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Top Indian cleric warns Muslims off Anna Hazare

August 22, 2011

Indian rights activist Anna Hazare gestures to supporters from the back of a police van after he was detained prior to beginning a hunger strike in New Delhi, August 16, 2011. — AP Photo

NEW DELHI: One of India's top Islamic clerics cautioned Muslims on Monday against joining an anti-graft drive that has galvanised the nation, saying its leader Anna Hazare lacked secular credentials.

“I have advised all Muslims to stay far away from Anna Hazare, because he has done nothing for Muslims,” Syed Ahmed Bukhari, the imam of Delhi's Jama Masjid mosque told AFP.

“Today he is fasting against corruption, but in all these years he has never even fasted half a day when communal riots occurred in the states of Gujarat and Maharashtra, killing so many people,” he said.

Hazare, 74, is on the seventh day of a fast to pressure the government into accepting an anti-graft bill drafted by him and his associates, which he claims will tackle corruption effectively.

Bukhari took a swipe at the activist for calling himself a devotee of independence leader Mahatma Gandhi, who used hunger strikes to great effect while fighting against British rule.

“Hazare is not a secular man. Gandhi united Hindus and Muslims, he took the whole country with him in the freedom struggle,” he said.

He particularly criticised Hazare for publicly praising Gujarat state chief minister Narendra Modi, who is a divisive figure in India after communal riots in the state nine years ago left some 2,000 people dead, mostly Muslims.

Bukhari also objected to the campaign's use of the slogan “Vande Mataram”(Hail to the Motherland) to rally its supporters, saying it was blasphemous for Muslims.

Vande Mataram was a popular hymn invoked during India's independence struggle, but remains controversial among religious minorities due to certain verses that liken India to the Hindu goddess Durga.

Tens of thousands have gathered every day to watch Hazare fast in Delhi's Ramlila grounds, an open-air venue where the veteran activist is enacting his hunger strike.

He has been given official permission to fast there until September 2.