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'This Isn't Like Any Other Election'

May 14, 2024 14:02 IST
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'We can't sit back clutching our memories of the riots. The country, the future of our children are more important.'
Jyoti Punwani reports on an unusual election meeting in Mumbai.

IMAGE: Amol Kirtikar, the INDIA alliance candidate for the Mumbai North West Lok Sabha constituency. Photograph: Kind courtesy amolgkirtikar/Instagram

Barely 20 minutes away from Radhabai Chawl, an area that became the symbol of the Mumbai 1992-1993 riots, some 300 Muslims gathered on Sunday, March 12, 2024m night to express support for INDIA alliance candidate Amol Kirtikar, representing the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena from the Mumbai North West Lok Sabha constituency.

Six Hindus were killed in Radhabai Chawl (the actual name was Gandhi Chawl), in January 1993. The incident was used by the Shiv Sena to instigate a 'Hindu backlash' against Muslims, according to the Justice B N Srikrishna Commission Report of Inquiry into the riots.

The Srikrishna Report also named then Sena MLA Gajanan Kirtikar as having led a morcha to the Jogeshwari police station, defying ban orders.

While dispersing, the mob attacked Muslims and their properties, including a masjid.

The Srikrishna Report described this as the 'first major communal incident of violence in January 1993 in Jogeshwari, which occurred even before the Radhabai Chawl incident'.

In 2008, Kirtikar was acquitted of the charge of rioting by a special magistrate's court set up to try riot cases.

Gajanan Kirtikar is Lok Sabha candidate Amol Kirtikar's father.


IMAGE: Amol Kirtikar with Shiv Sena (UBT) MLA Aaditya Thackeray. Photograph: Kind courtesy amolgkirtikar/Instagram

On Sunday night, listening to the vociferous shouts of "mashaal" (the Sena UBT symbol), it seemed those riots had never taken place.

There were a few elderly residents in the hall who had seen the riots.

Shamsuddin Mohammed Multani claimed to have witnessed not just the 1992-1993 violence, but all the riots that had taken place in Jogeshwari East since 1974.

The 57 year old said he was voting not for Kirtikar, but for Uddhav Thackeray. "He helped all of us during Covid. He has not taken one wrong step; he takes everyone along."

Husne Jahan and Syed Nazneen were children when the riots took place. "We cannot forget them," said Nazneen, "because people were killed. But what happened then in Jogeshwari, is now happening all over India. We have to vote for the INDIA alliance to stop that."

"Price rise is killing us, but all that the PM talks about is Hindu-Muslim. This kind of talk will damage our children," said Husne Jahan.

"We need to vote out the party that promotes this. We can't sit back clutching our memories of the riots. The country, the future of our children are more important."

And that future was best secured by ensuring the INDIA alliance won, said Nazneen, quoting the Congress manifesto's assurances of jobs and allowances.

Both these home makers were members of the Jan Parivartan Party (JPP) that had organised the meeting.

Started in 2022 by Sajeed Sheikh, who has been working in the area on social issues since the last 30 years, the party aimed to be an alternative to existing political parties that paid no attention to the problems of Jogeshwari's residents.

It has gained enough prominence in these two years for Amol Kirtikar to reach out to it.

As part of its support to the INDIA alliance, the JPP has thrown itself into campaigning for Kirtikar; its flags can be seen in Kirtikar's election office.

The effectiveness of its campaign was evident not only from the way Nazneen cited the Congress manifesto, but also by the speeches of JPP speakers at the meeting.

IMAGE: Former Mumbai mayor and Shiv Sena (UBT) leader Sunil Prabhu speaks at the meeting. Photograph: Jyoti Punwani

From time to time, they asked the audience which symbol they had to vote for, and every time, the audience responded with a full-throated shout: "Mashaal".

Knowledge of party symbols has become vital in Maharashtra in these Lok Sabha polls, with the Nationalist Congress Party and the Shiv Sena having split into two and the breakaway factions having been allotted the traditional party symbols. The torch or mashaal is the new symbol of the Uddhav-led Sena.

Muslims in Mumbai have traditionally voted Congress, but the party is contesting only two Lok Sabha seats in the city.

In the remaining four, which includes Mumbai North West, volunteers have been educating voters that a vote for the mashaal is in effect, a vote for the Congress panja (hand).

This was repeated on Sunday night by JPP speakers. "Don't look for the panja; look for mashaal."

IMAGE: Jan Parivartan Party Founder Sajeed Sheikh with Amol Kirtikar in Sheikh's office. Photograph: Jyoti Punwani

The meeting held on Sunday was an unusual election meeting. Nether did the candidate turn up for it nor did the speakers talk about him much.

Instead, the emphasis was on the significance of this particular Lok Sabha election.

A vote for the mashaal, said Sitaram Shelar of the Pani Haq Samiti, was aimed at removing from power those who had felicitated Bilkis Bano's rapists, supported 8-year-old Asifa's rapists and also supported Brij Bhushan Singh, the man accused of molesting wrestlers.

The election was so crucual, said speakers, that Muslims would have to snap out of their traditional lethargy when it came to voting.

"We usually get up early for namaaz and then go back to sleep," said former Congress minister and Rajya Sabha MP Husain Dalwai, chief guest at the meeting.

"This time, please don't go back to sleep. A 60% turnout won't do; we need an 80% turn out if our votes have to make a difference."

IMAGE: JPP women sing Ley mashaalein chal padey hain log mere gaon ke. Photograph: Jyoti Punwani

With women outnumbering men in the audience, one speaker urged them to forego filling water or doing other essential household chores on voting day.

"This isn't like any other election," said JJP member Imtiaz.

"Don't look at the candidate; look at who he is opposing. Innocent Muslims in jail all over the country are waiting to be freed; they are hoping you will create this change. Every one here must make sure ten families around you come out and vote for the mashaal."

Among the speakers was Lalit Babar of the Bharat Jodo Abhiyan, part of the team that had worked for the Congress' victory in last year's Karnataka Assembly elections.

The Congress had won in Karnataka on the basis of Dalit and Muslim votes, Babar told the audience.

"We made sure both communities persuaded candidates of their community to withdraw so that votes didn't get divided; we also convinced them that not one vote should go waste. If we do the same in Mumbai, we could win all six seats."

IMAGE: JPP member Imtiaz speaks at the meeting. Photograph: Jyoti Punwani

The Jan Parivartan Party meeting was unlike routine election meetings in another way too.

With his activist background, party founder Sajeed Sheikh had invited a broad spectrum of speakers: Politicians as well as activists.

The slogans "Hum Ek Hain" and "Ladengey Jeetengey:, not normally raised at election meetings, were raised by JPP workers.

Indeed, even former Mumbai mayor and Shiv Sena (UBT) leader Sunil Prabhu, who came briefly to express gratitude to the JPP, ended his speech with the slogan: "Hum sab ek hain."

If this slogan from a Sena leader was unexpected, even more surprising was seeing Muslim women, members of the JPP, sing "Ley mashaalein chal padey hain log mere gaon ke".

Written in 2000 by Balli Singh Cheema as part of the movement for a separate state of Uttarakhand, the song has acquired the status of an andolan song, not exactly a category used during election campaigns. It was a happy coincidence that it reminded the audience of Amol Kirtikar's symbol.

Unusual as it was, this meeting is one of many that have been taking place across Mumbai to motivate people to vote for the INDIA alliance.

Regardless of the antecedents of the candidates, activist groups have, since July last, been urging people to vote to "save the Constitution and defeat the politics of hate."

Feature Presentation: Rajesh Alva/

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