Ninety-year-old Islamic scholar Maulana Wahiduddin Khan has been conferred with the 18th Rajiv Gandhi National Sadbhavana Award, a decision that has raised eyebrows within the Congress circles, since Khan is known for his association with senior BJP leaders Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L K Advani.
"The decision to award Khan has come as a surprise to many in the party given that the Islamic scholar is known for his good relations with BJP and RSS leaders," a Congress leader said, requesting anonymity.
Instituted by the Congress, the award is given out on the birth anniversary of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi on August 20 every year and carries a citation and cash award of R 5 lakh.
Khan first shot to limelight when he gave a clarion call to Muslims to relinquish claims over the disputed Babri Masjid site, one the first community leaders to do so.
He then floated, along with others, the "Vajpayee Himayat (support) Committee", which had extensively campaigned for the former BJP prime minister in the Lucknow constituency in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections.
Khan has contributed articles to the RSS mouthpiece Organiser which presents him "as an enlightened alternative to Islamic fanaticism" for "reportedly counselling Muslims to abandon their claim on Ayodhya".
In August last year, he had presided over the launch of the Urdu version of Advani's book My Country My Life (Mera Watan Meri Zindagi).
Khan had then apparently praised Advani as a "dynamic personality".
But, Khan rubbished the allegations.
He said, "My mission is peace. I have to meet many people in the pursuit of peace. I have no personal relations with any BJP leader nor am I a member of any party. My family has had a long association with the Congress."