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Row over Congress leader’s ‘Muslim univ promise’ claim snowballs despite Harish Rawat’s denial

Dehradun: Uttarakhand Congress vice-president Akil Ahmad has triggered a political row ahead of the assembly polls involving even the Election Commission (EC), with his claims that party leader Harish Rawat “promised” him that a Muslim university would be set up in the state.

While the Congress party and Rawat himself have categorically denied these claims, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has alleged that the Congress is attempting to “polarise Muslim voters” in certain assembly segments by promising to build a university for the community.

Latching on to Ahmed’s comments earlier this month, state BJP chief Madan Kaushik as well as Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami alleged that Rawat had promised to establish a Muslim university if his party is voted to power.

“Congress party has been engaged in Muslim appeasement ever since the independence of India. Uttarakhand is a Devbhumi and a centre of Char Dham pilgrimage, where Congress wants to set up a Muslim university while it has opposed Sanskrit university plan of Karnataka government. People of Uttarakhand will not accept the divisive politics of the Congress party and reply to them suitably,” Dhami told reporters on 2 February.

However, former CM Rawat has denied these charges. “I have never had any such talks with anyone. No Muslim brother ever demanded this. BJP has a habit of making such false claims and blaming us…” Rawat had told ThePrint in an interview last week.

Even after that, BJP general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya said at a party meeting in Haridwar Saturday that “Congress leaders are vehemently going ahead with Muslim appeasement agenda by advocating for setting up a Muslim university in the state”.

“No Muslim university is needed here. Uttarakhand may be a small state, but it’s very important from the national, cultural and religious perspective…” Vijayvargiya said.

Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi didn’t lose the opportunity to attack the Congress. Addressing a virtual meeting of the party in the assembly constituencies of Haridwar, Modi said Monday: “Now Congress party is trying to poison the Uttarakhand with the politics of appeasement. Congress party leaders’ attempt to play the politics of appeasement in the name of university is enough to open the eyes of the people of Uttarakhand.”

The battle has reached the EC, with the Congress complaining that the BJP has tweeted a morphed image depicting Rawat with a beard and a cap, referring to the alleged promise.

On the Congress’ complaint that the tweet allegedly posted from the state BJP’s official Twitter handle but deleted later was “insinuating that Rawat is a Muslim in order to create divisions between communities in the peaceful state of Uttarakhand”, the EC issued a notice to the BJP Saturday. The BJP reply claimed that it only praised the ex-CM.

Also read: Modi, Kedarnath, Ganga arti — what BJP’s campaign push in Uttarakhand says about its message

‘Deliberately crafted ploy by Congress’

The BJP has alleged that the Muslim university controversy was a “deliberately-crafted ploy” by the Congress to influence Muslim voters in 10-12 assembly segments in the Garhwal and Kumaon regions for the 14 February state elections.

Akil Ahmad, who was denied a Congress ticket from Sahaspur, turned rebel and decided to contest as an Independent, but announced on 1 February to local media that he was withdrawing from the contest against the party’s official nominee Aryendra Sharma after Rawat “promised” him that a Muslim university would be set up in the state. 

Ahmed, who made this announcement on the last day for withdrawal of nominations, could have proven to be a major vote cutter for the party in Sahaspur.

The BJP then used Ahmed’s statement as a stick to beat the Congress, alleging that it was an attempt by the opposition party to polarise Muslim voters. The party also asked why the Congress did not condemn Ahmed’s statement.

“Muslim university issue was deliberately created by Congress. First they allowed their leader to say it in public to prevent minority votes from splitting among non-BJP candidates. No Congress leader in Delhi or Uttarakhand has discounted the statement yet. It’s their hidden agenda. We are telling the people why Congress did not incorporate its Muslim university plan in its election manifesto,” BJP’s state spokesperson Suresh Joshi told ThePrint.

“They can go to any extent in their politics of Muslim appeasement but the BJP will not take it lying down,” Uttarakhand BJP president Madan Kaushik told ThePrint.

BJP alleged that the Congress was trying to polarise Dalit voters in the hill constituencies and Muslims in the plains.

“These include Kichha, Haldwani, Jaspur, and Kashipur in Kumaon where Muslim voters are around 15,000-25,000 in number. Congress is also eyeing Dharampur and Sahaspur in Dehradun and 4-5 assembly constituencies of Haridwar having more than 20,000 Muslim voters. The Muslim university controversy is all about these constituencies as parties like AAP, BSP and SP are also in the contest here,” said Joshi.

Also read: Ex-minister Pokhriyal sent eviction order, month after 2nd notice to leave official bungalow

‘BJP’s fabrication’

Asked about the Congress’ view on the Muslim university controversy, party spokesperson and media adviser Surendra Agrawal told ThePrint it was the BJP’s “fabrication, which will not succeed”.

“The person to whom this is being attributed has himself denied it. He has admitted to having never met anyone over the university matter. Congress will work only on the promises made in the manifesto,” he added.

ThePrint reached Ahmad for a comment via calls but he declined.

Agarwal further said: “The BJP is already feeling defeated in the constituencies where it alleges Congress is trying to polarise voters. It has raised the bogey of Muslim university to polarise votes in constituencies having a substantial size of Muslim voters, but the people know it all.”

Uttarakhand Pradesh Congress Committee media in-charge Rajiv Mehrishi told ThePrint this is “part of the BJP’s divisive politics for which it’s well-known, but this will not yield the result it desires”.

Rawat’s comparison with AMU founder

Uttarakhand BJP’s social media in-charge Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga had tweeted the morphed photo on 3 February, addressing Rawat as “Harishuddin ji”.

Another of his tweets said: “Heard Harishuddin ji filed Complaint against me for opposing Muslim university in Devbhumi.m doing it again & will do it 1000 times,they can do 1000s of complaint against me,they can send me 2 jail but till my last breath I will fight against Cong plan of Islamization of Devbhumi (sic).

Responding to the EC notice, Bagga, in a letter to the Uttarakhand chief electoral officer, said he did not mean to insult Harish Rawat but was praising him by drawing a parallel between the Congress leader and Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) founder Sir Syed Ahmed Khan.

“Does Harish Rawat consider his comparison with Sir Syed Ahmed Khan an insult to him? Syed Ahmed Khan was the first leader to set up an Islamic university in the country and Harish Rawat will be the second person to do so. However, if Harish Rawat thinks it’s an insult to him, he must give it in writing and I will delete my tweet,” his letter further said.

(Edited by Gitanjali Das)

Also read: Boat-shaped with local touch: Cap worn by Modi on R-Day is flavour of poll season in Uttarakhand

Source: The Print

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