By Mohd. Ismail Khan, TwoCircles.net,
Bhopal: ‘Ise toh CM ne goud liya hai (The CM has adopted it),’ that’s the general refrain one hears if you ask any general Bhopali on the electoral fight for Bhopal North constituency represented by lone Muslim MLA of Madhya Pradesh Assembly Arif Aqeel of the Congress party.
Sangh Parivar has now made this seat a prestige issue and is going overboard defying every norm of the traditional politics to root out the last thorn in their crown.
Arif Aqeel is a heavy weight politician who swept Bhopal North, consisting much of the old city four times in 1990, 1998, 2003 and 2008.
He started his career in politics as a student leader from Saifia College while studying law. In 1980s Mr Aqeel became popular in Bhopal with his ‘activism,’ his popularity was so that in 1990 Arif Aqeel first got elected as MLA contesting as an independent candidate.
In 1993 riots broke out in Bhopal after Babri Masjid demolition, Arif Aqeel was arrested for his alleged role in the riots. BJP Government of the state was dismissed and fresh election was called. Arif Aqeel, this time contested on Janta Dal ticket and secured nearly 65,000 votes in a polarized fight but lost with over 2,500 votes against BJP’s Guttu Bhaiya (Ramesh Sharma).
In the next five years Arif Aqeel started rebuilding his image which has got dented as ‘communal neta’. In 1998 he again contested from Bhopal North, this time on the Congress ticket, and won back the constituency defeating Guttu Bhaiya with good margin of votes. Since then it was no looking back for Mr. Aqeel, who won the seat in 2003 and again in 2008, now claiming to retain it for the fifth time.
Bhopal North since late 1970s has always witnessed a Muslim vs Hindu fight; from Hamid Qureshi to Rasool Ahmed SIddiqui to Arif Aqeel it has always been the same, at least till 2013 where Shivraj Singh Chouhan seems to have made some other plans.
The Sangh appears so desperate to root out Arif Aqeel that it has ordered Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan to “personally monitor the seat.” Mr. Chouhan started visiting Bhopal North frequently in the last one year. This year, he purchased Ganesh idol from Lakherapura near Jumerati market and Dhanteras celebration articles from old city market.
CM, the shrewd politician he is, transformed the political match of Bhopal North played on Hindu vs Muslim card to now BJP vs Congress by fielding a socialist turn BJP Muslim mascot, a veteran BJP leader and former Union minister Arif Baig to take on the might of Arif Aqeel.
When asked if he is confident in winning back his seat, with none other than the CM taking personal interest, Arif Aqeel replies with a straight face in one word, ‘Inshallah’ (God willing), as someone may say while promising to meet tomorrow. It was around 1:00 am in the night that Arif Aqeel arrives in his Gypsy at his campaign office located near Bombay Talkies. A heavy built man with white oiled hair, wearing his trade mark ‘Hawai Chappal,’ 63 year old Aqeel appeared tired from the whole day of Jan Sampark at different Mohallas.
But fatigue is the last thing to stop him from mocking BJP, an inquiry on the popularity of Shivraj Singh Chauhan made him passionate. “We have two-three people who have bigger image then this Chief Minister, Daku Malkan and Daku Madhav Singh, they used to loot and became famous. Our CM also did the same thing.”
Aqeel continued his diatribe against MP CM, “The CM has a currency counting machine in his house! Why have they opened a bank there? A poet has said for this kind of people, ‘Un ke Baaton par na jao, Un ke qadmon ko dekho kahan chalte haiN’”
Apart from traditional Minority Affairs, Arif Aqeel headed other important posts such as Prison Minister and Food and Civil Supplies Minister in the earlier Congress government, but it was the heading of Gas Relief Ministry and its red-tapism which has created disillusionment among his Muslim constituents. Bhopal North consist of much larger portion of the Bhopal gas tragedy victims, and now they allege that Arif Aqeel has never used his position to provide them relief.
Some of the gas victims in North Bopal TCN spoke to said that their representative didn’t ever raise voice for a special court nor did made any special step for rehabilitation and medical care. In fact disenchanted gas victims are leading a campaign “No justice no vote,” and have announced to use “NOTA” during elections.
When asked about those allegations, furious Arif Aqeel targeted 10 years of BJP rule, “During my tenure as Gas Relief Minister, I put up pressure and got huge funds from Central Government for Bhopal gas tragedy victims, but here BJP Government looted all those funds. Instead of helping victims [this government] distributed crores to rich NGOs”.
He then went on a barrage, “Widows are not getting pensions, there is no safe drinking water supply, no free health care even subsidy provided over the medicines are removed.”
Bhopal gas victim rehabilitation is a Central Government affair when asked him why he didn’t approach his own party at Delhi. “Only when I approached my party at Center, funds came in for victims’ rehabilitation but BJP Government looted it,” he alleges.
But why didn’t he raise his voice when loot was on? “I did, an inquiry has been ordered by Central Government on the corruption of distribution of funds,” he says.
In the current assembly as a lone Muslim representative Arif Aqeel said he executed his duty actively, “In BJP Government tenure nearly 50-60 riots took place in the state and in every case I put up a question in the assembly. Anywhere in the state, if the minorities have been persecuted I have raised my voice against it in the assembly.”
Arif Baig with his supporters
Blasting the commentary over Shivraj Singh as inclusive CM, Arif Aqeel said, “I raised the issue of Sachar Committee implementation on the floor of the house, CM replied ‘Maa ke Dood mein darar paida ho jaygi’ (Fault lines would be created between mother’s milk), can a break up between brothers happen just to give another brother his right.”
‘This is nothing’, he again charged, “People say he (CM) takes every one along, I give one example, Supreme Court has given order to pay imam and muezzins remunerations, he is not ready to implement it. He brought down into litigation the proposed land given under Digvijay Singh’s rule for Haj house.”
When interrupted that the CM has already allotted another plot of land for haj house, he said, “That’s outside of city, which has faced protests from Sangh as it is located near a temple, it’s again going to be in conflict. He just wants to make his name.”
Sangh Parivar and BJP on the other hand is leaving no stone upturned to get Muslim votes and traditional Hindu votes into the basket of their 78 year old candidate Arif Baig. But in communally polarized MP will Hindus vote for Arif Baig even if he is on the BJP ticket?
Arif Baig appears confident of his win though and told TCN that “Every community will vote for me, irrespective of their religion and caste,” adding, “I am not fighting this election on the plank of Islam khatre mein hai (Islam is in danger), like my opponent, but on the issues of development and mutual communal harmony.”
Lakshman Upadhyaya, a RSS activist campaigning for Arif Baig, echoes Baig, when he said confidently, “Whole Sangh is behind Baig Saab”, adding, “RSS has given strict orders to its cadres to campaign rigorously and religiously for Arif Baig. We have started a door to door campaign to ensure his victory.”
According to Lakshman Upadhyaya, Sangh is doing first of its kind experiment in Madhya Pradesh, rising above religious politics, and if it succeeds than it will open up new political avenues in the state.
Gaurav Sharma, Arif Baig’s election campaign management chief said for the first time Bhopal North election will be fought on the issue of track record of local MLA and state Government work, not on any communal issue.
But supporters of Arif Aqeel assert that their legislator is not a polarizing figure as projected by Sangh. His party workers claim that in last election Arif Aqeel got 15,000-18,000 Hindu votes and is a popular figure among all the communities. Arif Aqeel is also seen many times campaigning in Hindu neighborhoods, sporting Tilak on his forehead, something his supporters present as manifestation of his secular credentials.
“Sangh has made my way easier by pitching Arif Baig against me”, Arif Aqeel asserts commenting on fighting against lone Muslim candidate of BJP. “Have you seen the track record of Arif Baig, he has changed party’s frequently for desire of posts, and he is not a consistent man. Two people have to carry him to help him stand and that kind of aged person BJP has fielded again me.”
He openly challenged Chouhan to contest against him. “I told Chief Minister straight that since you have adopted my constituency come and fight with me directly and contest from here,” he said.
“Sangh and Chief Minister has made this constituency naak ka masla (a question of their honour) for them. See on 8th we will get to know if CM has any ‘naak’ left with him,” a beaming Arif Aqeel, said to the loud laughter of his supporters.