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'If Modi and Amit Shah think they can polarise the country, they are mistaken'

April 08, 2014 08:31 IST

'If Modi and Amit Shah think they can polarise the country, they are mistaken'

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Union External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid took time off from his election campaign in Farrukhabad in Uttar Pradesh to speak to Kavita Chowdhury on Congress politics and the minority community.

In the interview, Khurshid, also a former minister for minority affairs, says that the meeting with Imam Bukhari, Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid in Delhi, should not be exaggerated.

Edited excerpts

We re witnessing both the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress attempting to communalise these elections, to rake in votes.

The BJP is using the language of ‘badla and revenge’.

In fact, it’s not even BJP now; it’s (Narendra) Modi and his cohort (Amit Shah) who are in control of the party. How desperate they are to come to power.

And, they will not get it. If they think they can polarise the country, they are mistaken.

The majority of this country, who believe in secularism, will defeat the BJP’s intentions.

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Photographs: Reuters

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'What's wrong if Imam Bukhari adopts Congress values?'

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But what about the Congress reaching out to Imam Bukhari? What was the message the Congress was sending out?

In the past, the Congress has been targeted by the Imam.

He has a social standing in our establishment, apart from being a religious leader.

If he converts to adopting the liberal, secular values of the Congress, what is wrong with that?

What sense does it make to call him communal when he is converted to the right path?

We are an inclusive party and want people from all walks to adopt the secular, liberal way.

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Image: Imam Bukhari, Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid in Delhi


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'The Hindu voice is not a preserve of only one party'

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A section of Muslim leaders within the Congress is apprehensive of the polarisation that could result, of Hindus moving away from the Congress.

We are in a very tight battle and the BJP, in particular Modi, is doing everything possible to polarise the scene in a clever manner.

So, we have to ensure that people in the extreme do not take extremist positions.

We try to include those people into our inclusive way.

And, as far as this meeting with the Imam goes, we should not exaggerate a simple thing.

We are not a party of non-Hindus.

The presumption that the Hindu voice is a preserve of only one party, the BJP -- we reject that totally.

We, the Congress, represent Hindus, Muslims, Christians.

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'If the Apex court can be wrong on Section 377, then why not on Shah Bano?'

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Political observers say the Congress has a history of aligning with the Muslim orthodoxy, like it did in the Shah Bano case.

No, no. If you go back in the history of the Congress, you had leaders like Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan.

Azad was president of the Jamait Ulama.

They were leaders of the Muslim community, being Maulanas, and they were foresighted people. There are examples of Maulanas who are founders of great institutions like the Shibli College in Azamgarh.

As for the Shah Bano case, it is a simple understanding of the Indian Constitution, which gives every citizen the right to his own way of life.

I may not personally agree with it for myself but there is the Indian constitution. I myself argued in the Shah Bano case; I’m not a conservative.

I took the position 30 years ago that the Supreme Court was wrong on the Shah Bano case.

If the Apex court can be wrong on Section 377 and opposed by such a large section of youth and the media, then why not on Shah Bano?

I’m talking about a way of life. Society has no right to interfere in the way you live, pray, marry.

These are contested positions and ultimately in a democracy, there is a majority position but it has to be subject to Constitutional limitations

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Photographs: Reuters

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'Backwards are not a new breed that has been born'

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One of the criticisms leveled against the Congress is that its Muslim leaders and leadership has been confined to the upper classes. It is this lacunae that leaders like Nitish Kumar have tapped into this Pasmanda (lower catse) Musalman votebank.

It’s a process of social transformation that has been taking place.

Just as there was the Mandal agitation which threw up leaders from backward classes like Mulayam Singh, Lalu Yadav, Kalyan Singh and Nitish Kumar.

These transformations are inevitable.

Some of the greatest leaders in the Congress party have been Ansaris, they are ‘bunkars’ and Qureshis, they are backwards.

Backwards are not a new breed that has been born.

These are transformations taking place in society and we have to respond to it as a party. Rahul Gandhi is trying to do address that.

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Photographs: Reuters

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'Conditions of Muslims has improved, but still a lot needs to be done'

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The Congress prides itself on its inclusive politics and its policies targeted at specially uplifting the minority communities. As social and economic indices show, Muslims in particular are still worse off than others, don’t then the Congress claims ring hollow?  

No. The point is where they were and where they have reached.

There are voluminous studies on the impact of the Sachar committee recommendations and they all show that great historical work has been done by the Congress party.

There has been much improvement in the conditions of Muslims but still a lot needs to be done.  


Photographs: Reuters

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