Malegaon, also known as the Manchester of Maharastra because of its powerlooms and textile based economy, was rocked by bomb blasts last September in which more than 30 innocent lives were lost. More than 300 people were injured and as is generally the case in India, the victims still await for justice.
Civic elections were held recently for the 71 out of 72 seats in Malegaon recently. Newly formed Indian Muslim Congress Party (IMCP) pulled off a surprise by bagging 27 seats relegating Congress to the second position with 15 seats. IMCP was formed days before the elections by Mufti Mohammed Ismail, an influential cleric from the city and fought elections on the development plank. Mufti Ismail was also credited helping keeping peace in the volatile city after the bomb blasts last year.
The leaders of the IMCP or the Teesra Mahaz (Third Front), stitched together by Mufti Muhammed Ismael, had fought with development as their agenda. Ismael was among the local community leaders who have been credited with helping the police keep peace in the town after serial bomb blasts hit the town on September 9, 2006. [TwoCircles.net]
Unfazed by the fatwa issued against him by another local priest, Moulana Azhari, and the scorn heaped by stalwarts of the Congress and Janata Dal, Ismail pulled big crowds at his meetings in which he sought votes for his “third front” in the name of development. [Khabrein.info]
But is the IMCP victory all that surprising? A lot of Muslims in Malegaon were frustated by the lack of proper investigation in last year’s blast and that certainly went against the Congress which is in power at both the state and the centre. It also suffered in the civic elections in the town of Bhiwandi where Samajwadi Party pipped it to the second place with 17 seats.
The elections in Malegaon, however, raise some important questions. Is this a move towards formulation of a Muslim party in places where Muslims have a definite say in elections? Indian Muslims till now have had faith in the democratic and electoral process in India. By choice, they didn’t form a party of their own and more importantly, the influential clerics never involved themselves in politics. There have been exceptions in this regard and a relevant example would be the performance of Badruddin Ajmal and his party Assam United Democratic Front (AUDF) in last year’s Assam elections. But such dalliance have been few and far on the Indian political landscape. The very fact that Mufti Ismail projected his party as a third alternative (teesra mahaz), fought on the issue of development and was able to capture the imagination of the electorate shows that something is amiss with our bigger political parties. Also, have the clerics decided that they have had enough with the corrupt politicians and are now joining the electoral fray? More importantly, is this good for India?
Personally, I am against religion based parties in India but then as the BJP has shown, you can ignore two of the biggest minority groups in India and still rule over the destiny of 1 billion Indians for five years. Shiromani Akali Dal is a Sikh party and religion and politics are entwined in Punjab. So, does it helps if you are concentrated in a region, play communal politics and still be acceptable to the mainstream? Or can you be a party of only the majority group and still be fine? And when no political party in India is tackling the real issues of Indian Muslims namely poverty and education, is it really a bad idea to have someone who can fight for their rights and help address their genuine grievances?