Last November, Aam Aadmi Party chief and now Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had courted controversy by meeting Maulana Tauqeer Raza Khan, a Bareilly-based Islamic cleric who had allegedly announced a “reward” of Rs 5 lakh on the head of exiled Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen. Kejriwal was then accused of playing the communal card ahead of the Delhi Assembly election.
Tauqeer Khan is the brother of Maulana Subhan Raza Khan, the Sajjada Nasheen (hereditary administrator) of the Dargah Ala Hazrat in Bareilly, associated with the Barelvi sect of Sunni Muslims. To promote the political interests of the Barelvi Sunnis, Tauqeer Khan floated the Ittehad-e-Millat Council (IMC) nearly two decades ago. He believes the so-called secular parties give far too much importance to the Deobandi sect, disproportionate to their proportion within the Muslim population.
Tauqeer Khan was a part of the Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party government in UP until he resigned after the Muzaffarnagar riots, claiming the party was using communalism to serve its political ends. However, the Maulana, too, has earlier been accused of dabbling in communal politics. Soon after the demolition of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya on 6 December 1992, he had asked Muslims to carry a six-inch-long trident for their “safety”. He says that was his reaction to the distribution of tridents among Hindu zealots by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. In 2010, he was accused of fomenting communal tension in Bareilly district when he led Friday prayers at a mosque in Kamalpur village, which is close to the district headquarters.
Though he has, in the past, discussed the possibility of alliances with all major political parties in the state, except the BJP, today he says he looks up to AAP as offering a clean and credible alternative.
In a conversation with Virendra Nath Bhatt, the Maulana denies having ever resorted to stoking communal passions, but clarifies that Muslims should not be expected to give up their religious rights for the sake of maintaining harmony among communities.
EDITED EXCERPTS FROM AN INTERVIEW
Why did you part ways with the Samajwadi Party?
I resigned from the post of adviser to the state government on handloom and textiles, a rank equivalent to Minister of State, soon after the Muzaffarnagar riots. I had joined hands with the Samajwadi Party (SP) to fight the communal forces, but was dismayed to find that this party was responsible for spreading communalism to serve its narrow political ends. More than 100 communal riots took place during the Akhilesh Yadav regime and the government did nothing to tackle them. The party is in a bad shape and the government has lost its moorings. I tried to convince SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav to visit the riot victims and help create the conditions for them to return to their native villages and resume normal life, but he ignored my plea.
The Muslims have lost faith in the party. Mulayam has hurt humanity by alleging that the riot victims living in relief camps are “conspirators”. On 5 December last year, I gave a week’s time to the state government to address the problems, but Akhilesh and Mulayam are yet to respond. Instead, they broke my party, the Ittehad-e-Millat Council (IMC). The lone IMC MLA Shazil Islam defected to the SP and his wife Ayesha Islam was named the SP candidate for the Bareilly Lok Sabha seat without seeking my approval.
It is alleged that you fell out with the SP as they refused to accept your demand for a Rajya Sabha berth.
I never discussed that issue with the SP leadership. Two Rajya Sabha seats had to be filled after SP member Mohan Singh died and Rashid Masood was disqualified following his conviction in a corruption case. I was told that Singh’s daughter would be nominated for the first seat. And the SP would support Congress candidate Pramod Tewari for the second seat on “moral grounds”, as Masood was from that party. If the SP cares so much for political morality, then they should not contest the General Election but support the Congress instead. And they should have asked the Congress to nominate a Muslim for the seat vacated by Masood. But the SP supported Hindu candidates for both the seats. That shows their concern for Muslims.
Now, you are in search of new allies and have met leaders of the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Congress. Have you clinched any deal?
I am not the bonded labourer of any politician or party. I am not averse to meeting leaders of any political party other than the BJP. My only aim is to prevent the splitting of the secular votes. Recently, I have interacted with leaders not only of the BSP and the Congress, but also the Aam Aadmi Party. In fact, I am very impressed by AAP. They have come to politics with clean credentials and a clear commitment to nationalism and secular ideals. As of now, we are talking to several parties and will decide by February on whom to ally with for the Lok Sabha polls.
Your party, the Ittehad-e-Millat Council, had an alliance with the Congress for the 2007 Uttar Pradesh Assembly election and the 2009 parliamentary election. Will you join hands with the Congress again for the Lok Sabha polls later this year?
The IMC was in favour of contesting the 2012 UP Assembly election in alliance with the Congress, but they ditched us. They were willing to allow our candidates to contest from 25 seats, though we had demanded only 20. But they set a condition that our candidates must use the Congress symbol in the election. This was not acceptable to us. The Congress wanted to finish our party. Their leader Digvijaya Singh is a close friend, but he is no longer in charge of Uttar Pradesh. I do not see any possibility of joining hands with the Congress for the upcoming Lok Sabha polls.
How would you respond to the allegation that you instigated communal riots in Bareilly in 2010?
The media had reported about my involvement in the riots out of sheer ignorance and misunderstanding. The then Mayawati-led state government had framed me in false cases only to mount pressure on me to join hands with the BSP, which I had refused. As of now, there are no charges against me.
Your detractors in the Samajwadi Party, too, have accused you of instigating communal tension in Kamalpur village of Bareilly. What do you have to say to that?
The Muslims of the village approached me and complained that they were not being allowed to offer Friday prayers. So I went there and led the prayers. The mosque there doesn’t use any loudspeakers so as to prevent causing disturbance to other communities. Our fight against communalism does not mean that we will surrender our religious rights. No one can deprive us of our fundamental rights. We cannot sacrifice our right to offer namaaz for the sake of communal harmony and brotherhood. It takes two to tango.
How are your relations with Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal?
I met him in Delhi after he took the oath of office and became the chief minister. I extended my greetings to him.
Some say your only claim to fame in public life is that you are the brother of the Sajjada Nasheen of the most revered shrine of the Barelvi sect of Sunni Muslims. Your critics allege that you are using your religious identity for political ends.
I am in public life only to serve the community. I have no political ambitions. I am the younger brother of Maulana Subhan Raza Khan, but this has nothing to do with my public life.