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What the Deoband controversy is all about

Last updated on: February 22, 2011 23:16 IST

What the Deoband controversy is all about

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Sahim Salim travels to Deoband in Uttar Pradesh to find answers to some of the questions that have sharply divided the Darul Uloom seminary

Where is Deoband?

Deoband is a tiny town in Uttar Pradesh dotted with mosques, which has been split apart over the recent controversy about Darul Uloom Vice-Chancellor Ghulam Mohammad Vastanvi.

Deoband houses the 150-year-old Darul Uloom, India's oldest school for Sunni Islamic learning. For the first time in its history, barely a month into his appointment, its Supreme Council will deliberate on Wednesday on whether to allow an elected vice chancellor to continue or not.

What triggered the controversy?

Vastanvi, who was appointed as VC after he won eight of the 17 votes in January, ran into trouble after some sections of the media carried an interview of his in which he allegedly praised Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.

The new vice chancellor had already faced opposition from conservatives and some students of the institution for his professed modernisation of the curriculum.

After the publication of his alleged comments about Modi, his rivals wondered out loud how he could support a chief minister who was 'personally' responsible for the deaths of so many Muslims in his state. 


Image: The facade of the madrasa at Deoband

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'So many students protested against him'

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How has Deoband reacted to the controversy?

Such is the divide in the area that even local journalists have taken sides. 

 "Our newspaper carried a photo of his in which he was distributing idols as gifts in a Maharashtra school. It is idolatry. So many students protested against him. Do you want a VC to continue if his own student body does not want him," asks a well-known Urdu journalist in the area.

"But you don't really have proof that he was distributing idols. You have a photo in which he is distributing gifts. How do you know they are idols? Secondly, only some 15 students actually took part in the protest. How can you claim that the entire student body is dissatisfied with him," queries another journalist who writes for a well-known Hindi publication.

This conversation pretty much sums up the situation in Deoband as on Tuesday, a day before the Majlis-e-Shoora, Darul Uloom's supreme body, will deliberate on whether to let Vastanvi continue or not. 


Image: Darul Uloom Deoband. (Inset) Maulana Ghulam Mohammad Vastanvi
Photographs: vijay pandey9/Flickr
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'I never said or did anything against Vastanvi'

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Who is likely to succeed Vastanvi?

Deoband basically has two areas -- Deewan Mehenda, which supports Vastanvi and Gadhi Vada -- which supports his chief rival Arshad Madani.

Madani is the leader of the Jamiat-Ulama-i-Hind -- the clerical and political wing of Darul Uloom.

When rediff.com spoke to Arshad Madani, who was also a front-runner in the elections for VC on January 10, he claimed he had never said anything against Vastanvi.

"I never said or did anything against Vastanvi. In fact, I am telling you right now that even if the Shoora asks me to take over as the VC, I will turn it down. I am not in a very good state health-wise. In any case, I don't know what the outcome of the Shoora's deliberations will be, as I don't have anything to do with them," said Madani.

Incidentally, Madani's son is married to Vastanvi's daughter.


Image: The Darul Uloom madrasa at Deoband

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'He is very hurt by the controversy'

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What do Vastanvi's detractors say?

A member of the powerful Jamiat-Ulama-i-Hind said, "The teachers, students and the people don't want him to stay on. He has praised a chief minister who is responsible for the slaughter of so many Muslims. Under the pretext of being modern, he will change this school of theology into a multi-field university. I am sure the Shoora will oust him."

What do his supporters say?

In a telephonic conversation with rediff.com, Vastanvi's brother Ishaq Vastanvi said, "I don't know what my brother is going through. I think he is very hurt by the whole controversy. If the accusations get too much for him, he may even offer to resign. But I have to say this: his rivals say that people don't want him, but the truth is that he has the love and support of 85 per cent of the people. He was so overwhelmed by the support he got from different sections of the people that he decided not to resign."

A cleric, who wants Vastanvi to stay on, told rediff.com, "Tell me, how did Maulvi Vastanvi go wrong? Did he go against any of the Shoora's diktats? Did he insult any of the students? Why should he be asked to resign? The Shoora does not have the right to pressurise Maulvi Vastanvi into resigning."

Many students rediff.com spoke to also echoed similar views. 

A teacher at the institute, who has also studied there, said, "This entire controversy is a result of Madani's efforts. Vastanvi had promised to introduce reforms in the functioning of Darul Uloom, which includes the introduction of IT and pharmacy. He has a lot of experience in this area, as he already runs polytechnic institutes elsewhere. If Muslim boys are educated enough to land good jobs, how is that a bad thing? Madani and other conservatives don't want this to happen. They want to continue running this institute according to their whims and fancies."


Image: A signboard of the Darul Uloom

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No extra security measures

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What is the administration doing to ensure law and order?

Reluctant to take any chances, authorities have invoked Section 144 of the CrPC (preventive detention) in the sensitive town to avoid any untoward incidents.

Police Inspector Rajender Singh Bhaingla said, "Other than invoking Section 144, we have not deployed any extra security measures. The Darul Uloom is an autonomous body and its members have not asked us for any extra police protection. Police personnel will be posted at various points in the town."

How will the Shoora take a final decision about Vastanvi?

A cleric from Darul Uloom explains the functioning of the Majlis-e-Shoora

The Majlis-e-Shoora has 18 members from across the country. (It initially had 21 members but three of them have passed away)

For the Shoora to actually vote on an issue, they need at least two-thirds of its members present. If for some reason 13 members are not able to make it to the meeting, then it will have to be canceled and the entire process of inviting members has to be undertaken again.

Vastanvi's resignation does not feature on the Shoora's agenda. When he had announced that he would quit, he had sent out letters to all members of the Shoora saying he would be resigning. But by the time of the formulation of the agenda, he had changed his mind about quitting. So his resignation was not put on the agenda. As per norms, for the Shoora to deliberate on an issue during a meeting, it has to be mentioned on the agenda.

Even if the Shoora decides on ousting Vastanvi, it can only call for the next meeting to decide his successor after 45 days. In the meantime, Vastanvi will have to continue as VC. 

The members of the Shoora cannot pressurise Vastanvi into resigning, who can simply refuse to do so. He can ask for the grounds on the basis of which he is being asked to step down and if he finds them unsatisfactory, he can even take the governing body to court.


Image: The Darul Uloom madrasa at Deoband

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