Ghulam Mohammed Vastanvi, the 61-year-old Gujarati appointed rector of influential Islamic seminary Darul Uloom Deoband, was recently quoted as praising Gujarat CM Narendra Modi – purported comments that could potentially unseat him, despite he having 360 Facebook fans. Vastanvi sought to put a lid on the controversy in an interview with Zia Haq.
Q: Did you praise Modi and Gujarat’s rapid progress?
A: First of all, perpetrators of the 2002 riots must face justice. I am a Gujarati and I know the horror we faced. So many Muslims died. Those who survived lost everything. This is a blot on this country and those who run it.
Q: But what exactly did you say or not say about Modi or Gujarat?
A: I never praised Modi, nor gave him any clean chit. Gujarat is progressing but that cannot be the reason Muslims should forget mass murder or forgive those behind it. Remarks attributed to me are far from reality. Even so, I apologize if this has hurt Muslims.
Q: You apparently said Gujarati Muslims are doing well and do not face discrimination. That’s endorsing Modi, isn’t it?
A: I said Muslims in Gujarat are traditionally entrepreneurial. This is well known. They run factories and businesses and, as such, they have moved on and are doing well. I run a chain of 100 madrasas and 25 successful secular colleges. Is that endorsing Modi?
Q. Did you say Muslims have moved on or should they cling to their fight for justice in Gujarat?
A: The rioting that happened cannot be forgotten. You know Hindus and Muslims are fighting together on this. At the same, Gujarati Muslims have worked hard to build from scratch. They are equally responsible for Gujarat’s progress.
Q: You are the first person from outside UP to head Darul Uloom. There is dissent over this. People say some politicians backed you?
A: I was elected by a 14-member shoora (governing council). I won by 4 votes over my nearest rival. My first commitment is to ensure Darul Uloom’s independence as a religious institution.
Q: You are an MBA. Any reforms in the offing?
A: Darul Uloom has evolved an efficient system over a century, which should remain intact.
Q: Should not Muslims get mainstream education as well?
A: Yes, that’s why I run 25 professional colleges.