In a major outreach towards the minority community in two of Maharashtra’s minority-dominated towns, the BJP has fielded a record number of Muslim candidates in Malegaon and Bhiwandi for the upcoming urban local body elections.
In Malegaon, located 280 km north of Mumbai where Muslims constitute 79 per cent of the town’s population, the BJP is contesting on 50 seats in the 84-member civic body. Of these 50 candidates, 30 are Muslims. In Bhiwandi, located 35 km north of Mumbai, Muslims constitute 52 per cent of the city’s 7 lakh population as per the 2011 census. The BJP is contesting 57 of the 90 seats. It has fielded 18 Muslim candidates in the city.
“For me, personally, I believe the BJP has won even before the elections as we have been able to reach out to our brethren. The BJP has for long been unfairly criticised as being anti-Muslim. When the election process was announced, we had over 170-180 Muslims who approached us seeking tickets. This signifies a huge change in mindset and is truly a victory of our democracy,” said Nitin Pophale, member of the BJP’s state working committee, who is handling the elections in the town.
The BJP has never been able to make a mark in the Malegaon Municipal Corporation, which has been dominated by the Congress and the Janata Dal over the years. This is the first time that the BJP has fielded so many Muslim candidates. It had initially decided to contest 77 seats for which it had selected a total of 57 Muslim candidates. However, many of the nominees had to withdraw due to various anomalies.
“Earlier we used to put up two or three of our dedicated Muslim workers in corporation elections from Muslim-dominated areas… As a truly national party, it is time that we spread our wings and reach out to the Muslim community,” Pophale said.
As part of the outreach, the BJP has also deputed Jamal Siddiqui, chairman of the state BJP minorities wing, to handle the campaigning. As part of their campaign, the BJP has been holding street meetings to reach out to the electorate.
The same phenomenon is being witnessed in Bhiwandi as well, where Muslims make up nearly 52 per cent of the population. The BJP has for the first time put up 18 Muslim candidates.
“The BJP has never been in a strong position in the area. Over the past few elections, I have never seen the BJP put up a Muslim candidate from Bhiwandi. This is the first time they have done so and unlike in the past there seems to be some acceptance for these candidates from the community,” said Jaleel Ansari, a social activist from Bhiwandi.