide of the polls and Muslims scared by sterlisation programme of the Congress voted against it in large numbers.
Bukhari’s friendship with Bahuguna also made him come close to late Jagjiwan Ram and he continued to delve in politics in an indirect manner.
A former MP who did not wish to be identified said, “Bukhari was conscious of his position as the head of Jama Masjid and he took full advantage of it while espousing the cause of his community. He was their (Muslims) voice for a long period and politicians realised this. This is why they all wanted to court him.”
Bukhari came into prominence soon after a controversy cropped up that Jama Masjid was not anybody’s fiefdom but was a Waqf property.
The issue led to communal flare-up in the mid-seventies and the Imam made it known that he was not going to allow anyone to interfere in the religious affairs.
He used to take pride that his family hailed from Bukhara and had been associated with the mosque because the Mughal kings had wanted them to be in charge.
Bukhari was always in demand in areas where communal clashes took place.
In August 1980, he was stopped from going to Moradabad where communal riots had broken out. The communal tension spread in the adjoining areas and riots also broke out in Delhi on the Independence Day.
Bukhari was arrested and put in preventive custody many times but the police never pursued cases for fear of creating tension in the Walled City.
Bukhari also played a major role in the election of Sikander Bakht from the Walled City in 1977 and subsequently backed many other politicians.
Mohammad Afzal, a former MP, and Shoaib Iqbal, an MLA from Matia Mahal, enjoyed his patronage at one stage. He equally played a role at the instance of a Congress leader in creating the Adam Sena and Huwa Sena.
The Sangh Parivar responded by creating the Bajrang Dal subsequently.
Bukhari was, in 1989, on the side of V.P. Singh though his influence was diminishing. But he was always a voice or rallying point for the Muslims. His son, the present Imam, Syed Ahmed Bukhari is considered close to the Congress. He had handed over the baton to his son during his own lifetime.
Haroon Yusuf, a Delhi Minister and MLA from Ballimaran, said as the Shahi Imam, Syed Bukhari always ensured that Muslims were not oppressed. He cared a great deal for the people of the walled city. “His commitment was both genuine and complete.”
Mehmood Zia, municipal councilor from the Chitli Qabar area, also praised the late Imam. “On hearing the news of his death, a pall of gloom descended on the walled city. It appears that people have lost their benefactor,” he said.