Wary of politics, maulana wants to focus on education, strengthening nation
Ajay Singh | November 3, 2012
Maulana Ghulam Mohammad Vastanvi, former mohtamim or head of the prestigious Islamic seminary of Deoband, is the second most sought-after person in the Gujarat election after chief minister Narendra Modi. His actions are carefully watched and words scrutinised to give interpretations that suit political players.
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While the maulana is quite wary of his new found importance, he is not unnecessarily perturbed. In one of his latest utterances at a meeting of the Congress's minority cell in Surat, Vastanvi clarified that he never exonerated Modi for alleged inaction during the 2002 riots. The maulana cited scriptures to reaffirm his point that even Islam does not allow exoneration of a zalim (tyrant). Little did the maulana realise that his words would trigger a fresh controversy. The BJP took the matter to the election commission (EC) on charge of using religion and inciting crowds, but the EC case against the maulana was summarily dismissed.
Sitting in his office of the Jamia Institute of Education at Akkalkuwa in Maharashtra, on the Gujarat border, the amiable mauala seemed to have had the last laugh. "I am amused by the fact that each time I speak either the BJP or the Congress rushes to interpret my words to their advantage. Last time I spoke on Gujarat in my capacity as head of Deoband dar-ul-uloom, the BJP was elated. Now it is the turn of the Congress," Vastanvi, who hails from Vastan village near Surat, tells Governance Now.
"I am least interested in politics, and I am not going to campaign for any party in Gujarat. I am totally engrossed in my mission of constructing a society that can strengthen the nation," Vastanvi. There is little doubt that the chain of educational institutes he has built is a silent testimony to his perseverance, dedication and commitment.
The maulana's journey as a social reformer and educationist began in 1979 when he settled in Akkalkuwa after noticing the lack of education and stark poverty among Muslims here. "It was perhaps God-ordained that I got settled here and started a madrasa in a hut to impart dini taalim (religious education) to children.”
After nearly a decade of teaching, the maulana started mobilising resources to build an industrial training institute. "So far we have trained over 20,000 youth and most of them are gainfully employed in different parts of the country." Akkalkuwa has become an educational hub for local students and the chain of institutes run by the maulana offers a variety of courses ranging from unani medicine and pharmacy to engineering, management and modern medicine.
The manner in which Maulana Vastanvi has segregated religious education from professional courses is reflective of his ingenuity and pragmatic approach to life. "I have kept the two in separate compartments. Religious teaching has nothing to do with the professional courses," he reemphasises in order to prove that education at his institutes is governed by liberal values.
The 60-acre campus of Jamia Institutes of Education houses over 12,500 students, including 3,500 for professional courses. And nearly 9,000 students receiving religious education are provided accommodation on the campus. They are also imparted training in various skills to enhance their employability. "Most of our students are either self-employed or gainfully employed," the maulana says.
Vastanvi’s work has revolutionised the area's economy. Along with the literacy rate, per capita income has also gone up phenomenally.
Recalling his association with the place, he says the entire township looked godforsaken only two decades ago. It now has more than 300 private vehicles owned by locals. "Our institute spends Rs 30 lakh a month on salaries for the faculty and staff," he says. Though the institute, affiliated with Jalagaon University, has a minority status, the maulana has given specific instructions to welcome students from other religions as well. "There are a lot of Hindu students, particularly girls, in our institutes," he says, dismissing any notion of religious exclusivity of the institutes. "Can we build a country by entertaining such parochial notions?” he asks.
By all accounts, the maulana's is a success story in Gujarat and parts of Maharashtra. But he could barely last in the prestigious Deoband dar-ul-uloom. Asked why his stint as mohatmim at Deoband was unsuccessful, the maulana points out that his liberal and pragmatic approach to education for Muslims was perceived as inimical to the interests of those firmly ensconced in the politics of the Islamic seminary. "The fear was unfounded as I would not have changed the curriculum of religious education," he says.
Asked whether he still maintains the view that issues relating to Muslims in Gujarat and Maharashtra are distinctly different from those relating to Muslims in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, Vastani replies in affirmative. " Muslims in Hindi heartland are much more politicised than in Gujarat and Maharashtra, where economics and trade take precedence over politics," he explains.
He also clarifies that his statement on the riots was twisted out of context. "I have never exonerated Modi. I am no one to do so," he says, adding that he had merely emphasised that the issues pertaining to Muslims should not always be seen from the prism of 2002. "There are many other issues which need immediate attention while courts are dealing with the riot cases," he adds.
Referring to the troubled times after the controversy over his remarks, Vastanvi says though he tried to explain his position to the Shura, the executive body of the dar-ul-uloom, some of those entrenched in local politics wanted him out. "I did not want to exacerbate the situation and left quietly to continue my work in education and health for the community," he says, adding that he still stands by what he had said.
As for his praise apparently for development in Gujarat, the maulana clarifies that he referred only to the overall development in Gujarat for which society, the centre and the state government too had contributed. "It should be seen as a comment on the overall development and not appreciation of Modi," he says.
According to him, development certainly benefits all sections of society. "What I stated were bare facts known to all but it was deliberately twisted to interpret in a different manner."
Obviously the maulana now knows too well how his words are being scrutinised. Never mind the scrutiny, he has made it clear that he is not interested in politics as he has got more important things to do. And given the respect he commands in Akkalkuwa thanks to his work here, the maulana seems perfectly justified in his assertion.
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