Kolkata’s maverick imam Barkati finally removes red beacon from his car
Noor-ur-Rehman Barkati, the maverick imam of Kolkata’s Tipu Sultan mosque, who finally removed the red beacon from his car on Saturday after being prodded by chief minister Mamata Banerjee, lodged a police complaint against minister and minority leader Siddiqullah Chowdhury who staged a protest outside the mosque against the cleric’s reckless behavior.
Earlier in afternoon, chief minister Mamata Banerjee sent her emissary urban development minister Firhad Hakim to the imam following which he quietly removed the beacon, ending a controversy that had seen him rave and rant against the Union government and the judiciary for the past few days.
After his meeting, Hakim described the controversy as a ‘closed chapter’. But it wasn’t.
Barkati faced mounting criticism from various sections including prominent Muslim bodies which staged a demonstration against him. Community leaders such as Qari Fazlur Rahman (who conducts the largest Eid prayer in Kolkata) and minister Siddiqullah Chowdhury were riled by his reckless comments.
“The intolerant statements of Tipu Sultan masjid imam can trigger excitement are deplorable. We are Indians and every citizen should abide by the Constitution, democratic, secular and cultural values and criminals laws,” said a statement from West Bengal State Jamiat-E-Ulama. This body of Islamic scholars is one of the most influential in the country.
Chowdhury’s opposition in the form of a protest demonstration also made it quite clear that Mamata Banerjee did not approve the way the imam’s wild comments made on May 9 and May 12.
On May 9 Barkati told a TV channel that he was just not ready to remove red beacon – seen as a mark of authority and clout – and proceeded to attack both the Union government and the judiciary.
“The British government permitted us to install red light, so why should I remove it,” Barkati said outrageously on May 9. He also repeatedly said that chief minister did not oppose his use of the beacon. His comment drew immediate flak on social media.
On May 12, he called a press conference and made a rather derisive comment that he was ready to take it off if the Prime Minister and his cabinet colleagues were ready to live without security guards.
On the night of May 11, a police complaint demanding the arrest of the imam was lodged in a police station in Kolkata.
Barkati is no stranger to controversies but he had never faced protests and criticisms from Muslim bodies the way he did on Saturday.
He has been the head of Tipu Sultan mosque in the heart of the city’s business district for the past three decades. He has issued a number of fatwas against exiled Bangladesh-born writer Taslima Nasreen and Canadian columnist Tarek Fateh and even Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The imam who loves to flaunt his burgundy beard and is often seen caressing his pet cat enjoys considerable clout. He has police protection and recently got away after issuing a fatwa against the Prime Minister despite a complaint by state BJP leaders.
Md Salim and Surya Kanta Mishra, both CPI(M) politburo members, also lashed out at him.
Congress leader and academic Omprakash Mishra said that the Mamata Banerjee’s kid glove treatment of the belligerent Barkati over the use of the beacon may spell doom for the Trinamool Congress.
The Central Government banned red beacon on vehicles of dignitaries from May 1.
The ban applies to Union ministers, chief ministers, state cabinet ministers, bureaucrats and judges of the high court and Supreme Court while President, Vice President, Prime Minister, Chief Justice of India and the Lok Sabha Speaker are exempted from the ban.