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I, Lalu, am saviour of Muslims
Ehtasham Khan in New Delhi |
May 31, 2005 01:42 IST
Never before had a public rally attracted so many Congressmen in a function other than their own.
Not only Congress leaders, including president Sonia Gandhi and her political advisor Ahmed Patel, but also Railway minister Lalu Prashad Yadav and Indian National Lok Dal leader Chaudhary Ajit Singh shared the dais.
It was the 28th general session of a leading Muslim group Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind in New Delhi Sunday evening.
The stage was set and speakers after speakers did every bit to woo Muslims who had come here from across the country. The police said it was 300,000-strong gathering at the Ramlila Grounds.
Among other Congress leaders were Mohsina Kidwai, Digvijay Singh, Ashok Gehlot, Mani Shankar Aiyer and Shakeel Ahmed Khan.
Lok Janshakti Party leader Ram Vilas Paswan was not invited.
There are indications that if Paswan decides to quit Congress-led United Progressive Alliance at the Centre (Paswan has announced he would contest Bihar elections alone), Ajit Singh is likely to be inducted in UPA with a ministerial berth.
So, the stage was set. The Jamiat sought reservation for Muslims in Parliament, government jobs and educational institutions, and release of all POTA accused in Gujarat.
The politicians did not disappoint them. The promises went on and on. After all, elections are looming large over Bihar.
Lalu said: "Aise maqool samay mein aap ne adhiveshan bulaya hai (You have organized the conference at a perfect time)."
Muslims played an important role in keeping Lalu in power for 15 years in Bihar. Lalu's M-Y (Muslim-Yadav) alliance was crucial to make him the "undisputed king" of Bihar.
In the assembly elections held three months ago, Paswan who managed to forge a Muslim-Dalit alliance shook Lalu's M-Y combination. Lot of Muslims voted for Paswan, who ended up winning 29 seats in the 243-member assembly.
The situation this time around is very different. Paswan's legislators have deserted him to side with the National Democratic Alliance.
So, will Muslims in Bihar vote for Paswan again?
Lalu knows: No. On Sunday, he flew from Patna especially to attend the rally in Delhi. He looked quite confident. He knows the key -- Muslims fear BJP. And so he reminded them of Gujarat. He ridiculed the Jamiat demand for quota in jobs.
"Leave the reservation aside. We have united to fight BJP and the Sangh Pariwar. We have united in the name of secularism."
He went on to recall how Narender Modi and Lal Kishenchand Advani had blamed and implicated Muslims in Gujarat riots. He reminded how he didn't allow Praveen Togadia to come to Patna.
Lalu went ahead to claim how he was accepted as an undisputed leader of Muslims during his visit to Pakistan.
In his own style, he said: "Hum wahan aalo dekhne nahin gaye the. Hum to thermometer le ke gaye the ki hum ko log pehchanta hai ke nahin. (I didn't go there to see potatoes. I had taken thermometer to gauge if people there recognize me or not.)"
He claimed that Pakistanis who migrated from India hugged him and praised him as the messiah of Indian Muslims.
Lalu rejected Jamiat's demand for law on communal riots and protection of victims. He said: "What will the law do? It takes 10 years for commissions to give reports."
Pointing to the Muslims, he said: "I know who your friends are. They are very few." The message was clear: I, Lalu Prasad Yadav, am your only saviour.
As for development, Lalu, as usual, had nothing to offer. "If you don't have peace of mind, what will you do with other things?" he asked.
But to make his audience happy, he criticised America for desecrating the holy Quran in Guantanamo Bay. Lalu sure knows the pulse of his voters.
Lalu's ally Congress was in a different mood. Sonia Gandhi presented a report card on what her government has done for Muslims in the last year-- scrapping the "draconian" POTA law, increased budget for the Minority Finance Development Corporation, provision for appointment of Urdu teachers, proposed coaching for Muslim students and appointment of a high-level committee to find out the socio-economic and educational status of Muslims.
Sonia too reminded Muslims of the BJP rule and how history books were changed and how the Muslims were living in an environment of fear.
She took enough time to recall the historical link between the Jamiat and the Congress party during the freedom struggle and even later.
She said: "We will work with full conviction and need your help to fulfill your genuine demands. It is difficult but not impossible."
Ajit Singh supported the idea of giving reservation to Muslims in all spheres. He welcomed the 50 per cent reservation for Muslims in Aligarh Muslim University in Uttar Pradesh.
However, the Telugu poet Gadar was the one who stole the show.
He sang a Hindi song that said: "Nobody is yours. Their secularism is a sham. You have to fight your own battle."
These words of the revolutionary poet attracted maximum applause from the audience, mostly students from Madarsas or Islamic seminaries.