How the Madanis used Delhi's Urdu press to oust Vastanvi

Maulana Vastanvi's ouster as Darul Uloom V-C was preceded by a slander campaign against him launched by some Delhi-based Urdu newspapers, whose loyalties had obviously been bought by the Madanis of Deoband.

Firoz Ahmad Bakht July 27, 2011 18:22:32 IST
How the Madanis used Delhi's Urdu press to oust Vastanvi

It’s sad and lamentable that a progressive MBA, Maulana Ghulam Mohammed Vastanvi, became the unfortunate victim of a conspiracy by the Shoora Council of Darul Uloom Deoband. The seminary has lost a liberal cleric who wanted to reform madrasa education in India.

His ouster last Saturday was preceded by a slander campaign against him launched by some Delhi-based Urdu newspapers, whose loyalties had obviously been bought by the Madani team of Mehmood and Arshad. The Madanis were always big players at Deoband.

Shocked by Vastanvi’s election as mohtamin (caretaker, or Vice-Chancellor) at Deoband last January, a vicious campaign was unleashed to malign Vastanvi beyond redemption, unseat him and put the Madanis’ own pliant agent in his place. Vastanvi, who couldn’t stand this onslaught, was victimised.

Maulana Vastanvi’s fate as mohtamim of Deoband was put to a vote in the Shoora after he refused to resign and insisted that the three-member probe committee report submitted to the governing body was incomplete as it did not mention the politically-manoeuvred student unrest on the Darul Uloom campus.

The conservative Madanis, who until recently were sworn enemies running a smear campaign against each other, entered a marriage of convenience to oust the liberal Maulana Vastanvi. Another fact that went against Vastanvi was his Gujarati origin. He was an outsider in an institution which was always headed by a north Indian Muslim, mostly from Uttar Pradesh or Bihar.

The viciousness with which the Delhi Urdu newspapers attacked Vastanvi is unprecedented. They heaped on him all manner of abuse and insults, concocted fake allegations and even branded him an RSS stooge, a Zionist and a Hindu agent at different points during their continued onslaught — just for some paltry amount of gold.

Sadly, Vastanvi was unable to counter this massive wave of paid propaganda unleashed against him. He was simply too busy trying to clarify to his irate fellow Deobandis that he had been misquoted by The Times of India as having praised Narendra Modi, and that he was not guilty of the sin of idolatry that his critics had accused him of. Sadly, none of the Muslim leaders came out against this kind of sordid nexus against Vastanvi.

Only a few Urdu papers were to some extent balanced in their treatment of the anti-Vastanvi controversy. One of these, the Delhi-based Hindustan Express, took a bold stand in his defence, and argued against those papers that indulged in yellow journalism.

Vastanvi is perceived as a pioneer who has taken the right strides to modernise madrasa education in India. This made the Madanis of Deoband insecure. Steeped in conservatism as they are, they feel that the Maulana’s liberalism will undermine their importance in the Islamic and secular worlds.

How the Madanis used Delhis Urdu press to oust Vastanvi

Vastanvi had raised the hackles of conservatives by praising Narendra Modi. PTI

The Darul Uloom is not just a madrasa. It receives donations from all over the world. But while it receives staggering amounts of money, the seminary is still run on a shoe-string budget. It’s preference for a Pakistani import, cleric Fazlur Rehman, earlier this year seemed a little out of place considering there’s no dearth of learned clerics in India.

Vastanvi has, single-handedly, created 65 centres of learning where boys and girls are studying in both English and Urdu, which includes the religious syllabus of Dars-e-Nizami. Now, he is opening a Rs 100 crore medical college in Jalna, Maharashtra.

In my view, Vastanvi is different from the other custodians (previous and present) of Deoband’s post because he is certainly less doctrinaire and backward thinking. He is socially-engaged and enlightened, and his presence might have worked wonders to bring in badly-needed reforms in the world’s most influential madrasa which also happens to be conservative.

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The three-member probe panel which looked into the charges against Vastanvi submitted its report to the Shoora on Saturday. Constituted at the Shoora’s emergency meeting on 23 February 2011, it was formed at Maulana Vastanvi’s specific insistence. But in the end, the committee failed him. According to Vastanvi, it was dishonest on the part of the committee to only present the “evidence”, and leaving it to the governing council to decide his fate.

Matters heated up when the Shoora members demanded his resignation but Maulana Vastanvi insisted that the probe panel report was incomplete in the sense that it was silent on the forces behind the incidents of violence on Deoband’s campus. It was then that the matter was put to the vote and the Maulana was voted out from the post.

It was a closed system. And the committee cheated Vastanvi.

What exactly do the Madanis have against Maulana Vastanvi? To begin with, the ousted Deoband Vice-Chancellor happens to be the first non-“super caste” cleric to be elected to the office in the history of Deoband. Though un-Islamic and unfortunate, the caste factor still influences the judgments of the Muslim community of India.

Maulana Vastanvi is neither a Syed nor a Sheikh and comes from the Gujarati Sunni Bohra community. He is the first non-north Indian Vice-Chancellor since Darul Uloom was founded. What also worked against him is the fact that he is not a Qasmi, a graduate of Darul Uloom, Deoband, but that of Madrasa Mazahir-e-Uloom, Saharanpur.

All of his predecessors at Deoband had invariably been Syeds or Sheikhs. When some students from the seminary were contacted, they asserted that Maulana Vastanvi should continue simply because he was a man committed to educational reforms.

Most students, when contacted, were confident that Maulana Vastanvi would be able to revamp the uninspiring syllabus, making it more meaningful and useful for the pupils, something the Madanis had never even thought of doing. With incidents of firing and violence being reported in the run-up to the Shoora Council meeting, the entire community remains perturbed.

Shakil Khan of the New Age Islam Blog says that this only exposes “the moral and intellectual bankruptcy” of Vastanvi’s critics and that the Madanis thrive on political machinations, intrigue and a culture of malice and factionalism, no matter what damage it does to the common Muslim.

How the Madanis used Delhis Urdu press to oust Vastanvi

The viciousness with which the Delhi Urdu newspapers attacked Vastanvi is unprecedented. Screengrab/

But one could take heart from the fact that most clerics, tired of decades of defalcation at Deoband and the domineering Madanis, have welcomed the whiff of fresh air in the form of Maulana Vastanvi.

Mufti Abdullah Patel Mazahiri, a senior Deobandi scholar from Gujarat who heads the influential Jamia Mazhir-ul-Sa’adat in Hansot, said Maulana Vastanvi’s election as head of the Deoband madrasa had been welcomed by a vast number of well-wishers of the Darul Uloom.

And what is shameful is that all of it was done in violation of the tenets of Islam which identifies lies, slander and hatred as cardinal sins.

The Madanis seem totally unaware that their campaign against the Maulana is giving a bad name to Islam, Muslims and the globally-venerated Darul Uloom. May God sanitise these clerics! Amen!

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