In an interesting twist to the debate over Lord Hanuman after Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath termed the god a Dalit, his party colleague and MLC Bukkal Nawab on Thursday said the deity was "actually a Muslim".
"Lord Hanuman belongs to all, and as far as I think, Hanumanji was actually a Muslim," Nawab, who left the Samajwadi Party to join the BJP when the Yogi Adityanath government came to power, told reporters here.
He argued that the deity’s name is very similar to the names among Muslims and many of them are named after him.
"Hamara manana hai Hanuman ji Musalman thhe. Isliye Musalmanon ke andar jo naam rakha jata hai... Rehman, Ramzan, Farman, Zishan, Qurban... Jitne bhi naam rakhey jaate hain, woh karib karib unhi par rakhe jaate hain,” he said.
Nawab, 64, who publicly offered prayers at a Hanuman temple last year, is the latest political figure to have weighed in on Lord Hanuman’s identity.
While campaigning during the recent Assembly elections, Adityanath reportedly said, "Hanuman was a forest dweller, deprived and a Dalit. Bajrang Bali worked to connect all Indian communities together, from north to south and east to west."
On December 4, BJP MP Savitribai Phule took exception to the manner in which the deity is depicted.
"Lord Hanuman was a Dalit and a slave of 'manuwadi' people. He was a Dalit and a human. He did everything for Lord Ram, then why was he given a tail and his face blackened," she asked.
A Jain priest in Bhopal has claimed Lord Hanuman was neither a Dalit nor a tribal, but a Jain.
Bukkal had given up his Uttar Pradesh Legislative Council seat to pave the way for a BJP minister to become a legislator within the stipulated six-month period and continue in the government.
After openly supporting the construction of a Ram temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya, the prominent Shia politician last year donated a 30-kg brass bell at a famous Hanuman temple.
He offered prayers there, prompting the SP to comment, "It is nothing but a publicity stunt. He is hopping from one temple to another to hog media limelight."
When the BJP returned the favour and gave him an MLC ticket for the UP council’s biennial elections, he said, "My wish has been fulfilled by Lord Hanuman."
During the 2017 UP Assembly election campaign, Bukkal had caused a stir by saying he would be happy to see a Ram temple come up at the disputed site.
The legislator had said he would help the cause by carrying the first brick for the temple at Ayodhya. He also promised to contribute Rs 15 crore towards the temple’s construction and a 'mukut' (crown) for Lord Ram.
Bukkal, who is president of the Rashtriya Shia Samaj or RSS, a different avtar for the acronym which is generally associated with the Hindu nationalist group, was subsequently ostracised by the Darul Uloom Deoband seminary for indulging in idol worship.
As an SP MLC, Nawab was considered close to party patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav.