A teacher-turned-journalist from Bharuch, groomed in politics by Congress strongman Ahmed Patel is now BJP’s most popular minority face.
Asifa Khan, 49, the crisp saree-clad BJP face on national television, made no news when she joined the Congress in 2008 and worked for four years as media convener of the All India Mahila Congress. After a meeting with Modi in October 2012, she joined the BJP and now finds herself catapulted to its national media committee.
A postgraduate in English literature, Asifa’s job in the Congress was to prepare programmes and provide background material ahead of vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s visits to the state. She started out as a teacher in a school run by Gujarat Narmada Fertiliser Ltd (GNFC), a PSU based in Bharuch where her husband works, and got interested in politics. She learnt the ropes from none other than Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary Ahmed Patel, also from Bharuch.
Her skills in English, Hindi and Urdu saw her move up from the BJP’s national minority morcha to its media committee and she can be seen constantly defending Modi.
When asked who mediated her switch to BJP, she says: “I did not have a mediator. I directly contacted the CM (Modi) and was told by his staff that he has only five minutes. But the meeting went on for 55 minutes. That was on October 20, 2012.”
She was the first Muslim woman appointed in Gujarat BJP’s executive committee in September 2013. Before the current elevation, she was tasked with reaching out to Muslim leaders across the country and remove their misgivings on Modi and the BJP. She coordinated meetings of prominent Muslim leaders from Lucknow, Delhi, Hyderabad with Modi.
She also coordinated the “young India leader conclave” in Gandhinagar in June 2013, addressed by Modi. It was attended among others by former cabinet secretary Syed Zafar Mahmood, who was officer on special duty in the Sachar committee.
Born and brought up in Bharuch, Asifa gives full credit to Ahmed Patel for her initiation into politics. However, it was “insensitivity” of Congress leaders towards people’s problems that made her join the BJP.
“I met a large number of poor Muslims in Bhuj, Surat, Bardoli, Bhavnagar and Ahmedabad and they were disillusioned with the Congress because it has no leadership in the state and no vision for the Muslims,” she says.
“While the Congress takes Muslims support for granted, it totally neglects their problems. I saw no use of staying in such a party,” says the firebrand Asifa.
The debate over Modi refusing to don the skull cap, she says, is a non-issue and questions the Congress’s silence on the Sachar report.
“There has been no communal disturbance in Gujarat in the last 10 years. I believe that Muslims in rest of India will benefit immensely, as will other communities,” she says, arguing that Congress, “announces sops for Muslims but never gives it to them.”
Muslims, she says, will vote for the BJP because “like any other community they want development, education, business, peace and social security. At the end of the day this is what matters.” Asifa sees herself as a bridge between the community and government.
A mother of two children she lives with her family near Darul Uloom Kantharia, Gujarat’s biggest Islamic seminary, on the outskirts of Bharuch. Her daughter is married and son is in college.