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Rediff.com  » News » Jyoti Punwani on why Maharashtra's Muslims are upset with the Congress party

Jyoti Punwani on why Maharashtra's Muslims are upset with the Congress party

Last updated on: February 27, 2012 10:59 IST

Mr Chavan, keep your party's promises to Muslims

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Muslims are angry with the Congress on a host of issues.

If Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithivraj Chavan wants his Congress party to retain the 'secular vote bank' and through it, power in the 2014 assembly election, he needs to keep the promises made, says Jyoti Punwani.

Four days before the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation elections, on February 12, Chief Minister Prithivraj Chavan called a meeting of the Muslim elite at the Islam Gymkhana. What he got was an earful of complaints; and not too many Muslim votes.

The day after his party lost the polls and the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party was voted back to power for the fifth time in Mumbai, Chavan blamed the Samajwadi Party for a division in 'secular votes.'

But the Abu Asim Azmi-led Samajwadi Party is hardly taken seriously outside its pocket of Cheetah Camp-Govandi, north Mumbai, the most miserable sprawl of human habitation in this glittering city, notorious for the malnutrition deaths of infants.

Indeed, the voting pattern in these slums largely reflects the outcome in the rest of the city. Despite the Samajwadi Party Members of the Legislative Assembly having done nothing to make life bearable for the majority of Muslim slumdwellers here, the party was voted back. Despite having transformed a beautiful-in-parts Bombay into an ugly-and-hazardous-Mumbai, the Sena was voted back.

So does performance mean nothing and community everything? Not so. In the middle-class Muslim locality of Millat Nagar in Andheri, northwest Mumbai, the Samajwadi Party candidate polled just 25 votes. In the Muslim ghetto of Mumbra, a township near Mumbai, the Samajwadi Party, which had 4 municipal corporations, lost to the Nationalist Congress Party, whose MLA Jitendra Awhad has supported the family of Ishrat Jahan -- the Mumbra girl killed by the Gujarat police in a fake encounter --and raised questions about Hindutva terrorism in the assembly.

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Image: The BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation building in south Mumbai
Photographs: Wikimedia Commons

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Topping the list of Muslim anger: Targeting young Muslims after every bomb blast

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And in the traditional Muslim stronghold stretching from Crawford Market to Nagpada in south Mumbai, the Samajwadi Party could get just one seat, despite its candidates' stock of muscle power. Almost 65 per cent of its candidates lost their deposits.

Indeed, politically aware Muslims allege that in the BrihanMumbai Muncipal Corporation, the Samajwadi Party has always helped the Shiv Sena bag all BMC posts just like the Muslim League used to!

Surely the chief minister knew where exactly the once favoured party of the Muslims now stands? Just as he should have known what to expect at the Islam Gymkhana meet. The state has a full-fledged minority affairs portfolio held by a man who has risen through the Congress ranks -- Arif Naseem Khan. Hadn't he told his boss the mood of Mumbai Muslims?

Muslims are angry with the Congress on a host of issues.

Topping the list is the targeting of young Muslims after every bomb blast.

The recent tussle between the Delhi police's Special Cell and the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad over the arrest of a Muslim informer of the Delhi police, and the humiliation the ATS faced while trying to arrest the informer's brother in Delhi, has only confirmed the community's worst suspicions about the state police.

Add to that the unjustified arrest of nine Muslims for the 2006 blasts in Malegaon, which was discovered in December 2010 to have been committed by Hindu terrorists. Altogether they spent five years in jail as undertrials, with no evidence against them.

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Image: After the blast in Malegaon


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'Does that mean all of us are Dawood's men?'

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It is not just about terror attacks. Even when Muslim boys are picked up for minor offences, they are accused of working for fugitive gangster Dawood Ibrahim, says Faridbhai Batatawala, who owns garment shops in Manish Market, south Mumbai.

"Police tell them Musafirkhana (also in south Mumbai) and Manish Market are owned by Dawood. Does that mean all of us are Dawood's men," he asks.

To be fair to Chavan, the home ministry portfolio has all along been handled by his alliance partner, the Nationalist Congress Party. From Chhagan Bhujbal to R R Patil, neither home minister has cared to look into the genuine grievances of the Muslim community against the police and the home department.

But nor has any Congress chief minister told them to do so.

The 31 policemen indicted by the Srikrishna Commission in 1998 for crimes against Muslims, ranging from murder to criminal dereliction of duty, have all been either discharged by the court or exonerated by the state police and the Central Bureau of Investigation. A few await trial. Some were 'reprimanded' or lost an increment.

The law and judiciary department has been pro-active in defending indicted policemen and indifferent in ensuring the conviction of Sena leaders.

But the Srikrishna Commission is no longer an issue with the city's Muslims. There are other issues. The Minority Commission, which has just been given judicial powers, is headless, as is the Haj Committee, the Wakf Board and the Urdu Academy.

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Image: Devotees gather to pray
Photographs: Reuters

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Education plays a major part in the despair Muslims feel towards the Congress

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For the last 10 years, the state government has been refusing the Muslim community's demand to hand over the management of the Ismail Yusuf College in Jogeshwari, northwest Mumbai, to it. The college stands on land donated by Muslims.

For the last three years, the exact location for an Aligarh Muslim University campus in Maharashtra is being finalised; other states have already done so.

Indeed, education plays a major part in the despair Muslims feel towards the Congress. Neither do they get central government scholarships meant for the minorities, nor the financial assistance due to them from the Maulana Azad Minorities Financial Corporation. Funds for both are routed through the minority affairs ministry.

Firoz Ashraf, who has been teaching poor Muslim girls for almost two decades now, has filled in application forms for 25 deserving students; not one of them has received it. Recipient of a state government award, he wonders if his recommendation doesn't help, whose will.

Yet, it is not as if the corporation cannot function -- just before the 2009 assembly election, it allegedly disbursed loans generously.

While opinions vary about who is to blame for this state of affairs -- Maulana Azad Minorities Financial Corporation Chairman Amin Patel or Minority Affairs Minister Arif Naseem Khan (both Congressmen) -- what all Muslims agree on is the role played by the bureaucracy which handles the procedures.

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Image: Muslims complain they don't get central government scholarships meant for the minorities
Photographs: Reuters

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'They really are enemies of Muslims'

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"They never get our names right, be it on the scholarship applications, our ration cards or our passports, making us run around for months," fumes Firoz Ashraf, adding, "They really are enemies of Muslims."

Mantralaya, the Maharashtra government secretariat, babus would be forced to change their attitude were they directed to do so by their political bosses. But here is a state where even the minority affairs minister complains that his orders are not followed by the bureaucracy -- a claim taken with a pinch of salt by his community.

But none of these are civic issues. The lack of water, epidemics of malaria, illegal construction and the pathetic state of public hospitals and roads, repeated demolitions of slums and hounding of hawkers (many are Muslims) -- all this also influenced the way Muslims voted.

The last two are state policies implemented by the municipal commissioner. Hawker eviction drives and slum demolitions became the order of the day ever since then chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh began the drive to convert Mumbai into Shanghai in 2004. But Prithviraj Chavan could have stopped it.

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Image: The lack of water, epidemics, pathetic state of hospitals and roads, demolitions of slums and hounding of hawkers (many are Muslims) also influenced the way Muslims voted
Photographs: Reuters

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'There was immense public anger against the Sena'

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As for water, sanitation and roads -- even though the Sena is to blame, the Congress lost out because its corporators are less accessible than the Sena's.

The Sena shakha (local office) is still a place anyone can go to with complaints; the Congress has no such machinery.

"Aata hai aata hai (I will be there) -- that is all our Congress corporator kept telling us when we approached him," says Kalim, a resident of Dharavi.

Some corporators who did work for their constituencies were denied tickets by the Congress, as in suburban Jogeshwari, where Congressman Changez Multani fought as an Independent candidate and won by 6,000 votes. Today, he has pledged support to the victorious Sena.

"There was immense public anger against the Sena. But the Congress-NCP failed to use it. Did they bother to resolve their internal differences, to call meetings of MLAs, set up a war-like campaign? In contrast, the Sena rebuilt its crumbling structure. And then the distribution of tickets to family members," says veteran Socialist Mohammad Kharas.

"The Congress just didn't fight seriously," fumes social worker Mansur Darvesh, adding, "There seems to be an understanding between the Congress-NCP and the Sena: Tum wahan khao, hum yahan khayenge (you take bribes there, we will take it here). The Congress knows the Sena will not allow it to function in the BMC. The CM spoke a lot about the corruption in the BMC. Could not the Congress have done anything to stop it?"

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Image: A Shiv Sena supporter celebrates the party's civic victory outside Sena Bhavan, the party's headquarters, in Mumbai
Photographs: Sahil Salvi/Rediff.com

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The Sena's win is no indication of popular support

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The understanding does in fact exist, but between the NCP and the Sena.

A few months before the municipal polls in Mumbai, Sena leaders openly said that if NCP supremo Sharad Pawar and Sena supremo Bal Thackeray decided to let each other rule, the Sena would win. But if Pawar decided to ally with the Congress, the Sena would sink.

They need not have worried. Though the alliance came through at the chief minister's insistence, on the ground, both parties worked against each other.

Their lackadaisical campaign, in which Chavan's face was the only prominent one, was exposed in the voting percentages -- higher than average polling percentages in Marathi-speaking areas and much lower in the Muslim areas of Dongri and Pydhonie, south Mumbai.

Muslims are sorry that the number of Muslim corporators has come down from 27 to 23. While the Sena fielded no Muslim candidate, at least two Independents have promised to support it. However, as the Govandi and Mumbra experiences show, Muslim corporators do not necessarily spell a better deal for Muslims.

Less than half the city of Mumbai voted. Of this, the three main parties got almost an equal share of votes: Sena -- 21.3%; Congress -- 21.7%; Maharashtra Navnirman Sena -- 20%. So the Sena's win is no indication of popular support.

That, however, can be no consolation for Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, who has inherited the liabilities of his predecessors and has to bear the brunt of the misdeeds of his ally and his party president.

At the Islam Gymkhana meet, Chavan promised the Muslim audience a full-length meeting to hear them out after the polls. If he wants his Congress party to retain the 'secular vote bank' and through it, power in the 2014 assembly election, he better keep that promise.


Image: Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan


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