Monday, January 5, 1998
By Syed Akbar
Published in Indian Express on January 5, 1998
VIJAYAWADA, January 4: Principles don't bring power, said the Bharatiya Janata Party's prime ministerial candidate Atal Behari Vajpayee. Perhaps, unholy alliances and pre-poll PR do.
So, on the eve of the 1998 Lok Sabha elections, the party which was behind the demolition of the Babri Masjid has promised to build mosques for about 200 Muslim families -- spread over a dozen villages -- in Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh.
Coinciding with Vajpayee's birthday on December 25, president of the State BJP minority wing Mir Ahmed Ali Khan laid the foundation stone for a mosque at Kotapadu. A day later, another foundation stone was laid for a mosque at Anjanapuram.
For the villagers, tucked away on the border of West Godavari (WG) and Khammam districts, this is good news. Since they now have to travel as much as 15 km to reach the nearest mosque. Imams and Khazis are brought from Chintalpudi in WG district or Vissannapet in Krishna district to conduct rituals in these villages.
``We have been demanding a mosque. Neither the AP Wakf Board nor Muslim religious leaders ever recognised our existence. The BJP has now come forward to construct a mosque. Why should we oppose the gesture when it is fulfiling our religious needs?'' argues Shaik Hussain Saheb, an agricultural labourer in Kotapadu.
Saheb Jan, a 95-year-old man, donated his land for the first mosque while a lorry cleaner, Shaik Moulali, offered his for the mosque at Anjanapuram. The State BJP has said it will raise funds for construction.
The local BJP unit says each mosque will come up on a 200 square-yard site before the rains begin. The total cost, according to the Krishna district BJP minority morcha, is estimated at Rs 4 lakh.
According to Shaik Baji, district BJP minority morcha president and the brain behind the mosques, a sum of Rs 20,000 has already been collected. ``There is a feeling that the BJP is against Muslims. We want to clear this misconception by constructing mosques,'' he says, denying that the move is a campaign stunt.
``The party sought permission from the local panchayats on April 13, 1997, when we had no idea that elections would be conducted,'' he adds.
But other political parties are not ready to believe this explanation.
Vijayawada City Congress president Jaleel Khan, who is himself constructing a mosque at Tiruvuru, describes the Bharatiya Janata Party move as politically motivated. According to him, the local Muslims have always been against the BJP and the party's offer will not help it in any way at the hustings. ``No intelligent Muslim will support the BJP which cares little for the welfare of minorities,'' he says, adding that even senior party leader Sikandar Bakht has been ignored by the BJP.
Local BJP leaders, however, are euphoric about the project and they hope to bring more Muslims in the backward regions of north-western Krishna into the party. The BJP today boasts of about 1,000 Muslims in its fold. Former district secretary of the BJP K V Satyanarayana feels that there is nothing wrong in constructing mosques.
``In fact, they will help develop spiritual values and erase social evils,'' he says.