On Masood turf, how Rahul Gandhi balanced criticism with tact

Rahulmuslims Rahul Gandhiwith Imran Masood’s wife. (IE photo: Virender Singh Negi)

Although Rahul Gandhi has disapproved of Imran Masood’s alleged hate speech, his rally for the Saharanpur candidate Saturday made it clear he hasn’t disowned Masood himself.

Sharing the dais with Rahul were the jailed hardliner’s wife and children as the Congress sought to woo the Muslim voter in Saharanpur and adjoining seats such as Nagina, Kairana, Muzaffarnagar and Bijnore. The Congress is believed to have suffered following Rahul’s earlier remark about ISI agents approaching Muzaffarnagar riot victims.

Even when he mentioned what Masood had said, Rahul chose his words carefully. “Kuccha mah pahle (A few months ago),” he began.

The line the party and Masood’s supporters have taken is that the alleged hate speech is an old one. The AICC has written to the EC, stressing Masood was in the Samajwadi Party in September when the speech was allegedly made. It has claimed the allegations are “unverified and distorted” and urged the EC to direct the BJP to apologise.

“The commission may direct BJP to tender apology publicly for criticism of INC and its candidate(s) on unverified and distorted allegations or take any other action as may deemed appropriate by the commission,” AICC secretary K C Mittal said in a letter to EC.

The UP Congress Committee too has written to the EC. Satyadeo Tripathi, who heads the media cell of the UPCC said, “As per our knowledge, the speech was delivered in September… Imran Masood became a Congress member on March 8 and got the ticket on March 9.”

The Congress wants to tread carefully in Saharanpur, the district that has the Darool Uloom, Deoband. Just before the 2012 assembly elections, Masood’s uncle and former MP Rashid Masood had joined the Congress, part of a strategy to build a base in Saharanpur.

Locals see a difference between the public images Imran and his uncle have cultivated. “Rashid would enjoy a hookah in a gathering of Hindu villagers, but Imran’s image is of a leader concerned about only his community,” says Tausif, a vendor in Deoband.

Now, Rashid Masood’s son Shadan is the Samajwadi Party candidate against Imran. “Rashid’s rivals have joined hands with Imran,” says Sanjeev Rathi.