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Zafar Sareshwala: Muslim well-wisher or a self-serving businessman?

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By M. Ghazali Khan

London: It was the fourth anniversary of Babri Mosque demolition. The Indian Muslim Federation (IMF) had organised a remembrance meeting in London. The organisers were contacted by Maulana Isa Mansuri, a London-based Muslim scholar, with a request to invite a gentlemen, Zafar Sareshwala, who was introduced by the Maulana as “a young Indian Muslim businessman from Bombay with keen interest in Muslim affairs.”

No one among the organizers had known or heard of this gentleman before. Yet complying with Maulana’s request, Sareshwala was contacted on phone. Instead of appreciating and encouraging the organizers and thanking them for the invitation, he responded, “Ham to Babri Masjid ko bhool chuke. Aap log bhee bhooljaiN. Ham ne iss silslay meiN Maulana Ali MiaN se bhi baat kee hai aur woh bhee ham se muttafiq haiN” (We have forgotten the Babri Mosque. You too should forget it. We have discussed the issue with Maulana Ali Mian and he agrees with us on this).

However, Mr Sareshwala did attend and address the meeting but, judging the mood of the audience, he did not ask them to forget the Babri Mosque.

Although an old Tableeghi activist and quite religious in his personal life, Sareshwala does not hesitate in using any opportunity to his gain. After the death of Maulana Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi on 31 December 1999 he organised a condolence meeting in Dewsbury, a town in West Yorkshire with a large number of Muslims and a Tableeghi Centre. He invited leading scholars from India and Pakistan including MaulanaTaqi Usmani to attend this meeting. A friend, a successful businessman, who had attended this conference, later said that the main purpose of the conference looked like a personal PR exercise.

Only few months later, this condolence meeting was followed by a massive publicity of Zafar Sareshwala’s Parsoli Corporation along with publication of fatwas and testimonials of leading ulama on this investment venture which within years fell into disrepute and earned notoriety. None of his former business colleagues and investors have a good word for him and much has been reported about Parsoli in the Indian press in the past, which is available on the Net.

In 2001, Hindutva activists burnt a copy of the Holy Qur’an  in Delhi. Muslims in India protested against the incident. Some newspapers in India reported that Indian Muslims in the UK had contacted some clerics in Delhi and had asked them to organize these protests. An Urdu tabloid published from Delhi reported that UK-based businessman Zafar Sareshwala was the person, who had made this request. Few days later, I happened to meet him at a function of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) at the Islamic Cultural Centre in central London where Sareshwala confirmed to me that he had in fact contacted the clerics in Delhi. I have to admit I was impressed. He looked sincere and genuine.

Following the incident, IMF appealed to the Muslims in UK, through a small advertisement in the local edition of the Urdu daily Jung, to mark the next Friday as Youm-e-Du’a (Day of special prayers) and pray for the welfare of Indian Muslims. The advertisement in question was paid for (about £150.00) by Mr Sareshwala.

Everyone in the world with some sense of humanity in him was shaken by the merciless killings of Muslims during Gujarat massacre of 2002 and UK was no exception. In north London, an area with a sizable population of Gujarati Muslims, the North London Muslim Community Centre (NLMCC) organised an emergency meeting of Indian Muslim activists from all over the country. The delegates decided to form an umbrella body of Indian Muslim organisations in the UK and named it as Council of Indian Muslims (UK).

The (now erstwhile) CIM, in association with various Muslim and non-Muslim organisations and activists launched a campaign against the atrocities in Gujarat. This was followed by a second meeting of Muslim representatives at the NLMCC’s office. It was attended by Zafar Sareshwala.

In his speech, Mr Sareshwala, whose business and extended family in Ahmadabad had been badly hit by the riots, gave a moving account of the events. Describing the brutal murder of late Congress MP Ahsan Jafri, whom he referred as “My relative”, Sareshwala told the audience, “Jafri Saheb made several calls to various Congress politicians asking for help. But all of them expressed helplessness. He then contacted Narendra Modi only to be responded to with filthiest abuses. In order to save the lives of those who had taken shelter in his house, Jafri Saheb came out of his house and told the mob gathered outside that they could take his life but spare those taking refuge in his house.  But they spared none. They paraded Jafri Saheb naked on the street and forced him to shout Ram, Ram. When he refused, his fingers were chopped. He continued refusing to comply with their demand and they continued torturing and dismembering his body and was at last burnt while still alive.”

Mr Sareshwala attended some more meetings organised by other groups at the time but he did not enroll himself as a member of any organisation participating in the anti-Modi campaign. He is not someone who believes in maintaining low profile and working without personal publicity. He is articulate and possesses impressive PR skills. With his name constantly appearing in the press, the pressure and harassment his extended family in Ahmedabad would have been facing in those days was understandable.

One has to give Sareshwala the credit for showing some courtesy and — prior to Narendra Modi’s London visit in August 2003 — phoning CIM’s chairman Munaf Zeena and explaining to him his predicament and informing him that he was going to see Modi.

Notwithstanding the fact that he was not a member of the organization, Zeena sympathized with him and assured him that he understood his situation. Zeena told him that he had no objection if such a meeting could help in easing the difficulties his extended family must be facing back home. According to Zeena, he emphasized that Zafar should meet Modi only in his personal capacity as an individual without claiming to represent anyone else.

But an ambitious and shrewd businessman whose personal publicity and interests came first, Sareshwala had different plans. He had already invited his younger brother, Talha Sareshwala, from India to accompany him in the meeting and issued a press statement which was widely covered in the Indian media. “Muslim leaders welcome Narendra Modi in London,” screamed the headline in The Hindustan Times.

The reaction of those who had a direct experience of and had suffered from Modi’s naked fascism was terse and obvious. “… Just because your daughters, sisters and wives were not raped during the genocide in Gujarat, you went and met the butcher of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, who everyone knows was directly responsible for the mass killings and rapes of Muslim girls. Your children did not see anyone in your family being burnt alive, so you went ahead and met Modi…Your act of trying to give legitimacy to his black deeds might work for your business in Gujarat but for the victims of Gujarat, this was a treacherous act – a betrayal. But thanks to God that the Muslims of Gujarat and UK have seen your true face and now they know what you stand for…,” wrote late Ahsan Jafri’s son, Zuber Jafri, to Sareshwala.

Sareshwala claimed that his London meeting with Modi was candid and frank in which Modi expressed remorse over the 2002 Gujarat massacre. As a result of his London meeting with Modi, he told the Turkish daily Zaman, “The perceptions which I had against Modi have changed as I had an illusion due to miscommunication.”

However, according to Maulana Isa Mansuri, once Sareshwala’s confidant and spiritual guru who had accompanied Sareshwala to the said meeting, this was a disappointing experience. Contrary to Sareshwala’s claims, Maulana Isa vehemently denies that Modi had expressed any remorse.

Since his first meeting with Modi, relationship — the basis of which were not principles of honour but mutual interests — between the two continued to grow  stronger and stronger.  And it was upon Modi’s advice that Sareshwala moved his family from UK back to India. “Kya wahaan Angrezon ki ghulami karte rahoge?” (Will you continue serving the British as a slave?) Modi asked Sareshwala, as explained in the latter to The Times of India.

The relationship has paid Sareshwala well. According to The Times of India, “Their [Sareshwalas’] industrial valve manufacturing factory was also burnt down, and the wealthy Sareshwalas, once among the largest zakat [sic! Does Islam not enjoin upon the believers not to show off and give zakat by the right hand in such a way that one’s left hand does not know?] donors in the community, found themselves in dire straits.’  In an interview, Zafar told IBN that financially he “…was totally broke and on the verge to collect Zakat…” But in Modi’s service not only has he become richer than ever before but has emerged as one of the richest businessmen of Gujarat. In addition, he has been conferred with the prestigious designation as the Chancellor of Maulana Azad National Urdu University, something he was not expecting and was taken aback when contacted by the press.

What is his qualification for the job, apart from being Modi’s blue-eyed boy? “Urdu is my mother tongue…Not only do I speak Urdu, but I also write in Urdu. I am equally comfortable in Urdu and English…My ‘khaandan’ (family) has served the cause of Urdu in Gujarat for a long, long time. In 1972, when Urdu was facing an existential crisis in Gujarat, my late father and my paternal uncle established a board in Ahmedabad to promote Urdu. Since that time, the board organized a grand international mushaira focusing on national integration…We grew up in their presence. Urdu runs in our blood. We would read ‘Shama’ magazine and the womenfolk in our house grew up reading ‘Rizwan’ and ‘Bano’ magazines,” Sareshwala told the Arab News.

Looking at these ‘impressive” qualifications of Sareshwala, one is at a loss for words for those unsung heroes who have suffered and sacrificed selflessly for the cause of Urdu  and the educational betterment of the community and hundreds of well-qualified Urdu graduates facing the indignity of having to live in poverty and joblessness.

“Modi himself is also a big fan of Urdu,” Sareshwala revealed in the aforementioned interview.

Ever since giving himself in the service of Modi, Sareshwala has been constantly discovering Modi’s rare qualities and hitherto unknown love for Muslims.

“I am assuring you that in this regime, you are never going to face any discrimination. Modi-led government is committed to provide you equal opportunities,” he told Muslim youth in Jaipur.

On Modi’s proclamations and commitment to do justice with Indian Muslims, Sareshwala earlier claimed, “What Modi is thinking about Muslims is nothing new. We knew about it earlier and now the entire world knows it.”

In an article published on IBN’s website, he writes, “The truth is Modi has excellent personal relations with a large number of Muslims. He has built a very strong team of Muslims who work closely with him. They are well educated, command the respect of the community. They are not seen as bikau [sell-off] types, they are not the kind who curry personal favours and become courtiers. By contrast, the Congress Party is today devoid of credible Muslim leaders, not just in Gujarat but also in the rest of India.”

Really, Mr Sareshwala? What is a bikau (sell-out) if not surrendering one’s dignity, closing one’s eyes to unfairness and not having the courage to speak out against grave injustices? When did you protest to Modi and what has he done about the Hindutva gangs who have been polarizing the atmosphere all these years? Your beloved leader has not only been maintaining meaningful silence, he has honoured and given positions to even the riot-accused in Muzaffarnagar. There is a long list of your beloved leader’s silence on the saffronization of history, his letting loose the reins of his party’s foul-mouthing, venom-spitting and riot-organizing politicians. Instead of taking any action against the law-breakers and riot-organizers, to rub salt on Muslim wounds, he has appointed a Muzaffarnagar riot-accused as a member in AMU’s court. As opposed to India’s long-standing support to Palestine, Modi and his party’s love for the Zionist entity is based on anti-Muslim hatred. These developments are no surprise though. The kind of politics Modi is doing was feared long before his election victory.

From Maulana Ghulam Mohammad Vestanvi, Shahid Siddiqui, Adam Patel to Salman Khan, behind every Indian Muslims’ attempted meeting with Modi appears to have the support or backing of Zafar Sareshwala. Perhaps he has now been assigned as Modi’s PR man in the Muslim world. The interviews to the Turkish daily Zaman and Saudi daily Arab News are, perhaps, the first step in this direction. An honourable title of Chancellorship of a University will add weight to his name.

What matters in this world are economic interests. Rules and laws are made to serve these interests. Murderers, looters, rapists and arsonists are being issued clean chits one after the other but those who dared challenge these injustices, like Teesta Seetalvad, Javed Anand, late Ahsan Jafri’s son, Tanveer Jafri, are implicated in court cases while killer cops and politicians are being let off the hook one after the other.

As for Sareshwala, the only thing that can be said: Lage raho Sareshwala Bhai, your next appointment could be as Vice President of India.


M. Ghazali Khan is a London-based journalist of Indian origin.

[The article is reproduced with permission from The Milli Gazette, where it first appeared.]

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3 Responses to “Zafar Sareshwala: Muslim well-wisher or a self-serving businessman?”

  1. sipramukherjee

    “ALTHOUGH an old Tableeghi activist and quite religious in his personal life, Sareshwala does not hesitate in using any opportunity to his gain.” I have come to equate the two in most cases. Very religious usually equals very corrupt.

  2. Cafe Dissensus Bolg

    Sipra, I would largely agree. However, I have known people who are genuinely religious without any of these hypocrisies. There are people these days, who use religion for their narrow end. There are many like this. As for tableeghi, I particularly abhor this practice. There is a class element in this: on one end, you have poor people, mostly from rural background who go on these preaching drives for free meals (mostly); on the other end, you have people like Sareshwala, who go on these preaching missions mostly for increasing their clout within the community. Also, most of the tableeghis are semi-literate and their understanding of Islam is at best rudimentary, mostly restricted to the dos and don’ts of religion. They have no philosophical understanding of the religion. However, one good thing is, they are a non-violent preaching community, unlike the urban, educated extremists who resort to violence. (Mosarrap)


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