Congress chief Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday met a group of intellectuals from the Muslim community in a rare informal interaction. He told them that the BJP will not form the next government and that the Congress will work with like-minded regional parties to defeat the ruling party in the next Lok Sabha elections.
Sources said a couple of people asked Rahul about his temple visits during the nearly two-hour-long free-wheeling interaction. The Congress chief is learnt to have told them that he had also visited mosques and churches but his temple trips have caught the attention of the media. He told them that the media has not reported about his visits to mosques and churches.
Rahul’s meeting, possibly to counter the BJP’s Sampark for Samarthan campaign, is the first in a series of such interactions planned. The Congress chief is planning to reach out to those intellectuals and professionals who can “influence public opinion” ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
The idea of the interaction, sources said, was to get a feedback from the intellectuals about the problems being faced by the Muslim community. Among those who attended it were historian Syed Irfan Habib, noted scholar and academic Abusaleh Shariff, writer and activist Farah Naqvi, writer Rakhshanda Jalil, former IAS officer M F Farooqui, the Raja of Mahmoodabad Mohammad Amir Mohammad Khan besides senior Congress leader Salman Khurshid and AICC minority department head Nadeem Javed.
Sources said some of them raised “stereotypical” issues like the stand of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board on various issues, issues related to the Aligarh Muslim University and Urdu language. Rahul wanted to know what issues the Congress should raise when it goes to the people.
At least one member, historian Syed Irfan Habib, is learnt to have told him that the Congress should raise issues which are of concern to all the people of India and not just Muslims. He said the Congress should talk about policies, employment, the atmosphere of fear and insecurity in which the people are living in. He stressed that not only the Muslims, Dalits too are facing similar problems.
Sources said some of them also talked about the “wrongs which Congress has committed over the years” and asked “will the party learn”. Rahul is learnt to have told them that the Congress has lost ground in so many ways and the party is aware of what had gone wrong. He told them that the party is taking corrective measures.
Abusaleh Shariff, who was member secretary of the Sachar committee and works with the Washington based US-India Policy Institute, came with data on representation of minorities in jobs. Talking to The Indian Express, Shariff said he had been sharing his articles and research with Rahul and the PMO. “I shared my idea that Muslim citizens are under the risk of losing their citizenship rights because huge number of Muslims are not listed in the electoral roll. I made a plea that his party should initiate enrollment of lot of Muslims,” Shariff said.
Shariff said Rahul told them he will ensure that Muslims will feel safe again when the Congress comes to power.