Samajwadi Party leader Rais Shaikh’s feat of winning three successive elections — two civic body polls and the 2019 Assembly elections — has been attributed to luck by many. Shaikh, however, has attributed his success to “divine providence”.
A former PR professional-turned-politician, Shaikh had made his electoral debut in 2012 in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation election and had won from Govandi, which has one of the lowest Human Development Index in the city. In 2017, when Govandi was declared a reserved for women, Shaikh contested the civic polls from the densely-populated minority pocket of Madanpura in South Mumbai.
“God gives me a transfer every time and I willingly take it,” Shaikh, who has been elected to the Legislative Assembly from Bhiwandi East, said.
His closeness to Samajwadi Party chief Abu Asim Azmi saw his quick ascendency in the ranks, and soon Shaikh had become group leader and a member of BMC Standing Committee. He also managed to stay in the media limelight with optics like constructing a 20-metre high flagpole for the national flag at the Nagpada junction and creating a giant mural in the honour of the noted Urdu poet Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib.
With Shaikh’s popularity increasing, the Samajwadi Party set its sight on contesting the Assembly elections from Byculla. Pre-poll alliance with the Congress and NCP, however, meant that the party was forced to shift its focus to Bhiwandi East, a crumbling Muslim-dominated town, located 50 km away on the northern fringe of Mumbai. The town is better known for its 10 lakh power looms and warehouses spread over seven crore square feet.
Shaikh, who was para-dropped into Bhiwandi East constituency 15 days before October 21 Assembly elections, managed a victory with a narrow margin of 1,314 votes more than his rival and sitting Shiv Sena MLA Rupesh Mhatre, after just a hectic two-week campaign. “It was a difficult battle and the Congress did not honour its promise. However, intelligent use of social media and the fact that the youth of the state rallied behind me made a huge difference,” Shaikh said.
Claiming that his immediate priority would be to work on improving educational facilities and empowerment of women, he added, “I do not see myself as a leader of a particular community. While I do accept that a large number of my supporters are from the Muslim community, my main thrust is to ensure the development of Bhiwandi.”