Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Malegaon’s new Front shows up old parties

Mateen Hafeez I TNN

The unexpected success of a loose, threemonth-old coalition supported by religious and community leaders in Malegaon’s civic polls has exposed the disenchantment with mainstream parties like the Congress and veteran socialist Nihal Ahmed’s Janata Dal (Secular).

The people’s mandate to the Indian Muslim Congress Party (IMCP) comes at a time when the established parties have betrayed the faith of an electorate looking for solutions to systemic problems such as unemployment, a spiralling electricity crisis, lack of educational opportunities and decrepit civic infrastructure.

The Third Front led by the textile township’s most prominent religious leader, Mufti Mohammed Ismail, had contested the election with development and education as its primary planks and emerged as the single largest party with 28 out of the 72 seats.

On the other hand, Nihal Ahmed, a trade unionist who rose to become Malegaon’s most enduring political figure, has ended up suffering one of his worst political debacles in an over 50-year career. The onetime minister in the Maharashtra Cabinet has found his outfit’s tally reduced from 35 seats in 2002 to 12 in the latest municipal polls. His son was among those who lost the poll.

The other big loser is the Samajwadi Party whose tally has gone down from 12 seats in 2002 to one in the present House.

Even the Congress has been at the receiving end of the Malegaon voter’s wrath though the party’s tally has risen from seven in the last House to 15 now. The township’s reigning MLA, Sheikh Rashid, had managed to get his son Asif Sheikh installed as mayor the last time through blatant opportunism and by persuading rival corporators to support the Congress candidate in exchange for favours. However, despite such strategic moves, the party has not emerged as a dominant force in one of Maharashtra’s biggest Muslim-majority enclaves.

“The residents of Malegaon have been divided and exploited by these veteran politicians. Everyone promises better facilities but see how many public toilets Malegaon has. Look at the plight of the civic schools. There is not a single technical, engineering or medical college in Malegaon. Hundreds of our students have to go to Mumbai or Pune for further studies. We wanted to change this, and we couldn’t have done it unless we had power in our hands,’’ says 50-year-old Mufti Ismail.

The Mufti, who has led the congregation for the Eid-ul-fitr and Eid-ul-azha namaaz at the historic Camp ground in the town for the last one decade, was the rallying force behind the movement. Born and raised in a weaver’s family in the township, he’s long been familiar with its problems.

Yet, the Third Front’s rise has been nothing short of amazing. Community leaders and maulanas banded in the months ahead of the polls and discussed the need for an effective political alternative to govern the town. Disillusionment was especially strong in the wake of the serial blasts in 2006.

To start with, announcements were made in various mohallas to nominate the right candidates. Interestingly, the Third Front’s office-bearers played no role in this process; instead they asked residents of every constituency to select an “educated, honest and social person’’ untainted by a criminal record.

The only hiccup was when the Front’s leaders realised they were not recognised as a political party nor had they been allotted a symbol. They then approached their counterparts in an Ahmednagarbased outfit called the Indian Muslims’ Congress Party and managed to get permission to adopt their name and symbol just 15 days prior to the polls. Besides, there was an unambiguous consensus at work: caste, religion and intra-community disputes were to play no role in selecting a candidate. Most of the nominees were thus people with at least some academic qualification— a welcome change given Malegaon’s colourful history of illiterate, criminal and scam-tainted corporators. “We have got the sort of candidates we wanted. Now, in case a corporator does not work, we will hold a dharna outside his residence to make him fulfil his promises. And if he refuses, we will have no option but to oust him from the party,’’ Mufti Ismail said.

Hopefully, the Mufti and his followers, with the help of a few Independent corporators, will get the roads, parks and playgrounds they aspire for.

Malegaon, a powerloom township in northern Maharashtra, has always been in the news for the wrong reasons. Communal tension, sectarian violence, seizure of firearms and ammunition, and a series of bomb blasts. In a population of six lakh, Muslims are in a majority of 65%. The rest are Hindu Marwaris, Jains and Sindhis, who traditionally vote for the BJP-Sena. This year, for instance, the Sena has bagged seven seats while the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena has captured two seats.

The conflict between powerloom labourers and their employers was the central theme in various elections until recently and allowed veteran socialist Nihal Ahmed ample scope to hold centrestage. Now, however, residents are keen to see a makeover of the town and find a solution for long-standing problems such as bad roads, power shortage, poor healthcare—Malegoan does not have a single civil hospital—and lack of adequate educational opportunities. TNN

(The Times of India, May 30, 2007)

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Malegaon youth all set to join IAS

Mohammed Qaisar is the first IAS officer from Malegaon

Times News Network
Malegaon may be synonymous with communal riots and the clutter of powerlooms. But Mohammed Qaisar has sought to give the Muslim-dominated township, situated about 300 km away from Mumbai, an all new identity.

Born and brought up in Malegaon, Qaisar—a son of a loom labourer—has cleared the prestigious Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) exams, ranking 32nd among the 472 candidates from India. His ranking is bound to secure him a place in the coveted Indian Administrative Services (IAS).

What makes the 29-year-old’s achievement a truly commendable feat is the fact that he achieved success without any professional guidance, the comforts of a spacious study room or for that matter a wellequipped referral system or access to a library.

The absence of life’s luxuries is so evident in Qaisar’s dingy MHB colony flat in Malegaon where he stays along with 10 members from his family. It was his raw determination to prevail over circumstances which saw him achieve the near-impossible.
“It was my dream to clear the UPSC exams and I was determined to achieve it no matter what. I had cleared the written tests thrice but my performance in the personality tests was not up to the mark. This time, however, I wasprepared and corrected all my shortcomings. My first choice will be the IAS,’’ an overjoyed Qaisar told TOI over the phone on Tuesday.
Qaisar, fourth among 11 siblings, opted for Urdu literature, history and physics in the main exams. Qaisar’s eldest brother is a lecturer with Bandra Junior College.

He did his schooling from Shaikh Usman Urdu High School and Malegaon High School and Junior College and completed his graduation from MSG College. “I could not get admission in engineering and, therefore, I studied B Sc in Malegaon but continued studying for the civil services examinations,’’ he said.

“It is a dream that has come true. I have studied hard for five years and, with the grace of Allah, I have finally made it,’’ Qaisar added.

“My parents were a great support during my difficult days. I would study 14-16 hours a day and my father would bring all the necessary notes for me. My family stood with me even after I failed in the earlier attempts,’’ Qaisar said.

The textile town of Malegaon is known to be “riot-prone’’ and hit the headlines last September when four bombs exploded near mosques, killing 38 people and injured 297 others.

The Times of India, May 16, 2007

Thursday, May 10, 2007


WEAVER’S NEST: Mohammed Toufique, whose grandfather migrated from Barabanki, still runs a handloom outfit in his memory

Mateen Hafeez I TNN

W its Muslim profile and powerloom economy, Malegaon in Maharastra is a child of 1857. Community elders who have been handed down tales of the slaughter that engulfed Meerut, Awadh and Lucknow, have not forgotten their Gadr origins, and with the 150th anniversary commemoration, memories are stirring once again.

Ninety-one-year-old Basheer Adeeb’s grandfather, Kallu Haji and his two sons Mohammed Usman and Mohammed Sultan, joined the river of migrants that flowed out of the United Provinces. Ironically, it was transportation technology introduced by the British, the railways, that helped the weavers and peasants in their flight. “My grandfather told me they used bullock carts and trains to leave Uttar Pradesh,’’ said Adeeb, who has written a book on Malegaon’s history. “The trains came up to Burhanpur (in Madhya Pradesh) and after that they had to walk. Burhanpur was the weavers’ first shelter town. Some stayed on, others kept on towards Jabalpur, Nagpur, Kampti, Shahda, Dhule, Malegaon, Yeola, Bhiwandi, and their last stop, Mominpura and Madanpura in Bombay.’’

Apart from the advancing bayonets of the East India Company it was also exploitation by the zamindars that the peasants wanted to escape. “The weavers did not even have the right to name their own children,’’ said Adeeb. When their wives gave birth a a child, the zamindar had to be consulted. He would typically brand the children with degrading names like Buddhu, Chhedan, Kallu, Kallan, or Khaddu. When the zamindar found out my grandfather had named his sons Usman and Sultan, he was furious. My grandfather was tied to
a tree and lashed for having the audacity to name his children on his own. This was the reason my grandfather decided to leave.’’

The migration did not take place in one single burst but was spread over years. Once a family reached Malegaon, word was sent back to those still in Awadh or Lucknow, telling them to join—
a family pattern that is still followed by migrants who flock to big cities for jobs.

It was not as if Malegaon had not existed before 1857. The local fort built in 1765 by the Marathas indicates it was already an important centre. However, its powerloom economy is a result of the migrant weaver population. Since
the first census was conducted only in 1881 (Malegaon then had 10,622 people) there are no pre-1857 figures to compare the expansion in population or to record the influx of refugees. Adeeb says about 75 families settled in Malegaon after the gadar, in the Sangmeshwar, Islampura, Rasoolpura and Belbaug areas.

Until 1857, there were only six mosques in Malegaontoday the town boasts 250, as well as the biggest Islamic education institution for girls and the biggest Muslim cemetery in the country, where the September 8, 2006 bomb blasts took place killing 25.

The most dramatic event in the modern history of Malegaon was the arrival of electricity in 1936. Today Malegaon has around one lakh powerloom machines and 80 per cent of the city’s four lakh population is dependent on this industry. But there are those who have turned their back on electricity and stuck to the old craft of handlooms.

Mohammed Toufique, whose grandfather migrated from Barabanki in UP after the mutiny, still runs a handloom outfit in Ramzanpura on the outskirts of Malegaon. “My father used to say handlooms should not be replaced by powerlooms. This is the reason I still operate a handloom at this age,’’ said the 77-year-old weaver, who supplies cotton to the town’s doctors for dressing wounds.

Electricity turned Malegaon’s weavers into merchants and businessmen and ushered in a wave of prosperity that they have never dreamed possible. Adeeb’s grandfather had arrived from Allahabad in his kurta-pyjama with two children. Today, Adeeb’s family has 110 members, they own several powerloom units and shops and one of his sons is an American citizen with a clinic in Texas. It’s been a long journey.

Basheer Adeeb

The Times of India, May 10, 2007