Delhi Jama Masjid’s Syed Ahmed Bukhari on Friday appealed to Muslims to vote for the Congress in the Lok Sabha elections, in remarks that left party leaders squirming.
He asked the community's members to ensure that secular votes remain united to fight “communal forces”.
Bukhari had met with Congress president Sonia Gandhi a few days ago. While Congress leaders were guarded in reacting to Bukhari’s remarks, ally Nationalist Congress Party welcomed it, saying it would strengthen secular forces.
Muslims account for around 15 per cent of the 81.4 crore voters in the country, and play a crucial role in deciding the electoral outcome of various constituencies in a number of states, including Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Assam. Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said the party never appealed to the people to vote on religious lines.
A Congress leader, speaking on condition of anonymity, expressed unhappiness over Bukhari’s remarks, contending that it risked the party being depicted as communal. “What if temple priests ask Hindus to vote for a particular party? What would happen if even half of the Hindu community votes against the Congress?” wondered the senior leader.
He also questioned Bukhari’s credentials, saying he had even supported former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. More recently, Bukhari had declared his support for the BSP in western Uttar Pradesh, the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal and the Rashtriya Janata Dal in Bihar.