By Javed Anand
Nov 07, 2014
If you are concerned about how a brazenly communal party like the All-India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen (MIM), whose sphere of influence remained limited for decades to a single city, Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh (and now also in Telangana), has suddenly made an impressive electoral debut across neighbouring Maharashtra in the recent Assembly elections, you need to first acknowledge and recognise this: the reluctance or failure of semi-secular parties like the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) to address legitimate Muslim concerns compounded by their inability to counter Hindu communal mobilisation will, however inadvertently, drive a section of the minority community towards Muslim communal politics.
Next, ask yourself this question: How did the MIM, which did so well in around a dozen constituencies with a sizeable Muslim presence, end up with a poor show in Maharashtra’s Muslim-dominated constituency Malegaon where over 90 per cent of the voters are Muslim?
It is generally agreed that the votes for the MIM were because of Muslim disenchantment, frustration and anger with the Congress, the NCP and the Samajwadi Party. But that does not explain: why Malegaon’s Muslims, who had more reasons to be outraged with the Congress-NCP alliance than other co-religionists in the state, gave a thumbs down to the Owaisi brothers.
Here are results from Malegaon: Shaikh Aasif Shaikh Rashid of the Congress emerged victorious with 75,326 votes. He was followed by Mufti Mohammed Ismael of the NCP with 59,175 votes, leaving the MIM’s Yunus Malik a distant third with 21,050 votes — that is, around 12 per cent of the total votes polled.
For the MIM, this compares poorly with its impressive (and worrisome) performance in Aurangabad, Nanded and Parbhani cities in the Marathwada region, the twin Mumbai-Thane cities and Sholapur in western Maharashtra.
Overall, of the 24 seats it contested, the MIM won two Assembly seats, was second in three seats and stood third in another eight seats. This is impressive no doubt for a party which, for so long, was a single-city party, that too in a state it has only recently entered. But if anything, this brings out in sharp relief the inability of the party to sway Muslims in a city (Malegaon) where Muslims account for over 90 per cent of the total votes and where for more reasons than one very many feel disenchanted with both the Congress and the NCP.
Malegaon was rocked by bomb blasts in 2006 and again in 2008. On both occasions Muslim localities were targeted. Yet, those suspected, detained and framed by the police and the state’s Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) for the 2006 blasts were Muslims. Following impartial investigations in the September 2008 blasts case, the then Maharashtra ATS-chief, Hemant Karkare (he was felled by a terrorist’s bullets during the November 2008 attacks on Mumbai), unearthed the involvement of Hindu extremists.
After long years of detention, the Muslim men accused in the 2006 blasts case are currently out on bail. The National Investigation Agency (NIA), created under a new act passed by Parliament in late 2008 to combat terror has given a clean chit to them, but this has been challenged by the Maharashtra ATS and the case is still pending. Among other grievances, Malegaon’s Muslims feel highly agitated by the Congress-NCP government’s failure in facilitating the closure of the terror charge against “innocent Muslims”. This anger had manifested itself in the emergence of a Muslim body — Teesra Mahaaz (Third Front) which bagged a large number of seats in the 2007 civic elections in the city, making it impossible for either the Congress or the Shiv Sena-led coalitions to grab power in the Malegaon municipal corporation without en bloc support from the victorious Mahaaz corporators. With passions at a pitch, a large section of the city’s Muslims were in favour of the new Muslim outfit entering into an alliance with t
The Shiv Sena. “Just to teach the Congress and the NCP a lesson,” was the justification given even by non-party activists and Maulanas from Malegaon at the time. It was only last minute confabulations that saved the day for the Congress-NCP at the time. The same simmering sentiment had ensured the victory of Mufti Mohammed Ismael from Teesra Mahaaz in the 2009 Assembly elections. Curiously, Mufti Ismael moved to the NCP camp on the eve of the Assembly elections.
If Malegaon’s Muslims continue to feel that successive Congress-NCP governments have done little to address their concerns, why then did they repose their faith in these very parties in the Assembly polls, unlike unhappy voters in other Muslim-predominant pockets who expressed their anger by turning to the MIM?
Conversations this correspondent had with Muslims from Malegaon — journalists, activists, Maulanas elicited an interesting response: the prime considerations before them were the antecedents, and credentials of the candidate; the party was incidental, a secondary consideration.
“They voted for me because of my work, the party came next,” the successful candidate from Malegaon, Aasif Shaikh, told this writer. Elected a corporator for two consecutive terms (10 years), Shaikh even occupied the chair of the city’s mayor for two years. He has also been among those who have done and are doing their bit to ensure justice for the Muslims accused in the 2006 Malegaon blasts case. In 2013, Shaikh launched a Malegaon-Mumbai padyatra demanding reservation for Muslims. Religion-based reservation might be a problematic proposition, but for Muslims from Malegaon and elsewhere in Maharashtra, Shaikh comes across as a political leader willing to walk the talk. “We saw blisters on his feet during the Padyatra when we met him at a reception in Bhiwandi,” recalls a local teacher and social activist, Salim Yusuf.
So here’s the mystery and the message from Malegaon: The community’s frustrations with parties that swear by secularism notwithstanding, the appeal of a communal party such as the MIM could be neutralised if candidates for elections are chosen on the basis of their work on the ground, that is those prepared to articulate voter concerns rather than those known to dance to the party’s tune.
If you think Muslims are a vote-bank who blindly follow the ulema, consider this: All the candidates put up by the Jamaat-e-Islami-created Welfare Party of India and the Jamiatul-ulema-e-Hind-inspired Rashtriya Ulema Council lost their deposits. The votes polled by most of them? A few hundred!
No less significant is the fact that Muslim votes contributed significantly to the victory of the BJP and Shiv Sena candidates in the two Assembly constituencies of Bhiwandi, a city where more than 50 per cent of the voters are Muslim.
According to the Lokniti-CSDS poll, while 53 per cent of Muslims voted for the Congress and another 16 per cent for the NCP, 13 per cent of their votes in Maharashtra in the Assembly polls went to the BJP and another 11 per cent to the Shiv Sena. If this does not ring loud alarm bells what will for the Congress or the NCP?
Javed Anand is co-editor of Communalism Combat and general secretary, Muslims for Secular Democracy