In one of her strongest appeals to minorities ahead of a difficult election, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi on Tuesday told a Muslim delegation led by Jama Masjid imam Syed Ahmed Bukhari that she embraced politics — after initial hesitation — to help nurture the cause of “secularism”.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi during the release of the Congress manifesto 2014 for upcoming Lok Sabha election at AICC, New Delhi. (Sanjeev Verma/HT Photo)
“One of the main reasons I entered politics was to safeguard and promote secularism,” Bukhari quoted Gandhi as saying, adding she appealed for a united move to stop the so-called “secular vote” from splitting.
Chaperoned by Congress leader Ahmed Patel, the meeting with Bukhari is the first direct talks between the hereditary cleric of one of Delhi’s important mosques and the party in 30 years. In the 80s, Indira Gandhi had sought similar support from Bukhari’s father Syed Abdullah Bukhari, a staunch supporter.
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A likely endorsement by Bukhari could help the Congress gain a well-known Muslim voice. One of the cleric’s aides told HT that he would make an appeal so that the “secular vote” isn’t divided.
Gandhi said minorities could never doubt the Congress’s credentials. “I know Muslims have lot of grievances regarding welfare schemes, but our jurisdiction stops at the states which implement them. We will find new ways to better implement our programmes,” secretary of Jama Masjid Foundation Rahat Mahmood Chaudhury, who was also present, quoted Gandhi as saying.
Despite some historic measures by the UPA to bring development to Muslims, India’s largest minority, wide sections in the community have voiced unhappiness with the Congress for poor delivery.
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According to the 2005 PM-appointed Sachar panel, Muslims made up less than 4% of undergradutes, along with other skewed socio-economic indices. For instance, despite being self-employed at a far higher rate, their access to credit was limited.
Though psephologists say Muslims seldom vote as a bloc, there is evidence that they have voted tactically to shape poll outcomes.
volving Muslim youth, a major gripe, Gandhi said the National Investigation Agency had been asked to “properly probe all terror cases without making any distinction between anybody”. She said this was the reason why “Malegaon blasts had been re-probed”, Bukhari said.
While it is unclear to what extent Muslim elites, such as Bukhari, will be able to help shore up support, Gandhi’s appeal is a robust attempt to connect with the 160 million community.
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The Jama Masjid cleric had sided with Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav in the last assembly elections and had campaigned extensively in some western Uttar Pradesh seats which is thought to have increased the SP’s vote share in the region.
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