Maulana Arshad Madni, the patriarch of one faction of the Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind and a cleric with wide following, has urged Muslims to vote for the Congress in 2014 because they had “no alternative”, while a top Church leader, Cardinal Oswald Gracias, met Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and praised her policies, signs that minorities still view the grand old party favourably.
“This country can never survive without secularism and (Narendra) Modi is a serious threat to that. If he comes to power, a section of society that stands for secularism will be on fire. For Muslims, there is no alternative to the Congress at the national level,” Madni told HT.
Cardinal Gracias, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), met Sonia Gandhi on Wednesday and appreciated the “key role” played by her in “caring for the poor and the downtrodden”. He pledged support for the Congress-led UPA government’s welfare programmes. The cardinal is one of the eight globally picked by Pope Francis as advisers.
This is the first time that a Muslim leader has directly endorsed the Congress in the run-up to the 2014 general elections, which could boost the party’s efforts to reach out to the community.
The 80-year-old cleric’s remarks contest what his nephew Mahmood Madni had said in Jaipur last week. Mahmood had said secular parties were trying to scare Muslims by citing the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, although he did not name the Congress.
Asked to comment on his nephew’s remarks, Arshad Madni said: “Hindutva leaders have already talked about taking voting rights of Muslims away. The debate is about the ideology of the BJP.”
Both the uncle and the nephew wield influence over a nation-wide network of thousands of clerics who follow the teachings of Darul Uloom, a seminary in Uttar Pradesh globally influential among Sunni Muslims. Between them, they run two factions of the Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind, an organisation that has had strong institutional links with the Congress.
“We didn’t want India divided on religious grounds. That is why we opposed the Muslim League and the Partition itself. Even if (Atal Bihari) Vajpayee were to become young all over again and ask for our votes, we will oppose the BJP and its ideology,” Madni said.
The Muslims, India’s largest minority, numbering 160 million, are thought to impact elections by voting as a bloc, although political analysts say there is little evidence of this in statistics. However, they are known to vote tactically when they see a threat to their identity, as had happened in the aftermath of the Babri mosque demolition.