New Delhi: One of the country's most prominent religious Muslim leaders has declared his support for the Congress for the national election which begins on Monday.
Syed Ahmed Bukhari, the Shahi Imam of the Jama Masjid mosque in the capital, said today, "The nation is in danger from communal forces. We should ensure secular votes are not divided." (Full coverage: Elections)
A few days ago, Congress president Sonia Gandhi met the Imam and reportedly asked him to ensure the minority vote in India is not split. Yesterday, the BJP's prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, accused Mrs Gandhi of indulging in "open communalism" by seeking votes on the basis of religion. The party has made the same complaint to the Election Commission. (Read more)
The Imam also said today that Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party, which governs Uttar Pradesh, and which he had backed in the 2012 state polls, had failed to protect Muslims. He cited September's riots in Muzaffarnagar in western Uttar Pradesh in which nearly 60 people were killed and nearly 80,000 displaced in Hindu-Muslim violence.
In retort, the Samajwadi Party's Naresh Agarwal said that the Imam has a record of switching allegiances and that reports of his influence among Muslim voters are exaggerated.
In 2004, a newspaper report had indicated that the Imam had endorsed the BJP. A senior BJP leader in charge of that election campaign, however, said the Imam never made a public statement or conveyed his support to the party. In the next general election in 2009, the cleric emphatically and openly backed the Congress.
"This is a shameless attempt by Sonia and Rahul Gandhi to polarise voters. The Election Commission should take note," the BJP's Ravi Shankar Prasad said after the Imam's declaration.
Speaking in Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh, Sonia Gandhi said, "Congress ideology wants to take care of all, BJP ideology wants a society where people are recognized on basis of religion or caste."