A young Muslim candidate fielded by the Congress in Bihar election has become the target of a relentless attack by the BJP, which is accusing him of being a “Jinnah sympathiser”.
Senior BJP leaders from Bihar and outside have issued statements in recent days, saying Maskoor Usmani, Congress candidate from Jale in Darbhanga district, supports the “ideology” of Pakistan’s founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah.
Usmani, 26, was president of the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) students’ union in 2017-18. In May 2018, he led a protest in AMU after local BJP MP Satish Gautam demanded the removal of Jinnah’s portrait hanging in the AMU students’ union building since 1938. The controversy became a national headline, with the AMU community asserting that Jinnah was a “matter of history, not ideology”.
With the Congress nominating the young dental surgeon, the Jinnah controversy has resurfaced and now threatens to polarise the three-phase Bihar polls, starting October 28.
But Usmani wonders why “the jinn of Jinnah” is being raked up when “nobody on this side of the border has any faith in his ideology”.
“I did not put the portrait there, so how could I be questioned about it?” Usmani asked. “I noticed the portrait which was put there in 1938 only in May 2018 when there were media reports about it, when the local BJP leader sought its removal.”
Usmani says Jinnah’s portrait was put in the AMU students’ union office after he was given the union’s lifetime membership in 1938. “Mahatma Gandhi was the first person to be conferred the life-time membership of AMU students’ union when it came into being in 1920. There are portraits of him, S Radhakrishnan, C Rajagopalachari, Rajendra Prasad and Jawaharlal Nehru, E M Forster alongside Jinnah in the campus.”
At the time, Usmani said he wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Rajanth Singh that the students’ union had no problem if Jinnah’s portraits were removed from all government buildings in the country. He said he did not get any response from them.
A number of Congress leaders have rallied behind Usmani as the opposition attack on him over the 2018 protest continues.
Usmani says BJP has found in him their “best bet to play polarised politics”. “I am a strong, fearless Muslim voice raising anti-people issues, and they don’t like that.”
Usmani has also written to Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, calling out the “unwarranted” campaign against him and stating that the NDA government will be responsible if he is “attacked” during the course of election.
Usmani says his fight is for development, particularly health and education. “I am a believer in Gandhi’s philosophy. I am here to follow Sir Syed Ahmad’s education mission. I want to improve the health infrastructure in the state. My wish is to take the right to education to everyone”
So why did Congress go for Usmani, who is most likely the youngest candidate in Bihar elections? “There are various reasons. Congress is fighting the fascist forces. It has a history of doing so. Nehru, Gandhi, all believed in democracy. Then the top leadership supports youth, and also wants to give proportional representation to all sections of society,” he says.
Congress has so far fielded 12 Muslim candidates and six-seven youths while BJP, like in most recent elections, has fielded no Muslim candidate in Bihar election as well.