Jamaat launches party, Christian priest is vice-president

A Christian priest reciting the Gayatri Mantra at the launch of a new political party at the helm of which are top functionaries of the Jamaat-e-Islami-e-Hind. A perfect secular backdrop for the leadership of the Welfare Party of India (WPI), which was launched on Monday, to assert that it was neither a Muslim party nor the political arm of the Jamaat.

Anxious not be seen as a Muslim-exclusive party, the brainchild of the Jamaat which took shape on Monday, over two years after the idea first germinated, has non-Muslims, including a Catholic priest, in its ranks. The leadership of the WPI insisted it was a secular party upholding the principles of justice, freedom and equality and seeking empowerment of the weak, oppressed and marginalised sections.

The conscious effort to distance the party from the Jamaat and position itself as one which has the welfare of all marginalised and backward sections as its main agenda notwithstanding, the dominant theme at the day-long launch function was the plight of the Muslims, with speaker after speaker focusing on the topic.The large presence of Jamaat cadre at the function was another obvious giveaway. The usual grievance of mainstream political parties failing the community and using it as a vote bank and the need for the Muslims to become politically conscious was reiterated by speakers from across the country though S Q R Ilyas, a senior Jamaat leader and one of the brains behind the party, reminded every now and then that the WPI is not a Muslim party.

The inclusion of Father Abraham Joseph, a priest from Kerala, as one of the vice-presidents, seems to have proved beneficial. To give WPI the non-Muslim tinge, he recited the Gayatri Mantra, much to the surprise of the gathering. "There is no harm. Nothing has happened here. We are one. We love each other," the priest said. Joseph, the first Catholic priest to enter active politics, said that he has the permission of the Church.

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