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Candidate with a 9/11 past
October 08, 2004 12:45 IST
Last Updated: October 08, 2004 15:01 IST
It is 2pm in Trombay. Once known as the home of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, now it is identified as the constituency from where the only Indian to be accused in the September 11 incident is contesting the Maharashtra assembly polls as an independent candidate.
As he walks around in a white Pathan suit, he appears no different from a regular politician. While politicians with criminal records are a common phenomena now, Afroze's story has a twist.
Trombay, a large constituency with over 488,000 voters, has a large population of Muslims - almost 225,000. Afroze, against whom POTA charges were dropped recently, found many who wanted to capitalise on his experience for political gains. However, few were willing to give him a ticket.
"I approached the Congress, the Samajwadi Party and also became the general secretary of the Rashtriya Janata Dal. But none agreed to give me a ticket," he said.
"They were willing to use my case and the Gujarat riots to consolidate the Muslim votebank during the general elections, but refused to grant me candidature," he said.
The Congress has fielded Mohammad Abrahani, who is from Central Mumbai, while the Samajwadi Party has Maulana Attar, who is actually from Mahim.
His candidature and most of the funds for his poll campaign came courtesy the Mumbai Aman Committee. The body took up his case and, some say, urged Muslims in Mumbai to vote tactically in the 2004 general elections to oust the NDA regime.
Afroze's support base is the youth, which readily identifies with him and his plight. However, it is Afroze's promises to his constituents that reveal how far he has travelled since his POTA days.
"I promise to improve the water and electricity supply in Trombay. I also promise that I shall realistically work to improve the employment situation in the area," he said. In fact, Afroze is trying to play down the 9/11 angle and to play up the "local boy who deserves your support" one.
According to Abdul Rahim Chand, a resident of Shivaji Nagar, it is only the SP candidate has been bringing up the case of Khwaja Younus, a suspect in the Ghatkopar blast, who died in the police custody. "Younus's case is important. But let us not forget, this too happened when the Congress was in power in the state," he said.
This is in fact the subtle shift that has happened in the Muslim vote, according to Lawyer Majid Memon, who also defended Afroze. "There was an unprecedented support for the Congress in Mumbai from Muslim social and political organisations as it was important to remove the BJP government in the Centre," he reasoned.
"Now they may find it difficult to completely overcome the anti-incumbency factor in the state," he added.
"I feel that attention will be focused on the 106 communal riots that took place in the state since the Congress-NCP took over, the death of Younus, and the utter lack of development work in Muslim-dominated areas," he said.
In all there are 28 seats in Maharashtra in which the Muslim votes play a decisive role. In Mumbai, the constituencies are Umerkhedi, Nagpada, Chinchpokli, Kurla, Nehru Nagar and Trombay.
"The Muslims may yet vote for the Congress-NCP combine, but they will have to give a firmer commitment to the community this time round. We have already done what we want for self-preservation at the Centre," added Memon.