A Christian priest reciting the Gayatri Mantra at the launch of a new political party at the helm of which are top functionaries of the Jamaat-e-Islami-e-Hind. A perfect secular backdrop for the leadership of the Welfare Party of India (WPI),which was launched on Monday,to assert that it was neither a Muslim party nor the political arm of the Jamaat.
Anxious not be seen as a Muslim-exclusive party,the brainchild of the Jamaat which took shape on Monday,over two years after the idea first germinated,has non-Muslims,including a Catholic priest,in its ranks. The leadership of the WPI insisted it was a secular party upholding the principles of justice,freedom and equality and seeking empowerment of the weak,oppressed and marginalised sections.
The conscious effort to distance the party from the Jamaat and position itself as one which has the welfare of all marginalised and backward sections as its main agenda notwithstanding,the dominant theme at the day-long launch function was the plight of the Muslims,with speaker after speaker focusing on the topic.The large presence of Jamaat cadre at the function was another obvious giveaway. The usual grievance of mainstream political parties failing the community and using it as a vote bank and the need for the Muslims to become politically conscious was reiterated by speakers from across the country though S Q R Ilyas,a senior Jamaat leader and one of the brains behind the party,reminded every now and then that the WPI is not a Muslim party.
The inclusion of Father Abraham Joseph,a priest from Kerala,as one of the vice-presidents,seems to have proved beneficial. To give WPI the non-Muslim tinge,he recited the Gayatri Mantra,much to the surprise of the gathering. There is no harm. Nothing has happened here. We are one. We love each other, the priest said. Joseph,the first Catholic priest to enter active politics,said that he has the permission of the Church.
But a section of the Muslim leadership is not impressed. With Mujtaba Farooque and Ilyas,senior Jamaat leaders who are the president and general secretary,respectively of the WPI,they argued it was a Jamaat venture and felt a Muslim party at this juncture would not be in the interests of the community as it could prove to be counter-productive.
The first challenge for the WPI would be the forthcoming Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh. Farooque. addressing a press conference after the launch,said the party would join hands with like-minded political organisations.
Ilyas rejected the notion that WPI was a Jamaat venture and argued that Jamaat has permitted some of its members to join the party.