Indian Muslim leaders slam government on crackdown

NEW DELHI: Hundreds of Islamic leaders in India demanded on Tuesday that the government protect their community from persecution, saying Muslims were being unfairly targeted in a police crackdown after bombings across the country.

“Today, with the injustice and harassment, Islam and Muslims in this country are under threat,” said Maulana Syed Ahmed Bukhari, leader of the Jamia Masjid, the largest in north India. “We have been quiet for a long time, but we cannot take this anymore. We too have rights.” Bukhari said neither the ruling Congress nor the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were a suitable option for the Muslims, who make up 13 percent of India’s 1.1 billion-plus population. “They think we only have these two options,” he said, addressing a crowd of Muslim leaders and others on the lawns of the Jamia Masjid, a 17th century mosque built by Mughal kings.

“But water will find its way, it will find its own level.” Bombings have killed hundreds of people in recent months, and Muslim leaders accuse the police of indiscriminate arrests of young Muslim men who have been labelled as terrorists and paraded before the media. The Congress party, labouring with economic woes, has been losing ground to the BJP, which is calling for harsher anti-terrorism measures, in state elections over the last year, and cannot be trusted to do justice to Muslims, Bukhari said. “Muslims should unite, leaving aside ideological and sectional differences,” he said.

The government held on Monday a meeting of the National Integration Council, a panel of public figures, to discuss communal tension, the first time the group has met since 2005. “The Congress is really keen to establish its secular credentials and wants to show it is leading from the front,” said Seema Desai, an analyst at consultancy Eurasia Group in London.

A number of smaller, but important, regional parties such as the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal are keen to reach out to their Muslim vote bank, and that will put more pressure on Congress, she said. “So Muslim leaders will be heard more than might have been the case in the run up to the national elections,” Desai said.


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