A sting operation conducted by Times Now has revealed that controversial Muslim cleric Shahi Imam Maulana Noor-ur-Rehman Barkati making claims that he can get Muslim votes for the BJP in West Bengal, provided the BJP pays him. The clips, aired earlier in August, show Imam Barkati saying that he could mobilise Muslims behind the BJP if he gets money. A video can be seen here:
Barkati said in the video that would take out a rally if the BJP paid. "I am openly saying it," he said, adding that Muslims would rally behind the BJP. Barkati claimed that four to five lakh people would attend, and that he could convert these into votes as well, saying, "the government will shake". In one instance, Barkati questioned, "Paisa toh nahi rahega toh politics kaise hoga?" (How can politics be done without money?). When asked about the fatwa he issued against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Barkati claimed that this was done at the behest of some TMC leaders.
Times Now has chosen to highlight Imam Barkati, who, in May 2017, was removed as shahi imam of the 165-year-old Tipu Sultan mosque in Kolkata. The mosque’s trustees chose to sack Barkati, who was reportedly closely associated with Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, for "objectionable inflammatory remarks against the country". This came after Barkati threatened to mount "jihad if one tries to make the country a Hindu Rashtra". He had also reportedly previously refused to adhere to the Centre’s directive that barred using a red beacon for non-emergency vehicles. Barkati has a history of making controversial remarks, and has also previously issued fatwas against writers Salman Rushdie, Taslima Nasreen, and Tarek Fateh.
Another name that comes up in the video is that of Shahi Imam Bukhari of Delhi’s Jama Masjid, who Barkati claimed has accepted money in exchange for political influence. The question that remains is why Times Now, which has previously actively aired anti-minority programming and content, choosing to hold up such figures as representatives of the Muslim community.