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January 14, 1998


Jittery Congress promises Muslims the moon

E-Mail this story to a friend George Iype in New Delhi

Fearing that the Bharatiya Janata Party is becoming popular among the minorities on the eve of the Lok Sabha election, the Congress leadership is embarking on a major mission to woo the Muslim electorate.

The Congress has chalked out a special package for the minorities that will be included in the party's election manifesto.

The highlights of the package are the creation of a ministry for minority affairs, a commission for minority education and extension of the job reservation policy to the minorities.

Congress president Sitaram Kesri had entrusted senior party leaders like Salman Khursheed, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Tariq Anwar, Ahmed Patel, Oscar Fernandes, Margaret Alva, P C Chacko and Mohsina Kidwai the task of drafting a new agenda for the minorities.

The group, led by Congress Minority Cell chairman Shahid Siddiqui, submitted a detailed action programme for the welfare of the minorities to the party's manifesto committee on Wednesday.

While the committee discusses controversial recommendations like job reservation for dalit Christians and Muslims, several Congress leaders said the effort is not to appease the minorities. It is for their social and educational upliftment, they said.

"There is nothing wrong in a political party drafting welfare programmes for the socially backward sections in India," Khursheed told Rediff On The NeT.

He claimed that the Congress is the only party which has stood by the minorities all these years. "Unlike the BJP, there is no need for the Congress to woo the minority vote bank. We have stood for secularism and equality, and therefore the minorities have voted for us," he said.

However, Congress sources said this is part of the party's strategy to lure the Muslim vote bank. The initiative in this regard has been taken by Kesri himself.

At a meeting with Christian and Muslim leaders in the Congress, Kesri insisted that the party should promise reservations for the backward minorities, as in Karnataka and Kerala. Both states have reserved a small percentage of seats and jobs for Muslims and other minorities.

Kesri has also decided to send a Congress delegation to the Shahi Imam of the Delhi Jama Masjid, Syed Abdullah Bukhari, to prevent him from going soft on the BJP. The Shahi Imam's son, Naib Imam Ahmed Bukhari, recently stated that Muslims had nothing to worry about their well being in the BJP-led states.

The Naib Imam had also stated that the BJP's Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the best leader in the country today. This has not gone down well with the Congress which has been trying to project the BJP as communal.

The Congress is also worried about the manner in which BJP leaders like Vajpayee and party president Lal Kishinchand Advani have been cultivating minority leaders ever since the Lok Sabha election was announced last month. On his trip to Kerala last month, Advani met with Church leaders and pro-Christian politicians.

Congress sources said some senior leaders are ill at ease with the party's decision to tender a public apology to the Muslims on the Babri mosque issue. "The Ayodhya is a forgotten issue. It is ridiculous that the party is now raking up the issue when even the BJP is keeping mum about it," a Congress leader told Rediff On The NeT.

Many believe the Congress efforts to cash in on the Muslim vote bank through the Babri mosque issue will only boomerang on the party, a fact reiterated by BJP vice-president K L Sharma today.

"We are happy that the Congress now holds itself responsible for the Babri mosque demolition," Sharma told the media in New Delhi. "By apologising, the Congress has fallen into its own trap," he added.

Cornered Kesri makes song and dance of 'minor developments'

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