A 46-year-old headmaster of an Urdu school has unsettled former chief minister Ashok Chavan, having wrested control of the post of president of the Mudkhed Municipal Council. Mudkhed is the former constituency of Chavan and was seen as his turf over the last 15 years.
Mujeeb Jahagirdar Ansari’s win, perceived as a sign of the growing alienation of Nanded’s Muslims from Chavan, is even more bitter for the former chief minister because his party, the Congress, has won 15 of the 17 seats in Mudkhed council.
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The present elections for 212 municipal councils and nagar panchayats are the first to be held after the Maharashtra government decided to revive the process of direct elections for municipal council presidentship with a view to make the civic body’s administration more effective and efficient.
Voters had to cast their vote twice in these elections. One vote was to choose their councillors and the other was to select the council president.
Mudkhed is located 20 km from Nanded city and had been an assembly constituency represented by Chavan before 2009. With a Muslim population of over 35 per cent, the area had remained Chavan’s bastion.
The Mudkhed municipal council was under the control of the Chavan-helmed Congress for the past 15 years. The growing deterioration of the town’s infrastructure and the belief of the local Muslim populace that they were not being given their political due had led to a growing alienation against Chavan.
“For 15 long years, people used to speak about development without doing anything for this city. A railway line divides this town in two. We have a railway underpass which lies completed for the past seven years but is yet to be opened. What is the use of having big names if they can’t do anything for the city,” says Ansari, the newly elected Independent president of Mudkhed municipal council.
While his father has been a Congressman, the 46-year-old who runs a school is principally against associating with political parties. “When you join political parties, their larger national and state-level issues override local considerations. I only want to work on local issues,” Ansari said.
He has been politically active for the past two decades and has fought and won all his elections as an Independent.
While Ansari claims his fight was purely on the issue of development and the Muslim card was not played in the elections, political observers claim the community felt severely let down by parties such as the Congress which was not ready to share political power with the community.
“There was a massive Modi wave in the country and in spite of that Ashok Chavan won from here because of Muslim support. There had been an understanding that for this help at least one Muslim would be sent to the Legislative Council. However, that was not done. Even the last Muslim president of the Mudkhed council was asked to leave before he could complete his 30-month term. This caused antagonism within the community,” Feroz Inamdar, a social activist from Nanded, said.
The Congress has won six of the nine municipal councils in Nanded district. While Chavan has been recognised for his role in this win, people claim that the eroding support base had kept Chavan, the president of the state Congress, tied to Nanded.
Interestingly, his close associate and party MLA from Sillod, Abdul Sattar, had resigned from his post as Aurangabad district president, blaming senior leaders for not campaigning enough in the state. “In an ideal world, religion and caste should not have a bearing on elections. However, when communities realise they are being taken for a ride and their support is being taken for granted, they tend to hit back and that is what has happened in these elections,” Ansari said.