Shahi Imam Syed Ahmed Bukhari doesn’t exactly hold substantial clout among Muslims as believed. At least in electoral behaviour, the community does not follow the cleric.
In recent times, Imam Bukhari has supported candidates of the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the BJP, but electoral fortunes of the parties he backed shows a different picture.
Let alone others in the community, the Shahi Imam’s brother, Yehya Bukhari, has said the meeting between Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Imam Bukhari holds no significance as the Muslim community do not take his appeals seriously. “Gone are the days when Muslims blindly followed what the Imam of Jama Masjid said,” Yehya Bukhari said.
In the 2009 general elections, the Shahi Imam publicly opposed the Congress, alleging that the party had only “exploited” the minority community. But the party managed to get 22 parliamentary seats, many of them with a substantial chunk of Muslim population like Muradabad, Farrukhabad and Barabanki.
Overwhelmed by the ‘India Shining’ hype ahead of the 2004 general elections, he had thrown his weight behind the BJP. However, the saffron party lost popular support and sat in the opposition.
Many observers of Muslim politics argue that the cleric wields power much beyond the call of his religious duty. The perception and belief about his political influence has been more propped up by myth and perpetuated by stereotypes of the Muslim monolith.
They also point out that the Imam’s political stature has remained undiminished despite the setbacks he has suffered. Contrary to popular perception, an Imam, whether of Delhi’s Jama Masjid or any mosque, has no control over Muslim votes, argues Sultan Shaheen, editor of NewAgeIslam.com.
“The Imam is not a custodian of the community vote, but before every election, the media has a field day, speculating about Imam Bukhari’s support in favour of one party or the other. Interestingly, the Imam, on his part, has not dispelled the myth about his own ability to win elections because it serves his selfish purposes as he ends up playing a role in political affairs of Muslims,” adds Mr. Shaheen.