Influential Islamic seminary Darul Uloom of Deoband sacked its rector Ghulam M Vastanvi on Sunday after a panel probing his alleged praise of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi submitted a disputed report.
Vastanvi refused to resign despite being asked to do so by the institution's shoora (supreme governing council) following which he was impeached after a vote. Eight council members voted to have him fired, against six who supported his continuance as mohatamim (rector). Among those who backed Vastanvi was cleric Badruddin Ajmal, a millionnaire perfume baron and MP from Assam.
"I was removed despite a favourable inquiry report. By God's grace, there was nothing to suggest I praised Modi," Vastanvi told HT. He relinquished charge immediately and is due to fly to London early Monday for a religious conference.
Supporters of Vastanvi said his removal would be challenged in the Supreme Court, but he denied taking any such decision.
Set up in 1866 by Muslim clerics at the forefront of India's freedom struggle, Darul Uloom is an important seat of Sunni Islam and serves as the spiritual wellspring of the Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind, the country's largest Muslim organisation.
Vastanvi's sacking is being seen as a move that re-establishes control of the Jamiat, whose dominant faction is led by Darul veteran Arshad Madni. However, that could be short-lived if Vastanvi were to move court.
The seminary had opened a three-member probe in February into charges that Vastanvi had praised chief minister Modi, his fellow Gujarati whom Muslims widely blame for a pogrom against the community in 2002.
The alleged comments had riled the seminary's elders.
Looking for an honourable exit, Vastanvi had said in February he would quit once the inquiry was over, regardless of its findings.
Vastanvi told HT he changed his mind on quitting his post on the grounds that the probe was "partial" since it did nothing to identify those who behind violent protests against him in the seminary, which was one of the terms of the inquiry.
Not someone who would go down without a fight, Vastanvi wanted the probe to name associates of Madni - even though his daughter is married to Madni's son - for inciting students against him.