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Vote for Cong, shun SP: Shahi Imam
Aditi Tandon
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, April 4
Top Muslim cleric, the Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid, on Friday kicked off polarisation of Lok Sabha elections by backing the Congress and asking his followers to ensure the “secular votes” were not divided.

Syed Ahmed Bukhari, who leads prayers at the famed mosque, also pledged support for Congress’ Bihar ally RJD and the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress, saying the TMC had vowed not to join the BJP-led NDA that represents “communal forces.”

Bukhari, while asking Muslims to boycott the Samajwadi Party (SP) for failing to prevent last year’s Muzaffarnagar riots in UP and the Bahujan Samaj Party for ignoring Muslims, justified his pro-Congress appeal on grounds of secularism.

“Communalism is a bigger threat than graft and Muslims must ensure their secular vote remains intact and goes to the Congress. Nothing stops me, as a voter, to express my support in anyone’s favour,” he said today.

Though the impact of Bukhari’s appeal would be visible post-polls, it may help tilt Muslims towards the Congress, which recently lost this support base to AAP in Delhi. Muslims comprise around 19 per cent of the population. Among 543 segments going to the polls, Muslims make comprise over 30 per cent population in 35 constituencies and 21 to 30 per cent in 38, surveys suggest. In 70 segments where Muslims are 20 percent of the population, their support will be critical.

However, not all Congress leaders are happy with Bukhari’s support. They feel the move will trigger a reverse polarisation of Hindus in BJP’s favour. “If you ask a cleric to support one party, can you stop a priest from supporting another?” asked a Congress leader.

The Congress sounded defensive, with party spokesperson Randeep Surjewala saying, “We don’t seek votes on religious lines like the BJP. The Congress president routinely meets religious and social leaders and if someone decides to support us, it is their decision. We want secular forces to unite to keep communal forces away.”





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