As the Congress leadership tries hard to shift the blame for its widely predicted electoral debacle from him, party vice-president Rahul Gandhi would perhaps sit down at some point and mull over what went wrong. He may then remember a man he had met about 30 months ago. More recently, even Priyanka Gandhi Vadra met this man during her campaign in Rae Bareli. But by then, it was too late; Syed Babar Ashraf could do nothing to salvage the situation for the Congress.
But 30 months ago, he says, he could have made a difference.
Mr. Ashraf is a prominent Muslim cleric; he is the general secretary of the All India Ulema and Mashaikh Board (AIUMB), an umbrella organisation of different sects of Sufi Muslims.
In the past few years, Mr. Ashraf has been fighting against what he calls the “Wahhabi takeover” of Muslim affairs in India. He says the concerns of Indian Muslims have been hijacked by the extremist Wahhabi elements with the political patronage offered to them by successive governments.
“The Indian state remains oblivious to how Muslim institutions like the Waqf Board have become the biggest tools to promote Wahhabism,” Mr. Ashraf says. “They forget how Wahhabism alone is responsible for extremism all over the world.”
Mr. Ashraf alleges that these elements are funded with Saudi petrodollars and hence owe their allegiance to their foreign masters. “The Wahhabis have snatched away the identity of Indian Islam. The reins of the Muslim affairs have been handed over to these people who have no connection with 90 per cent of Muslims,” he says.
Mr. Ashraf cites the example of Delhi where, according to him, 250 out of 254 mosques propagating Sufi Islam have been usurped by the Wahhabis. “They call us idolaters, but have no qualms about getting their salaries from donations that our mosques get,” he says.
Mr. Ashraf believes that the spread of Wahhabism is a major threat to peace in India. “We are fighting it, but we do not have any political support,” he says.
Mr. Ashraf says he had met Rahul Gandhi to apprise him of the “dangerous virus of Wahhabism.”
“Rahul Gandhi asked me to support him, but I told him that was not possible until he paid heed to our concerns,” says Mr. Ashraf.
Mr. Ashraf alleges that the Wahhabi extremists have seized Muslim properties and are using them to spread hatred. “Suppose we had an old well near a mosque that was originally meant to quench the thirst of passers-by. But then a Wahhabi will take over and try and build a wall around it,” he says.
Didn’t something similar happen in Meerut on May 10?