On July 12, an article appeared in the Urdu daily Inquilab, according to which Congress President Rahul Gandhi had said that the Congress party is a political party of the Muslim community. The daily quoted Gandhi as saying, “Yes, Congress is a Muslim party.” A screenshot of the article is posted below, an excerpt of which reads, “If BJP says that Congress is a party of Muslims, it is fine. Congress is a party of Muslims because Muslims are weak and Congress always stands with the weak (translated).” According to the report, Gandhi had said these words at a closed-door meeting with members of the Muslim community.
This report made its way to mainstream media in no time. Hindi news channel Zee Hindustan in its broadcast on the evening of July 12 reported that the Congress President had said these words. The basis for the report was the article by Inquilab which first made this claim.
एक उर्दू अखबार इंकलाब में छपी खबर के मुताबिक Indian National Congress अध्यक्ष Rahul Gandhi ने कहा, 'कांग्रेस मुस्लिमों की पार्टी है, क्योंकि देश का मुस्लिम तबका कमज़ोर है और कांग्रेस हमेशा कमज़ोरों के साथ रही है, 2019 में किसी भी कीमत पर बीजेपी को सत्ता में नहीं आने का प्रण लीजिए.'Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)
Posted by Zee Hindustan on Thursday, 12 July 2018
The issue expectedly escalated and reached a crescendo. The BJP was quick to latch on to this news report and lashed out at the Congress President on July 13, with defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman leading the charge.
— BJP (@BJP4India) July 13, 2018
A day later, Prime Minister Narendra Modi referred to the same in his address at a rally in Azamgarh, UP.
'Is Congress party, a party for Muslim men only, or is it for Muslim women too?', says PM Modi pic.twitter.com/CRv41UuJT7
— TIMES NOW (@TimesNow) July 14, 2018
Senior journalist Shahid Siddiqui took to Twitter to raise doubts over the report and its authenticity.
Urdu daily Inqalab has quoted Rahul Gandhi saying “Yes Congress is a Muslim party”. Is the quote correct or party will contradict it?
Muslims don’t want a Muslim party, they want a National Secular party, which doesn’t discriminate between citizens. @RahulGandhi @INCIndia pic.twitter.com/ZBwJ8qGcou
— shahid siddiqui (@shahid_siddiqui) July 12, 2018
Meanwhile, Congress party leaders were quick to rubbish the report. Congress leader Priyanka Chaturvedi tweeted on July 13, calling it “absolute lies and shameful reporting by the newspaper”.
This is absolute lies&shameful spin by the newspaper. The BJP using it to further its own agenda, yet again, exposes their desperate tactics to mislead the nation. However this will not deter us to fight for India's founding principles& its democratic values. https://t.co/EN15vL7oNa
— Priyanka Chaturvedi (@priyankac19) July 12, 2018
Interestingly, historian S Irfan Habib tweeted on July 13 that he was present at this meeting which has been reported about and that no such issue had come up during the course of the meeting.
Taken a back to hear that Rahul Gandhi is being accused of calling the Congress a Muslim party in a meeting where I was present. It seems to have malicious intent, no such issue came up at all.
— S lrfan Habib (@irfhabib) July 13, 2018
Alt News spoke to Fuzail Ahmed Ayyubi who is advocate-on-record at the Supreme Court and was present at this meeting. According to him, no such statement was made. “It is surprising that without any substantiation, this misleading news has been used to criticize the Congress Party by the highest functionaries of the present regime. The fact of the matter is that when an issue was raised before Congress President Shri Rahul Gandhi that how important Muslims are with regard to the policies/scheme of things of Congress Party. In reply to this Congress President Shri Rahul Gandhi said that Muslims are as important to the Congress Party as other religions/sections of the society are and the Congress Party belongs to the Muslims as it belongs to every other Indian, nothing more, nothing less,” he said.
Another person who was present at the meeting, Ghazala Jamil who is a faculty at the Centre for the study of law and governance, JNU told Alt News, “At the meeting, Mr Gandhi clearly said that he saw Muslims as equal citizens–no more and no less. On Congress party, while acknowledging that it has made many mistakes, he asserted that it has traditionally been the glue that bound Indian communities and sections together. He assured those present that his party is keen to continue to play this role via accommodating concerns of all sections of Indian society. The attendees at the meeting appreciated this position and encouraged him to strongly uphold the values of justice and equality above everything else.”
Farah Naqvi, writer and activist who was also present at this meeting too refuted the claim about Rahul Gandhi’s reported statement, in a conversation with Alt News.
While the Congress party has denied that Rahul Gandhi had made the reported statement and some participants who were present at the meeting have refuted the claim, the issue has already become a controversy with BJP leaders including PM Modi making claims based on what happened in a closed-door meeting.