Five years ago you joined the Congress saying you wanted to strengthen secularism. How has the party’s secular agenda evolved since then?
The Congress is the only secular national party. We should try to eliminate regional parties in national interest. They are only power hungry and have no ideology. Every Third Front leader is a candidate for the Prime Minister’s job. If we want to keep the country united, we should support the Congress.
What is the Congress strategy to attract Muslim votes?
The Muslims know, especially since the Sachar Committee report came out, that their community is going through a critical time. They are educationally, economically, socially and politically backward. But the Congress is doing its best. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has initiated a 15-point programme to provide loans and scholarships to Muslims. The Congress election manifesto promises Muslims job reservations.
The Congress brackets Muslims as a vote-bank.
Not just the Congress, all secular parties do that. They think that because the Muslims won’t support the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), they will have no option but to support the secular parties. In Uttar Pradesh, [Samajwadi Party leader] Mulayam Singh Yadav speaks about the uplift of Muslims but does nothing. [RJD leader] Lalu Prasad Yadav said, “If I was the Home Minister, I would have killed Varun Gandhi.” He is doing this only for Muslim votes. This is unfortunate.
The Congress has used the Muslims’ fear of Hindutva to draw their votes.
It is very natural. The BJP talks only of Ram Rajya. Someone must make the Muslims feel secure.
Does the Congress point to BJP’s image of being anti-Muslim only so it can garner the Muslim votes?
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad has said it won’t support any Muslim candidate from the BJP. Shahnawaz Hussain and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi condemn Varun Gandhi’s [anti-Muslim] speech, saying it is against the BJP policy. But [BJP president] Rajnath Singh goes to meet Varun in jail. The truth is that Shahnawaz and Naqvi do not decide the BJP policy, LK Advani and Rajnath Singh do.
Ahmed Bukhari, the Shahi Imam of Delhi’s Jama Masjid, told TEHELKA that he believes there is no difference between the Congress and the BJP in their attitude towards the Muslims.
He supported the BJP in the last Lok Sabha election. Now, he supports the Congress. Religious leaders, Hindus or Muslims, should not be involved in politics.
The UPA rule saw over 25 terror attacks. Its opponents say the Congress is soft on terror because it panders to Muslims.
This is rubbish. Terror has no religion. The Quran doesn’t teach terrorism. Is Sadhvi [Pragya] a Muslim?
Many Muslims say they are angry because the Congress was silent when the police allegedly targeted their community after last September’s Batla House encounter in Delhi, arresting Muslim boys from the Azamgarh town in UP.
I agree with you. We should have taken a stand and done more.
I met the Prime Minister and asked for an enquiry in the encounter. It should have been set up. I’m still hopeful that there will be an enquiry after the elections.
Is the Congress really secular? Should the Muslims feel used by it?
There were doubts over what happened in the Batla House encounter. It was the responsibility of the government to clarify. I’m happy though that the Congress won the Batla House seat in [December’s] assembly elections. The Muslims don’t doubt the Congress’s intentions. But the Congress should definitely do more for the Muslims.