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He holds an MBA degree and his contributions to society fetched him the Maharashtra government's Maulana Abul Kalaam Azad Award a couple of years ago. He has two dedicated fan club IDs on Facebook and his election as rector of Darul Uloom Deoband (DuD) on January 10, 2011 promised a new identity for Asia's top Islamic seminary, a place which has generated its fair share of controversy over the years. This time around, though, it may have gone beyond the imagination of both Maulana Mohammed Ghulam Vastanvi and his supporters.
Barely 12 hours after officially taking over charge of DuD as vice-chancellor, Vastanvi offered to resign from the post, on Tuesday night, following fierce criticism and personal attacks from sections of the community for his alleged statements backing Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi. He is supposed to have asked Muslims to move on beyond the 2002 riots, saying there is "no discrimination in Gujarat against minorities".
Clarifying that his quotes were misinterpreted in the Urdu media, the man who was hailed till now as a possible messiah for the DuD told TOI-Crest, "I cannot sit here at the cost of unrest and turmoil within the campus. I was supposed to improve things and not make them worse for anyone, be it the students, teachers or management of DuD. " But he soon followed it up by maintaining that things had calmed down completely and all governing council members have told him there is no reason to resign. These contradictory statements are perhaps an indicator of the rapidly evolving nature of the story, one in which he is the main protagonist.
Born and brought up in the tribal-dominated and economically deprived backward areas of Gujarat, Vastanvi chose to work in backward areas of Maharashtra. He then taught in Kantharia for nearly a decade before he floated the Jamia Islamia Ishaatul Uloom at Akkalkuwa in Nandurbar district of Maharashtra, which offers various courses in engineering, medicine, pharmacy and education apart from a host of both short and regular term vocational courses.
He has earned the reputation of being a facilitator, of being able to mobilise funds, thanks to his links with influential donors. Vastanvi's Gujarati roots and his apparent influence over his fellow Gujarati businessmen in countries like South Africa and the United Kingdom is well recognised within the community.
There's no denying that Vastanvi has a solid support base among teachers in Deoband and among students even though the latter have had very little direct contact with him so far. Teachers, like pro vice-chancellor Maulana Abdul Khaliq Madrasi, are clear that Vastanvi is no messiah of change. But they acknowledge that it is economics that is driving Darul Uloom Deoband's love for the man. "He has the ability to ensure a better quality of life for the students. He knows people who can ensure a steady flow of funds for the seminary, " says Maulana Madrasi.
But it is this very resourcefulness that seems to have won him detractors in equal measure as well. As a very senior Delhi-based cleric says, "There are influential people associated with the several hundred madarsas that he runs. They favour him. Others, particularly some of the Jamiat Ulamai Hind factions, hate him because their donations also come from the same sources. "
His alleged proximity to Narendra Modi's dispensation has riled many in the community. "He may have had his own views about the Modi government, but had he kept them to himself the lobby opposing him would not have got easy ammunition. The fire was simmering, the comments just added fuel to it, " says a source in the know of things.
Vastanvi, too, is aware that his purported comments on "Modi's Gujarat" are not big enough to cause someone of the stature of rector, DuD, to put in his papers. "All this has nothing at all to do with Modi or Gujarat. It is not an issue in the first place, " Vastanvi emphasises. Then what actually is? "My guess is as wild as yours, " he says.
An executive committee member of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, Vastanvi says he has clarified more than thrice that he did not say what he was quoted as saying in the newspapers. But despite that he went ahead and gave an unconditional apology to anyone who felt he should not have addressed the issue at all, or done so differently.
"Had it only been the Modi element, the situation should have been resolved after my apology, " Vastanvi claims.
So what exactly is it all about? "That's what I am keen to find out. But haven't, at least till now, " the maulana says. Some hostel inmates at DuD point out that signs of opposition to Vastanvi were apparent within barely an hour after the election results were declared. "A section of people here were apparently waiting to hit hard at him. And they eventually did, " says one of them on condition of anonymity. Meanwhile, the man in the eye of the storm has returned to Gujarat, emphasising that he has not resigned and is awaiting the February 23 meeting of the Majlis-e-Soora, the governing council of DuD, where he will present his case. This curious case is set to get curiouser still.
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