Darul Uloom -- the seat of Sunni Islam in Deoband -- on Wednesday appointed an interim rector to run the seminary, seizing all powers from incumbent Ghulam Mohammad Vastanvi, whose alleged praise of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi had enraged elders at the influential theological centre.
At the seminary's powerful governing council meet, called to decide Vastanvi's fate, the besieged rector offered to quit, but was instead asked to face a three-member inquiry panel and hand over charge to Abul Kasim Nomani, a member of the council appointed interim rector.
According to a member of the council, who requested anonymity, Vastanvi, soon after the meet began, chose to resign and also requested the council not to summarily sack him, which would be "disrespectful and unfair" to him and the chair he holds.
Vastanvi also pleaded with the council that action ought to be taken also against Darul veteran Maulana Arshad Madni -- his daughter is married to Vastanvi's son -- for inciting students against him, thereby causing unrest. This charge was rejected.
"Maulana Nomani will work as acting rector with full powers. In the event of Maulana Vastanvi's resignation being accepted after the inquiry panel submits its report, Nomani will take over as permanent rector," a statement in Urdu from Dafter-e-ehtamam, or Darul's management, said.
The statement makes two things clear. Though Vastanvi was not asked to resign summarily, pending an inquiry, he has been rendered powerless. Yet, in the same statement, Darul's management has already decided who will replace Vastanvi if the probe goes against him.
"This is significant. Under normal circumstances, bridges are crossed as they come. But in this case, the governing council has already made up its mind to keep a substitute ready. This also indicates that Vastanvi will surely be eased out," senior editor of UNI's Urdu service, Anis Jamaee, said.
The rector of Darul Uloom -- the seat of Sunni Islam in UP's Deoband - is considered reverential and has seldom been run down like this before. Islam has no Pope, no Vatican. For guidance, Sunni Muslims worldwide turn to either Egypt's Al-Azhar University or India's Darul Uloom.
Members who will probe charges against Vastanvi are Mufti Ismail Malegaon, a Maharashtra MLA, Mufti Manzoor Kanpur and Maulana Ibrahim Madrasi.