Vasim Shaikh, who earns his living as a daily-wage worker in a garment unit in Surat city, was made to sign a few documents by some people in his “friend circle” a couple of days ago.
Shaikh’s name figures among a list of 30 Muslim candidates contesting as Independents from Surat’s Limbayat constituency which will go the polls in the first phase of the Gujarat Assembly polls on December 1.
“Mai toh cutting ka kaam karta hoon idhar, dihadi hai mera. Kisine bataya toh maine bhar diya (I am engaged in cutting in a garments unit. Someone told me to fill up forms which I did. I was not aware that I was being made a candidate),” Shaikh claims.
The Limbayat Assembly seat is part of the Navsari Lok Sabha constituency represented by Gujarat BJP president CR Paatil, from where a total of 44 candidates are contesting — the highest among the state’s 89 seats in the first phase — that include altogether 34 Independents. The Muslim community makes up about 30 per cent of voters in Limbayat.
In the neighbouring Surat East Assembly constituency, which is also scheduled for voting on December 1, Minhaj Patel, a delivery boy with a private online food and grocery store, is among seven Muslim faces out of 8 Independents in the fray. “I work with Big Basket company. I felt like contesting, so I filed nomination this time,” he said. A total of 14 candidates are contesting the Surat East seat.
The Congress, which has fielded a Muslim candidate in Surat East, has charged that the ruling BJP has fielded “dubious Independent candidates” in the two seats to split minority votes. Recently, the Surat East seat had hit the headlines when Kanchan Jariwala, who was fielded by the AAP, withdrew his candidature amid a row and exchange of allegations and counter-allegations between the AAP and the BJP.
When contacted, the Congress’s Surat East candidate Aslam Firozbhai alleged, “Of the 2.15 lakh voters in the seat, 43 per cent are Muslims. Everyone knows that the BJP has fielded these so-called Independent candidates to split the Opposition votes from the minorities. If CR Paatil was so confident of winning a seat under his constituency, why did he feel the need to resort to such tactics?”
Kher Paresh Anandbhai of the Shiv Sena (Uddhav), who is also contesting from Surat East as an Independent, also made similar allegations.
A Surat BJP leader, who did not want to be named, rejected these charges, pointing out that the party had a smooth victory from these seats in the 2017 polls.
Apart from Shaikh and Patel, The Indian Express spoke to a slew of Independent candidates in the two constituencies, who have varied backgrounds — from a couple engaged in social work to a scrap dealer, to an autorickshaw driver. Here are excerpts from their responses.
Saiyad Suraiya Latif (Limbayat): I work as a domestic help. This time, I thought of contesting the polls to gain experience. Maine socha ye bhi karke dekh lete hain (I thought let me try my hand at this too).
Hamid Shaikh (Limbayat): This is the fifth time I am contesting as an Independent. I like elections. I work as a commission agent in the transport sector.
Hameed Madhavsang Rana (Limbayat): I work as a commission agent for a tour and travels agency. My wife, Sayarabanu, who is also contesting from Limbayat, and I served people in various ways during Covid. She is a homemaker. The allegations of the Congress regarding BJP setting us up to split votes is false.
Sabirabibi (Limbayat): I am a homemaker. I decided to contest as other parties do not help us in any manner. My contribution as a social worker will hold me in good stead in politics.
Shaikhlal Samir Shah (Limbayat): Currently, I am not working anywhere. I am contesting to safeguard the rights of people in my area. I feel pained by their plight. Other parties are least bothered.
Aiyub Shah (Limbayat): I run an autorickshaw on rent. This time I thought why not contest the polls? At least more people will get to know me. I am campaigning with my family members including in Hindu areas.
Mohammad Shaikh (Limbayat): I am contesting Assembly polls for the first time. I had also contested the local body polls as a BSP candidate in the past. I am contesting as parties discriminate between communities.
Irfan Pathan (Surat East): I manage the parking lots under flyovers that come under the Surat Municipal Corporation. I was with the BJP 10 years back. Later, I decided to focus on my work. This time, the youth of my area encouraged me to contest.
Shahabudin Jainudin (Surat East ): I am in the business of buying and selling cars. My mother, who is no more, had contested the civic body polls as a Congress candidate. I no longer have ties with any party.
Samir Fakruddin Shaikh (Surat East): I am involved in the scrap trade. Bas aisehi chunav mai aane ka mann hua (I just felt like entering the poll fray). I want to do social work. The youth of my locality encouraged me to contest as I had assisted people during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mohammad Faruq Mulla (Surat East): I am essentially a broke. I want to use politics as a medium to serve the society. I am not connected to any political party.