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LESS than 10 per cent of the 1,090 candidates contesting the civic polls on February 21 are from minority communities. A majority of these 90-odd candidates are contesting the elections as independent candidates, after their efforts to obtain tickets from political parties turned out to be futile. Among these, 79 are from the Muslim community while seven are from the Christian community.
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The Congress has given party tickets to nine Muslim candidates, while the BJP, Bahujan Samaj Party and NCP have given tickets to five Muslim candidates each. The MNS has given tickets to three Muslim candidates and Shiv Sena to two Muslim candidates. AIMIM has fielded the highest number of Muslim candidates — 14 — and the party hopes to make its presence felt in the region. Muslims are the largest minority group in Pune and they comprise 11 per cent of the city’s population. But the outgoing general body of the Pune Municipal
Corporation had only two Muslim corporators. Traditionally, Muslims have gravitated towards either the Congress or the NCP. Areas such as Mominpura, Ganj Peth and Kasewadi slums have elected corporators from either the Congress or the NCP.
However, Kondhwa, which also has a large Muslim population, has mostly voted for Shiv Sena, MNS and NCP. AIMIM MLA Imtiaz Jaleel claimed that secularism has been “used as a carrot” by other parties to garner Muslim votes. “During election time, these parties talk about their sympathy towards Muslims. However, they are not serious about either giving them tickets or getting them elected,” he said.
Noted educationist Razia Patel said while the representation of minority communities in the civic bodies was inadequate, it was next to nothing at the state and central levels. Abhay Kanta, editor of Marathi socio-political fortnightly Parivartanacha Watsuru — echoed the same sentiment, pointing out that in the state assembly, only 9 out of 288 MLAs are Muslims.
According to him, a general perception among political parties was that pitching a candidate with a Muslim surname would not attract enough votes, especially if that constituency didn’t have too many Muslim voters. At a meeting held at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Bishop of Poona, Rt Rev Thomas Dabre applauded the effort of candidates from minority communities, who are contesting the elections on their own steam.
“The church is at the forefront of development – be it in education, health and other sectors. So, political parties should encourage persons from minority communities to represent their wards and give them tickets to contest the elections,” said the Bishop, adding, “This is specially important to strengthen the secular fabric of our country”.
Ashwini Landge, the sole Christian candidate from Panel 6, is contesting the election on a AIMIM ticket. Landge’s husband Daneyal said other parties did not want to give tickets to Christian candidates.
“I was not interested in joining politics but AIMIM’s philosophy made me change my mind,” he said. Landge has been active in the social sphere for many years and is confident of winning all four seats for the party. Panel 6 has around 3,500 Christian voters, but Landge said they are not banking only on those votes. “When we try to help people, we never ask them about their religion. We are humans first … so, I am sure I will get the support of all communities.”
Pramod Pardhe, a Christian candidate from Panel 5 (C) Vadgaonsheri-Kalyaninagar, said he decided to give the elections a shot after he saw few candidates from the community contesting the polls. “I am confident of a win as I have assured people in my ward about cleaning up garbage, ensuring clean water and providing better amenities in the municipal corporation-run schools,” said Pardhe.