Maulana Mufti Barkati, chief Imam of Tipu Sultan Mosque of Kolkata, one of the oldest and the most powerful mosques in eastern India, says he wants West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to be the next Prime Minister, though he does not mind Rahul Gandhi in the top job. Earlier this week however, he said Ms. Banerjee was not going “all out” against BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi. “If she wants to prove her secular credentials, she should be more aggressive and critical about Mr. Modi,” he said. But by the end of the week, Maulana Barkati, who is believed to have reasonable clout over the minority voters of West Bengal, who make up about 25 per cent of the electorate, changed his position. He gives his reasons to Suvojit Bagchi.

Just weeks before the general election, you said, “The Bengal Chief Minister should be ‘more aggressive’ in resisting Mr. Modi.” You are believed to be very close to the Chief Minister. Why did you make such a statement?

I believe all secular forces, including the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Trinamool Congress, — all those who have secular credentials — should come together. Why? The answer is short and simple. If we would like to stop the march of fundamentalist and fascist forces, we have to come together. Otherwise, this country will be like Afghanistan or Iraq, where fundamentalist forces have taken over. In stopping the fascist forces, Ms. Banerjee can play a huge role. She has secular credentials … she is trying to do several things for the minorities and hence she should take the lead.

But she is not taking the lead, you feel?

Rahul Gandhi has said Mr. Modi follows the “poisonous” ideology of the RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh] …

Ms. Banerjee has not, you mean?

Well … she was not as aggressive and, moreover, we did not like her idea of joining hands with Anna Hazare [anti-corruption activist]. Why does she need the support of Hazare? She is a people’s person, a much bigger and larger political personality than Hazare. She herself can fight and win elections from anywhere. She should have worked to increase her strength … In fact, [Aam Aadmi Party leader] Arvind Keriwal is doing what Mamata Banerjee had done three years ago.

But then, Ms. Banerjee is in touch with you almost every day, directly or through her confidants; then, why did you not tell her about these issues directly? Why did you go to the press instead?

After my statement was published, Ms. Banerjee told me that she spoke against the BJP at the Brigade Parade ground [earlier]. We [Maulana Barkati and Mamata Banerjee] had a word with each other, and you can write that she assured me that at no point will her party support the BJP, before or after the elections.

With or without Mr Modi…

With or without Mr. Modi, the BJP will not get Mamata Banerjee’s support.

But isn’t this anti-Modi rhetoric a little over the top?

How will it [BJP] manage the RSS? And if you read the RSS constitution, you would realise that it has a fascist agenda, and that is why secular parties should come together.

On behalf of the community, who do you think should be the leader of that secular front?

I would prefer Mamata Banerjee. She is Prime Minister material and has done a lot for us (Muslims) … and hence she should be our leader, we would support her. Other than Ms. Banerjee, our choice is the Congress. Rahul Gandhi has taken a position [against Narendra Modi] unlike others. After the Congress, it could be any other secular party like the Samajwadi Party or the Bahujan Samaj Party.

But not the CPI(M)?

The CPI(M) has not done anything for Muslims in West Bengal.

But there was no major communal disturbance in the State during CPI(M)’s time …

That is true … there was no communal tension during CPI(M)’s time. But in any case, I hope Mamata Banerjee will emerge as the prime ministerial candidate after the election.

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