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INTERVIEW: Maulana Ahmad Bukhari
Give peace a chance

Maulana Ahmad BukhariJust a month ago Maulana Ahmad Bukhari took over as the Shahi Imam of the Jama Masjid Delhi from his ailing father Imam Abdullah Bukhari who had served as the imam of Jama Masjid for 27 long years. And over all these years Ahmad Bukhari assisted him as the Naib (deputy) Shahi Imam. He took over the responsibility with a bang and surprised all by making several bold announcements that could be of great significance for Muslims in the days to come. His announcement of launching a political party has made a number of political leaders sleepless. People in the Muslim community are waiting for quite long for an effective leader to capture the horizon and people’s imagination. They firmly believe that miseries of Muslims are caused solely by the lack of an effective Muslim leader who could voice their grievances in different forums, take up their issues effectively and guide them. They have started looking at Ahmad as one who could fit in their long-held vision of a leader. He is also in news these days for his role in the recent cease-fire in J&K made by the Indian government during the holy month of Ramadan. SU Rahman of The Milli Gazette talked to him on all these issues. Excerpts :
What is your role in the recent cease-fire offer in the J&K made by the Indian government?
I have observed for long that the problems of the people of Jammu and Kashmir remain unattended. There is no one to stand up against the worst exploitation they are subjected to. Everyone claims to care for J&K but no one gives a thought to the people of Kashmir, particularly Muslims. I spoke on these issues in the Friday sermon after taking over as the Shahi Imam of the Jama Masjid. Mirwaiz Maulwi Umar Farooq contacted me and we had long sessions on problems faced by the J&K people.
A thought in the meantime came to my mind. Ramadan is approaching and how good it will be if the people of the state are given respite from the long spell of violence that has stretched for more than a decade. I wanted the Kashmiri Muslims to spend this month in complete peace. I broadened my efforts and talked to different groups in Kashmir including those who are waging armed struggle. I talked to Hizbul Mujahideen chief Syed Salahuddin. We talked in several sessions. And he agreed on a number of points. I want to make one thing clear here: all Kashmiri people want peace at any cost. I told Syed Salahuddin that I am not a political person and I don't know its intricacies. I told him that the return of permanent peace is possible only when the people are given some time to live in peace. In the meantime Syed Ali Shah Geelani came to me and we talked. I tried to tell him that peace should be given a chance, even if it is for a month. But he said that under these circumstances it is not possible. He talked to the Hizb supremo. When I tried to talk to Syed Salahuddin later, his tone had changed. I believe he was talking now under the influence of someone. When I tried to remind him that we had agreed on certain points, he tried to avoid them. He insisted that his outfit was the first to make an announcement for cease-fire and now the Government of India should take the initiative. Kashmiris in recent days have made several complaints against the government. And most of their complaints were genuine.

What is the nature of these complaints?
Their complaints were mainly against government and atrocities committed by the government agencies. And these complaints are genuine. The official atrocities have crossed all limits.

When did the government enter this scenario?
I was not talking to the government all these days. I thought that first I should talk to the separatist leaders, then I wanted to talk to Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan CEO, and only then to the Government of India. But Hizb spokesman in Islamabad in a press conference disclosed that we are talking of all these issues. Then all government machinery came into action. The government made great haste and announced the ceasefire.

It means that there was no contact between you and the Government of India on such an important matter?
No. there was none. Once an official came to me but I told him that the government should talk to me formally, but they were not forthcoming. 

Is the cease-fire offer made by the government going to be of any use?
The Government acted in great haste in announcing it. Without the inclusion of the three parties, viz. Pakistan, Kashmiri leaders and India, there is not going to be any permanent solution. I wanted to talk to Parvez Musharraf and I wanted an assurance about the ISI in the state. 

Where your efforts go from here?
I am still trying in this direction. I believe that the people of the state should be given a chance to see what peace looks like. The new generation has been born and brought up in an environment where they saw only violence. They should now be given a chance to see peace also. Then we should give them an opportunity to decide what they really want. After contacting leaders in Kashmir and Kashmiri people themselves I have come to this conclusion.

You had announced that you will launch your own political party. What about this announcement?
Muslims have been exploited for last fifty years by all parties. Be it secular Janata Dal, Congress or BJP, everyone has done it. They have all exploited us fully. Now it should come to an end. We have been talking on this issue. We are also holding a meeting on this issue after Id. Muslims in a number of constituencies have the strength to win elections on their own. Their own party can at least contest from seats where they are in substantial numbers. 
People say that if Muslims launch their party it will be tantamount to strengthening the BJP. But I say that BJP has already reached its zenith after forming government at the centre. And the so-called secular parties are responsible for its march to power. A number of political parties have contacted me, but I have told them that as long as they have any truck with the BJP I will not be able to even talk to them.
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