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Rediff.com  » Election » Malegaon: Veteran under siege

Malegaon: Veteran under siege

By Tara Shankar Sahay in Malegaon
October 09, 2004 00:53 IST
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Veteran Janata Dal (Secular) legislator Nihal Ahmed is trying to put up a stout defence against Sheikh Rashid of the Congress who has pulled out all stops to defeat the six-time MLA from Malegaon assembly constituency.

Malegaon has an electorate of 255,000 of which Hindus account for 54,000 people. Most of them work in the power-loom sector. Apart from this, the town is notorious as a communal hotspot.

For the record, the Bharatiya Janata Party-Shiv Sena candidate is Sunil Gaekwad and the Samajwadi Party has fielded Yunus Isa.

While Gaekwad is fervently hoping to benefit from a division in the Muslim vote, the latter's chances are slim. The main contest is between Ahmed and Rashid.

Though only six days remain before polling day, the campaign is rather low-key. The overriding issue is the power-loom industry, which is not exactly in the pink of health.

Ahmed blames it on the United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre. "The UPA government's uncertain economic policies are poised to spell doom to the power-loom industry," Ahmed told rediff.com.

He is trying to create hype around this issue. Reclined in his modest residence in the Hazarkholi locality, he told rediff.com, "My main worry is that there should be clarity in this Congress-led UPA government's economic policies. The way it is going, it will kill our domestic industries and benefit corporates and multinationals.

"If the obstacles facing the power-loom industry are removed, there won't be one unemployed person in Malegaon.

"We support the Leftists who keep warning the government that there should be an in-built defensive mechanism to protect domestic industries. The previous (National Democratic Alliance) government ruined our power-loom sector by imposing Centvat. I agitated against the Centvat excise taxation and thankfully it has now been withdrawn."

Of course, he hopes the electorate will also keep in mind his standing as a veteran legislator.

But people like 3-wheeler driver Ashfaque Ahmed Ansari are not convinced.

"Kante ka takkar hai. Sheikhsahib bhi maidan mein datee hain (It will be a tough contest. Sheikh is also unyielding)," he said.

According to him, Muslims migrated to Malegaon in 1888 when the labour-intensive handloom industry took roots in this town in northern Maharashtra. The scenario changed in 1937 with the entry of the power-loom.

The communal tensions took root because of the uneasy relationship between the Muslims who migrated from the Deccan region and their counterparts from north India.

In this context, Ahmed does not enjoy a good reputation.

"Its a joke when Nihal Ahmed talks about secularism because he is the most rabid fundamentalist in this town. You have to hear his speeches to believe what he says," alleged Rashid.

Even when he served as the town's mayor, Ahmed 'did nothing', he added.

This correspondent heard a senior citizen Ansari Afroz Ahmed complain about the lack of basic infrastructure in the town. "We have to go to Dhule and Nashik for treatment," he said.

Besides, water scarcity in summer is a perennial problem. Rashid claims to have taken the initiative to bring water from Girna Dam through a pipeline and that 80% of the project had been completed.

"I am concerned about the overall well-being of the people here, especially Muslims. Nihal Ahmed has to explain why despite his six terms, there is no progress worth the name," Ansari Afroz Ahmed told rediff.com while revealing that the MLA's development fund was invariably sent back to the state government unutilised.

"Of course, there must be hard work and honesty in politics. But I don't subscribe to the theory that only do-gooders can become good politicians. I believe that to be successful you must get people to put their trust in you," he said.

But Rashid believes people will not buy Ahmed's explanation and is exposing every shortcoming of the six-time MLA before the electorate.

At the same time, he is highlighting his achievements: ensuring a monthly pension for elderly citizens, Rs 250 to widows till their children attain 18 years of age and a one-time payment of Rs 10,000 to women who lose their husbands.

If Rashid manages to convince the electorate, he will cause one of the biggest upsets in northern Maharashtra.
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Tara Shankar Sahay in Malegaon