Team TOI Mumbai: The Congress winning Muslim votes notwhithstanding, t e r ro rstruck Malegaon has r e b u f f e d the party’s overtures. In the mill town, Ismail, Deoband-trained chief imam of Jama mosque, has won the seat by 17,000 votes, getting the better of the Congress’s Shaikh Rasheed and five-time MLA and Janata Dal (secular) leader Nihal Ahmed. He contested on a Jan Shakti Sawaraj Party ticket.
This is the first time that a serving imam has won in Maharashtra and that too from Malegaon, which has witnessed a spate of violent incidents. Ismail (46) secured 71,157 votes, while Rasheed won 53,238. Former minister Nihal Ahmed could manage 23,237 votes.
Ismail’s win, say observers, was the consequence of a “change in command’’ in the Muslim-dominated textile town. Malegaon, which has been hit by bomb blasts twice and labelled “communally sensitive’’ after sectarian violence, witnessed an election beyond politics of hatred. “Ismail is a role model and a youth icon. He has made history by not spending any money to win the elections. In fact, he asked for Re 1 as party fund for every vote,’’ said Ishtiyaque Ahmed, a law graduate from Malegaon. He is so popular that even children would donate him Re 1 during his rallies.
Ismail, who has been leading the namaz at Malegaon’s grand mosque, studied at Darool Uloom Deoband in Uttar Pradesh. He was just 28 when he led Eid namaz and since then, he has been conducting the prayers with over 2 lakh namazis. “Ismail formed a third front in Malegaon in 2006 and his party won 28 seats in the 72-member Maleagon civic body,’’ said a resident.
Ismail’s strengths are his command over people and communication skills. During the 2001 communal riots, it was him who reined in the mob. After the 2006 serial blasts, he went around the town in a police van, appealing for peace. “Ismail dared to tell Congress president Sonia Gandhi that her party did promise several sops to Muslims but they did not expect anything beyond that,” said Masood Ahmed, another resident.
The residents, say observers, were fed up with the poor Congress leadership in Malegaon. “The place was divided over communal and secterian rows. The leaders in Malegaon could not even build a single school, college, hospital or a playground in the past 40 years. However now, people expect development. Ismail’s victory proved that he was the choice of both Hindus and Muslims,” said an observer. Even the senior police officials who earlier worked in Malegaon deemed Ismail’s victory as a “great change’’ in leadership.
The Times of India, October 23, 2009