Once a close associate of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, Shahi Imam Noor-ur Rehman Barkati on Saturday said he could rally for the BJP as long as the party “gives money to leaders like us (Muslim leaders)”.
The Shahi Imam spoke with The Sunday Express after a sting operation was carried out by Times Now and aired on Friday. In the video, the Imam was heard saying, “The Muslim vote can change with money. In Bengal, the sentiment has changed. Andar hi andar Muslim log BJP ko pyaar karne lage hai (Muslims have started loving the BJP)… The BJP is aiming for 22 seats. I’m telling you they’ll get 28. If the Muslims had not voted for her (Mamata) in the last election, what would she have done… I will take out rallies of Muslims if BJP gives me the money…”
Speaking to The Sunday Express on Saturday, Barkati reiterated his stand, saying, “The biggest Imam is money. BJP has money. If they spend that money in Bengal, you will see how Muslim votes turn in their favour. Nothing comes for free.”
The Muslim leader predicted that the BJP would get 10 per cent of Muslim vote in 2019, but if the party wants all 30 per cent of the minority vote, they would have to spend money. “I can rally for BJP and can easily influence people to vote for them,” he added.
Barkati, who was once known as Mamata’s “rakhi brother”, said Mamata had gradually sidelined him.
“On every July 21 (Martyr’s Day rally), I used to get an invitation. My presence was vital for Mamata and TMC then. This was the first time I wasn’t invited. It is obvious that TMC no more wants to be branded as the party of Muslims. They don’t want to give BJP the grounds to get sympathy votes from Hindus,” he said.
Barkati, who once issued a fatwa against PM Narendra Modi, said, “The sentiments in Bengal have changed, Muslims in Bengal are no more anti-BJP. They are just waiting for their leaders to tell them who they should vote for. If I am approached and they consider our conditions, I may issue a fatwa asking people to vote for BJP in 2019, like I had issued a fatwa in favour of Mamata Banerjee before the 2011 election.”