KOLKATA: Taking exception to West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar's "minority appeasement" accusation against Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, the apex body of the state's Imams has requested him to retract his comment.
Bengal Imams Association (BIA) chairman Md Yahya also urged the state and central governments to take steps to thwart efforts by some to "vilify the entire minority community as lockdown violators, which is the farthest from the truth".
In a letter to Banerjee on March 24, in which he had levelled several charges against Banerjee, Dhankhar had said, "Your appeasement of the minority community was so explicit and awkward that as regards a question about the Nizamuddin Markaz incident by a journalist, your reaction was 'Do not ask communal questions'."
Objecting to the comment, the BIA wrote to Raj Bhavan that the Nizamuddin Markaz incident was related to the Delhi police and the Centre.
A large number of novel coronavirus cases reported in the country are linked to a religious congregation organised last month by the Tablighi Jamaat in Delhi's Nizamuddin.
Many foreigners who attended the event were also afflicted by the disease.
"I hope as a governor you know very well who are the authorities who provided VISA for foreigners and gave permission for such program.
You know who allowed lakhs of people to enter in India after knowing the COVID-19 issue worldwide [sic]," Yahiya said in the letter.
Alleging that the Centre and the BJP are trying to communalise the issue by blaming only the Muslim community for the spread of the coronavirus, the BIA letter wondered what was wrong with the chief minister's reply to the journalist.
"By giving that opinion and avoiding such question in her Press Meet how it is appeasement to Muslims of Bengal [sic]," the letter sent to the governor on April 25 read.
A chief minister has the right to freedom of expression, it said.
Stating that they would have gone to Raj Bhavan to register their protest against his statement if there was no lockdown, the Imams' body requested Dhankhar to "clarify or retract (the statement) publicly".
Asserting that Muslims of India in general don't have any links to the Nizamuddin event, the letter said if the Jamaat authority had committed a mistake, the law will take its own course.
"We were hurt by the comments of the honourable governor on the issue involving Muslims.
The association unanimously decided to send the protest letter after knowing the contents of his letter to the CM.
But we don't want to be drawn into any political controversy," Yahya told PTI on Monday.
"Certain videos showing gatherings during Ramzan are shared on WhatsApp which are fake, taken years back.
The administration should take note of this and find out those spreading such hate messages at a time when all communities should stand together to fight COVID-19," he said.
Shafique Qasmi, the Imam of Nakhoda Mosque, one of the most prominent Muslim shrines of Kolkata, said he was not aware of the details of the governor's comments.
"There should not be any division among communities, either during normal times or during emergencies like coronavirus pandemic.
Rather than talking about any single community, we should all educate and caution all members of the public to strictly follow the safety precautions," Qasmi said.