The appointment of 36-year-old Kausar Jahan as the head of Delhi’s Haj Committee, an important post traditionally held mostly by men, has triggered a heated debate in the capital and beyond.
Kausar Jahan is only the second woman to hold the position—Tajdar Babar, the late Congress stalwart, was the first. As the panel head, Kausar Jahan will oversee the arrangements for the annual Haj pilgrimage in coordination with the Haj Committee of India.
Not surprisingly, the BJP has termed Kausar Jahan’s appointment a “big step forward towards encouraging women’s empowerment in the Muslim community”. In recent years, the BJP has attempted to woo sections of the community, such as the Pasmanda Muslims, who comprise the depressed classes among the Muslims. And in Uttar Pradesh, the BJP’s minority wing recently distributed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Mann ki Baat speeches in Urdu, in an apparent attempt to win over the Muslims ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha election.
Saurabh Bhardwaj, the AAP’s three-time MLA from Greater Kailash in Delhi, said: “Some sections of the media are projecting this as a jolt to the AAP. It is a very small election involving only six people, which is being shown as a big win for the BJP. And the BJP has used the Lieutenant Governor (LG) to cheat at the elections.”
The AAP has accused Delhi LG V.K. Saxena of not following the law and appointing members of his own choice to the Delhi Haj Committee without consulting the Delhi government.
Atishi, Kalkaji MLA and Minister in the Delhi government, said: “The Supreme Court has made it clear several times that the LG does not have independent decision-making powers except on matters related to land, law and order, and the police, which come under the Centre. The LG is bound by the aid and advice of the council of Ministers in Delhi. But he is acting as if he is a BJP worker or spokesperson.”
The AAP also alleged that there was an “unholy alliance” between the Congress and the BJP. An AAP leader claimed that the Congress aided Kausar Jahan’s victory since party MCD councillor and panel member Naziya Danish missed the meeting in which Kausar was elected, avoiding a tie. A six-member panel, comprising two MLAs, one MP, one councillor, and two nominees votes to elect the committee head every three years.
On her part, Kausar Jahan said that the AAP must stop playing politics over her appointment. Wearing a saffron shawl and speaking in fast-paced Urdu, Kausar Jahan told Frontline that the BJP was interested in promoting Muslim women to top positions. “I am an example,” she said. A regular at the city’s cultural events, Kausar heads charity groups championing women’s issues. For over a decade she has been associated with a Delhi-based NGO named Sampurna, which focuses on welfare-related work, and is run by BJP MLA Vijender Gupta’s wife Shobha Vijender.
But Hilal Ahmed, Associate Professor at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), said: “This move stems from what I call the BJP’s imagination of the ‘right kind of Muslims’. According to this line of reasoning, the presence of Muslims in other parties symbolises a politics of appeasement.”
However, Ahmed added, the BJP’s Muslims are considered different. It simply means that the BJP’s ‘right kind of Muslims’ have to abide by the given programme of political correctness. “It is expected from these Muslims to contribute to the Hindutva thesis that Islam has to be Indianised for real empowerment of Muslims,” he said.
Ali Mehedi, vice-president of the Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee (DPCC), said that Kausar nJahan’s appointment had nothing to do with women’s empowerment. “It is a pure gimmick, a sheer tactic to fool Muslims,” he added.
Mehedi also said that Muslims have time and again rejected the BJP’s communal politics and will do so again in 2024. He added: “Will Kausar Jahan stand up for the Muslim community? Will she question her party leaders including Kapil Mishra or Anurag Thakur who give anti-Muslim speeches?”