Saturday, October 24, 2009

Want new beginning for Malegaon: Imam-MLA

Want new beginning for Malegaon: Imam-MLA

By Rakshit Sonawane

Posted: Saturday , Oct 24, 2009 at 0432 hrs

Last month, as he led the Eid prayers at the Jama Masjid in Malegaon, Imam Mufti Mohammed Ismail Khalique was a bit preoccupied. It was four days before the last date for filing nominations for the Maharashtra Assembly elections, and the cleric had decided to throw his hat into the ring.

It proved to be the right decision, as the Imam emerged as the surprise winner yesterday, trouncing his nearest rival, incumbent MLA Shaikh Rashid of the Congress, by a convincing margin of 17,919 votes.

“I wanted to do something more than just my duty as the Imam and teaching at the madrasa. But I had no network of workers, no team of experts to help me, no money or muscle power,” says Mufti Ismail, a day after his victory from the Muslim-majority textile town, about 300 kilometres northeast of Mumbai.

So he “decided to appeal to the conscience of the people for support”. For two weeks after Eid, he went from door-to-door, asking people if they wanted change and whether they were willing to help him. “The response was overwhelming. People started giving money. Even the poor people gave at least one rupee, a family of five would give Rs 5 — one rupee per vote. I had no funds for contesting the polls, but this way I collected about Rs 80,000, and with the grace of Allah, got elected,” he says.

The Imam contested as a candidate of local outfit Jan Surajya Shakti (JSS). In the past, the constituency has voted for the Congress or the Janata Dal.

“For three decades, Nihal Ahmad was elected MLA of Malegaon. But he used to play emotional politics which caused communal tension — there used to be riots preceding elections, bringing a bad name to Malegaon,” says Mufti Ismail, referring to his Janata Dal (Secular) rival in the polls.

“People wanted change, so in 1999, they voted for Congress candidate Shaikh Rashid. He was our MLA for 10 years, but did nothing,” he says, adding that the town needs schools, colleges, hospitals, jobs, and more importantly, religious harmony.

“I want to make a new beginning for Malegaon,” he declares. Mufti Ismail believes the voters of Malegaon (Central) — 96 per cent of who are Muslim after delimitation — supported him because they were fed up with his predecessors. It also helped that he’s the Imam of the main mosque in the town, and there are 450-500 students at his madrasa which teaches Marathi, English, Science, Geography, History and Mathematics apart from the holy texts and Urdu.

The cleric believes that madrasas should teach all subjects to help Muslims joint the national mainstream, but should not be beholden to the government for funds as that could hurt their independence. “It is necessary to teach Marathi because it is the state language, and English because it is the international language,” he says, adding that Malegaon has remained backward and been branded communal as there are few educational opportunities after Class XII.

There is just one college in the area. But Mufti Ismail promises to change that, saying he will try to get colleges which not only offer conventional degrees but also technical, vocational, engineering and medical education.

But for the moment, his first priority is peace and communal harmony. “Without peace, there is no development or progress. There have been riots and blasts in this town, but you must realise that there are good and bad people in every community. You can’t blame a community if a few of its members become extremists and resort to terror —- and that applies to all communities,” he says.

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