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Sonia to address Islamic scholars at Oxford

New Delhi: Congress Party president and leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha, Sonia Gandhi, will address Islamic scholars and researchers at the ‘Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies’. She has accepted the centre's invitation to deliver a lecture on "Conflict and Peaceful Co-existence in our Age" at Oxford on November 29. Sonia is leaving for London on November 28 alongwith K. Natwar Singh.

Talking to MG, Congress spokesperson Jaipal Reddy confirmed Sonia visit to London. "She has finalised her visit and will be leaving for London in the midnight of 27-28 November" Reddy said.

The Oxford Islamic centre is headed by Farhan Nizami, an Indian scholar who is son of renowned historian Khaliq Ahmad Nizami of Aligarh Muslim University. The centre has a chair named after late Maulana Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi, former rector of Nadwatul Ulama, a theological school in Lucknow. 

The Oxford Islamic Centre has been holding inter-faith dialogue as well as organising seminars and publishing books. In the academic world, a degree of prestige is attached to those who are invited to give a lecture at the centre. Sources close to Sonia said she did not want to miss the opportunity. In the past Nelson Mandela, Prince Charles, Kofi Annan, Malasiyan prime minister Mahathir Mohammad and others have delivered lectures at the centre.

It is learnt that Sonia visit to Oxford Islamic Centre was finalised after a lot of arguments within the Congress coterie. Some of her close advisers were sharply divided over whether she should accept the invitation. Natwar Singh and Salman Khurshid were in favour of the AIIC chief's visit to the Centre. However, a section of Congressmen felt that her visit to the Islamic Centre could be used as an election issue by the BJP and VHP.

Narendra Modi and Parveen Togadia have been concentrating their firepower on Sonia at public meetings, alleging a "Christian conspiracy" between Congress president and chief election commissioner JM Lyngdoh. Last week, Sonia abruptly called off her annual Iftar party. While she cited riots and drought in many parts of the country as 'reasons', several Congressmen are convinced that the cancellation is linked to the Gujarat polls. They say that the two professed reasons did not prevent her from setting November 21 as the date for the Iftar and sending out invitations. But she called off once prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee announced that he would not be holding the customary Iftar party this year.

It is to be seen how Sonia visit to the Oxford Islamic Centre is exploited in the election campaign of Gujarat by both the Congress and the BJP.

¯ Andalib Akhter

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