From Jogeshwari to Malvani, Mohammed Ali Road to Mankhurd, there is immense curiosity regarding how pockets dominated by the Muslim community could vote on Wednesday, given the BJP’s big win in the Lok Sabha election and the Congress’s eroding support among its traditional votebanks. The presence of some MIM and Samajwadi Party candidates has queered the pitch further, and several groups among the Muslims have indicated that they are not shy of voting for the BJP or the Shiv Sena.
Jogeshwari (East), for example, carries the weight of a past chequered by communal violence. The ‘Caves Road’ that leads to the suburban railway station continues to be a physical division between the Muslim-dominated Prem Nagar and its non-Muslim neighbours. Here, the vote could simply be for whoever promises better development.
Soon after being elected in 2009, Shiv Sena MLA Ravindra Waikar – who had found a mention in the Shrikrishna Commission report for inciting a mob and shouting communal slogans against the Muslims- said that he wanted to work for the upliftment of Muslims in his constituency. The incumbent may have won the faith of a part of 45,000 to 50,000-strong voter bank in the area, but social workers and residents of the slum area say that Prem Nagar continues to grapple with inadequacies in infrastructure, sanitation, health care and education.
“Election here had never been about issues. It is driven by popular perception. When you ask people what has a certain candidate done for them, they don’t know. They just say that a candidate is good because ‘public’ says he is,” said Shaikh Sajid Akbar who runs the Modern Youth Association (MYA). His organisation has put up banners in the area with a slogan ‘Hamara vote Hamari Maang’ to make people aware of the parameters they should be testing Assembly election candidates on. The posters demand a Slum Rehabilitation Scheme, legal water connections, improved health care, fire fighting and a sports centre among others.
Rama Shyam and her husband Sheikh Masood Akhtar of NGO Saher (Society for awareness, harmony and equal rights) have been working in the Jogeshwari (East) area for over a decade. Akhtar who was born in Jogeshwari (East) said that there are certain basic issues that have received very little attention from the state and the residents of Prem Nagar too have shown complacency in dealing with them.
“During the civic polls (2012) we had a meeting with all aspiring corporators and asked them what they wanted to do for this constituency. None of them had any vision. They did not know what the area needs. They said you tell us what to do and we will do it,” Akhtar pointed out. While problems of sanitation continue to mount, they are compounded by narrow roads that hinder garbage pick-up trucks from entering the area. Shyam said that there are hardly any civic or state-run health centres or clinics in the locality that has led to quacks thriving.
The Muslim pockets of Jogheshwari (East) are estimated to comprise 13 per cent of the voting population in the suburb. At the other end of the city, marked by narrow lanes, old dilapidated matchbox buildings, and a significant Muslim population, the busy Mohammed Ali Road has been witnessing daily election rallies. Hawkers and shop owners cast quick glances at the proceeding rallies before returning to business, knowing nothing new is being said.
Amongst the several speeches, All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) leader Akbaruddin Owaisi’s speech in Mumbadevi sparked an emotional chord — the 1993 riots.
“Bhendi Bazaar was the heart of Mumbai riots, Muslim beards cut, women’s breasts were cut, business destroyed. Pani ki kimat hai, par Musalman ki khoon ka koyi kismat nahi (Water has value, but Muslim blood does not seem to have any value),” he said at his rally.
While voters no longer base their decision to select a party solely on the riots that plagued the Bhendi Bazaar area two decades ago, the scar exists in their mind.
“There is anger, even though subdued, against political forces who supported it. But now people just want to chose a candidate who will look into their problems, not ones who will keep ranting about old issues,” said Muttam Khalid, a social activist.
However, Mustafa Arsiwala, resident of Bhendi Bazaar, said, “People here just want to go for work, come back home and sleep. Politicians who let us work peacefully are invited. But I don’t think there is anger of 1993 riots in our minds any longer.”
While Congress stands to lose several of its seats in the state owing to an anti-incumbency and an equally strong Modi factor working in tandem, the majority of Muslim population living in cramped 250 square ft flats — comprising Shia, Sunni, Bohras, Ismaili, Irani — continues to hold a similar political ideology.
The area is perhaps one of few pockets where despite anger against the existing state government, voters wish to see Amin Patel in the MLA’s throne.
A few shop owners come out to discuss their problems: old buildings and heavy traffic. While parties play on communal lines, voters know very few will address their basic problems.
“We are not very happy with the Congress but the MLA has done some work to repair our buildings. That matters,” said Shabbir Shaikh, a hawker who sits at the JJ Hospital junction.
The assembly constituency has 18 candidates contesting, 15 of whom are Muslims. “This may cause a dent in Congress vote share,” says Salim Alware, another activist who fights for Muslim rights.
Another example is Malvani, in Malad West, where the 80,000 Muslim voters appear to be gunning for change. Aslam Shaikh from the Congress may have been a clear winner, but with the BJP and Shiv sena splitting, the Shiv Sena’s Vinay Jain will be strong competition for Shaikh. According to the majority of Muslims who reside in Malwani at Malad (West) they are upset with Shaikh and would want a new MLA to represent them. Shafiulla Shaikh, a resident of Malwani, said, “Aslam has done nothing worth mentioning for his community. He has disappointed us.”
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