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Congress must come clean on Wakf Board rot

Ravikiran DeshmukhThe recent arrest of Maharashtra Wakf Board CEO N D Pathan by officials from the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) has certainly raised questions over Congress’ so-called genuine love for Muslims. The board is the custodian of over 23,500 properties and owns over 37,000 hectares of land.

Questions are being raised as the grand old party of India has always basked in glory owing to the political support they receive from minority communities — namely the Muslim community. And it is thanks to their ever-growing support that the Congress hasn’t lost an election in Maharashtra, except during the 1995 elections, post the Babri Masjid demolition when the Sena-BJP coalition rode the victory horse.

And in Mumbai, particularly, the party enjoys their support owing to the aggressive pro-Marathi or Hindutva ideology of the Shiv Sena and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena. Due to this, Muslims, who migrate from the North view Congress as their saviour.

The Congress is doing all it can and ensuring that no stone is unturned to expand their support base in Maharashtra with the major thrust being on the PM’s 15-point programme for minorities and the implementation of the Sachar Committee Report. The minority development department has also received substantial financial provision in the form of Rs 1,169 crore from April 2008 till March this year to undertake development and welfare schemes for minorities.

The party has additionally, placed special focus on areas such as Buldana, Washim, Parbhani and Hingoli besides other areas. There is no denying the fact that the welfare of minorities should top the agenda for the state.

However, all of the efforts of the Congress may be in vain as they have failed to answer several questions over controversies of the Wakf Board. The party is yet to deal with the issue of the board offering NOCs of prime properties under them. One such case is that of the land located at Peddar Road, which was given for the construction of Antilia, the palatial mansion of Mukesh Ambani. It still refuses to die down as the Congress-led state government is sitting over a judicial inquiry report submitted in 2011. The land, reserved for an orphanage is worth a few hundred crore and the inquiry report may embarrass Congress as one of its ex-CMs and an MLC who headed the board have played an instrumental role in transferring the land.

Another major controversy was witnessed over a valuable piece of land in the heart of Aurangabad city. A firm, whose director is the younger brother of a former Congress CM, has benefited with the Wakf Board deciding to allow transfer of land to the company. The opposition in form of the BJP tried to raise the issue but it was suspiciously buried.

There is a section within the Congress that wants a thorough probe in the functioning and land deals of the Wakf Board. Dr Anees Ahmed, who served as the minority minister till 2009, submitted a charter of demands to Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan with demands such as why the government was not acting on a letter written in March last year by Salman Khurshid, when he was heading the minority development ministry in the UPA government. The letter has asked additional chief secretary (Home) for a CBI inquiry against the Wakf Board CEO over his style of working and a few decisions.

The silence on part of Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, who is known for transparency and clean governance, speaks a lot. There is enough space to think on it as it could be related to an ongoing campaign by a section of builders and industrialists who have been exerting maximum pressure on AICC to replace him.

— The writer is Political Editor, MiD DAY

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