IN THE narrow lanes of Akhtarabad in Malegaon, the tall and lanky Mufti Ismail is forced to get down on his haunches in front of every door that he knocks on. While from afar it seems that he is pleading for votes, the Mufti is doing so to adhere with the etiquette of drinking water or any liquid according to Islamic sunnah. “Wherever I go, they offer me water or milk to drink. This is their love for me,” says former MLA and the AIMIM candidate from Malegaon Central.
Ahead of the 2009 state polls, a cleric with a salary of Rs 5,000, Mufti had pedaled across Malegaon on his creaky bicycle promising change as a candidate of Jan Surajya Shakti Party. The residents of Malegaon, a Muslim-dominated town once known as the ‘Manchester of India’ for its sprawling textile industry, had by then embedded itself in the national psyche as a town seething with anger and alienation and has been thrust into the national consciousness because of a spate of bomb blasts.
To break this mould, the local residents, including poor textile workers, crowd-funded Mufti’s campaign by thrusting Rs 5 and 10 notes in his hands. Mufti subsequently won with a resounding margin.
But the only thing that changed after his election was his own personal fortune. Resentment against his non-performance — he had the worst attendance records in the Maharashtra Assembly, attending only 77 of the 225 days it was in session — led to his defeat in 2014 when he contested on an NCP ticket.
Mufti acknowledges that he failed to rise to the expectations of his voters. His new found piety and the decision to go with Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM is aimed at consolidating his supporters around him.
“Some mistakes were made in the past. The fact that I was not associated with the ruling party also caused my work to suffer. This time around, I will working harder than before. You have an idea of how AIMIM leaders work. We will ensure that all that needs to be done for the city will be taken up on a priority basis,” he says.
Mufti’s main rival is Congress MLA Shaikh Aasif, whose campaign revolves around his opposition to AIMIM and his initiative in improving Malegaon’s crumbling infrastructure. All that he has to show for his claims is a half-built flyover on the city’s potholed arterial road. “We are working towards improving infrastructure. This work has been initiated by me and I will ensure that it gets completed. We, however, also have to maintain Malegaon’s image and can’t let a polarsing party win from Malegaon,” Asif says.
Muslims account for 11.56 per cent of the state’s population and play a decisive role in 40 of the 288 Assembly seats. However, Malegaon Central is the only seat where a Muslim MLA is guaranteed to get elected from. It is the only constituency where 12 of the 13 candidates are Muslims and seeking votes from an electorate that is 95 per cent Muslim.