Mashooq Sheikh Usmani was 15 and a resident of Ahmedabad when the 2002 riots broke out. His aspiration was to handle his father’s business of Plaster of Paris when he grew up. The riots changed his life forever. His locality Bapunagar was one of the worst-hit areas and his house among the many damaged and looted. He was recently declared the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) candidate from Gonda.
“When the riots broke out, it quickly spread to Bapunagar where crude bombs started going off near our house,” recalls Mashooq. His family was among the lucky ones. “We had an ancestral house back in UP. My father was quick to respond and we took a train to UP, leaving our home and most of our belongings behind,” he recollected.
Following the riots, his family, comprising his father Aashim Sami Usmani, mother Zainab Usmani, three other brothers and a sister, boarded Sabarmati Express from Ahmedabad, then the Avadh Express to Gonda.
“I saw the mob on rampage with my own eyes, with police merely walking behind them,” said Mashooq’s father Aashim, now 58.
“The violence haunted me so much that I decided never to return again.” From UP, Mashooq’s father had migrated to Ahmedabad around 1986 for business.
“Although our house wasn’t big, we suffered huge damage and loot,” he said, adding that they sold off the house a year-and-a-half later.
Aashim says that they didn’t receive any compensation either. “What matters is that we are happy now and have a big home in Utraula. Nothing can be done about what happened then,” he says. In Gonda, he restarted a PoP business and set up a plant nursery to support his family.
“The whole family has joined AAP and we are all busy working for his campaign. The entire village is supporting us,” said Aashim.
For AAP though, the move seems strategic. So far, of 55 candidates declared from Uttar Pradesh, including the nine declared Wednesday, 14 candidates are Muslims.
In Gonda, Mashooq will facing union steel minister Beni Prasad Verma. The Samajwadi Party has fielded Nandita Shukla, while BSP the has fielded Akbar Ahmad Dumpy.
“Theirs is a story of struggle. The Usmanis were ruined (financially) during the riots. Yet without any bitter or communal feelings, Mashooq and his family worked hard again and achieved success,” said Ramesh Mohan Srivastava, convener of UP’s candidate screening committee.