Pune has been a stronghold of the NCP, but the AIMIM’s entry could change the equations.
“Our corporator is missing,” reads a banner on a defunct lamppost in Shaniwar Peth – a densely populated area in Pune, the second largest city of Maharashtra after Mumbai. Many more sprang up in the nearby alleys, a couple of months before the municipal corporation polls on February 21.
It read: “We won’t say a word to you. Wherever you are, please come back – Perturbed voters.” Written in red and black on a solid white flex, these banners neither sported a colour nor a sign of a political party. Who put up the banners is not known, but it did elicit chuckles.
Pune, the Oxford of the East, is known for its metropolitan atmosphere, educational institutes and IT parks. But, the list of issues that deprive the citizens of basic facilities like good roads and adequate water supply is unending. The city – a Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) stronghold – is all set for balloting.
Along with the traditional contenders like Indian National Congress (INC), NCP and Shiv Sena, the local politics has witnessed the entry of a new player. Having won 26 seats in Aurangabad civic polls and two seats in the state assmbly, All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) is hoping for an equally illustrious debut in Pune.
The Hyderabad-based party has put up 21 candidates in its maiden attempt in Pune, home to about 50 lakh people of which 11.03 percent are Muslims. Pune Municipal Corporation has 162 corporators.
Better living conditions and education are key points on MIM’s agenda for the elections. Among the 21 MIM candidates fielded in Pune, one is Christian, eight are Dalits and remainder are Muslims from ‘open’ category. The number also includes six women – belonging to ‘reserved’ as well as ‘open’ categories.
Juber Babu Shaikh, city president AIMIM, says, “Most of our community is still residing in slums. They have no access to proper education. We want to ensure that the community moves forward with quality education.”
Umer Bagwan, an MIM candidate from ward 18D, emphasises the need for proper education. “It is the lack of education that keeps the youth unemployed and leads them to the world of crime. They get into drugs and other addictive habits. To secure better future for the girls and boys, I personally want to work on education.”
AIMIM also vows to work for the proper rehabilitation of the slum dwellers in the city. A demand for bigger homes from the Slum Redevelopment Authority (SRA) is also on its agenda.
“Many schemes have been proposed by the PMC (Pune Municipal Corporation), but they haven’t ever reached our community. The homes that have been provided by SRA for rehabilitation of the slum dwellers are too small, and we’re going to push for maintenance-free and bigger homes,” says Shaikh.
Anjum Inamdar, state core committee member, AIMIM, says, “Development has been limited to Aundh, Baner and Pashan – the showpiece areas adjoining the entry into the city via Mumbai-Pune Expressway. What have they done for the old city? They have been fooling the citizens by promising metro from last 10 years. What have they done on the ground? The traffic problem is worsening. There is still no adequate water supply in the city. People want to see real progress now.”
Inamdar cites work done by AIMIM in Hyderabad and Aurangabad as evidence of their capability. He also proposes and idea to divide the city into two areas – New Pune and Old Pune, following the Mumbai-Navi Mumbai model.
Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) position is not weak in Pune – owing partially to RSS’s influence in the city. Anil Shirole, the current BJP MP from Pune replaced two-time Pune MP Suresh Kalmadi of INC in 2014.
“RSS kahaan nahi hai?” questions Inamdar when asked about RSS’s strong presence in Pune. “They pose a danger to our democracy. They want a constitution based on Manusmriti. If someone can defeat them, we believe, it’ll be AIMIM.”
Bagwan says, “Muslims from the city have been voting for INC or NCP in the elections. These parties have been getting votes from Dalits as well. However, this time we hope to get votes from both these communities. We have gone from door to door to tell people that this is not a religious party. Secularism is our fundamental principle, and peace-loving citizens of Pune too believe in secularism. It has never been a city of communal flares.”
“We are doing everything on our part to be true to our secular spirit. We don’t want to represent only Muslim community, but everyone from the society who has suffered. And we’re sure, we’ll succeed,” he says.
MIM will be contesting Nagpur and Mumbai civic polls taking place this month as well. "After these polls, we want to to expand our party into Konkan area of Maharashtra as well. It is going to be our next target," says Inamdar.