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Controversial UP Muslim leader to launch India’s first Shia political party today

Shia Waqf Board chief Rizvi says the new political front, ‘Indian Shia Awami League’, is likely to contest 2019 elections. 

Lucknow: Controversial Shia leader Waseem Rizvi is all set to launch the country’s first Shia Muslim political party in Delhi Monday, an attempt to carve a separate political identity for the minority Muslim community ahead of the 2019 general elections.

The idea is to assert Shia identity and differentiate it from the Sunnis, said Rizvi, who is the head of the Uttar Pradesh Shia Waqf Board.

“Traditionally, vote bank politics has only catered to the Sunnis in India, since we are in minority…But when there are riots in the country because of Sunni extremism, we also get targeted due to our Muslim identity,” he told ThePrint ahead of the launch of the ‘Indian Shia Awami League’.

Shia Muslims constitute around 25 per cent of the Muslim population in India, and are known to often vote differently from their Sunni counterparts. During the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, for example, the Shias are known to have thrown their weight behind the BJP.

“The Shia-Sunni conflict is irreconcilable…They (Sunnis) don’t even consider us Muslims, but because of them our identity is under threat,” Rizvi said, adding that the party cadre is already in place across 16-17 states.

“If everything goes well, we will fight the 2019 elections…we have spoken to all Shia leaders across the country,” he added.

BJP a potential ally?

Asked who Rizvi sees as his new party’s natural ally, Rizvi said, “whichever party looks after the interest of the Shia community”.

While the Shias have always shared a cordial relationship with the BJP, in recent times, UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath has increasingly shown keen interest in cultivating the minority group within Muslims.

“Allying with Shias does not harm the BJP’s Hindutva agenda…If any Muslim group rallies behind them, it is only a bonus for them,” Rizvi said.

A controversial leader

However, Rizvi cannot claim to be the undisputed leader of the Shia community. His relations with some of the most influential leaders of the community have been rather bitter.

Maulana Syed Kalbe Jawad Naqvi, who is one of the most influential leaders of Shia Muslims, for instance, had filed an FIR against Rizvi earlier this year. Rizvi was deliberately attempting to “create a rift between the two sects that would enable the government to marginalise the community as a whole,” the senior cleric had said.

However, Rizvi, who remains unfazed by constant criticism from religious clerics within the community, says it is not his intention to ally with religious groups anyway. “Our venture is purely political,” he said.

In recent months, Rizvi, who was earlier known to be close to senior Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan, has frequently stirred controversy by making statements that some see as anti-Muslim.

He has maintained that the Ram temple in Ayodhya, for example, must be constructed on the disputed site, and a mosque be built elsewhere in the city, “away from the religious territory of the Hindus”.

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