Maulana Nurur Rehman Barkati, Shahi Imam of Kolkata’s Tipu Sultan Masjid—also known as the lal-batti imam for driving around in a car with a red beacon—was finally forced to remove the beacon by his own flock on Saturday. “I am a religious leader and I have been using the red beacon for decades.
I do not follow the orders of the Centre ... In Bengal, only the orders of the state government are effective. I will use the red beacon,” Barkati had declared days earlier in response to the Centre’s directive banning beacons from all cars bar emergency vehicles.
This is the same man who had once told the Hindustan Times in an interview that “you must understand we ruled Hindustan for 1,000 years. But we never made Hindus slaves here, like the British did.” This is the man who played a key role in hounding Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen out of India, offering `50,000 to anyone who blackened her face.
This is the man that led a special Friday prayer for the ‘peace of the soul’ of al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden after the latter was killed by US Special Forces. More than 5,000 people attended the prayer. And in January this year, he issued a ‘fatwa’ against PM Narendra Modi, offering a reward of `25 lakh to whoever could “cut off Modi’s beard, shave his head and smear him with black ink”.
Days later, he also affirmed that “boys get excited on seeing girls in short dresses.” And he threatened Pakistan-born Canadian author Tarek Fatah on a TV show, saying “Your throat will be slit”.
Following his refusal to remove the beacon, his own community, including prominent Muslim bodies, turned against him. But it was only after a quiet word from his ‘Rakhi Sister’ and CM Mamata Banerjee —who exploits his ability to deliver entire Muslim-dominated districts to her Trinamool Congress—which led to him finally remove the beacon. But the question remains: Who allowed a cleric to use a red beacon for decades in the first place?