Bhopal: Politics is all about luck and timing. This line totally fits with the Congress and the BJP candidates of Bhopal North.
Even his wildest dreams the five-time sitting Congress MLA from Bhopal North and lone Muslim member in assembly, Arif Aqueel had never thought that he would face challenge from his own party’s senior leader and once rival Rasool Ahmad Siddiqui’s daughter Fatima Siddiqui in his home turf.
Rashool Ahmad Siddiqui was the former cabinet minister and had won two terms from Bhopal North – in1980 and 1985 – on Congress’s ticket. Siddiqui’s family is one of the known ‘Congress families’ and close to senior Congress leader Madhavrao Scindia.
However, as it has been luck and timing matter a lot in politics. Rasool Ahmad Siddiqui’s wife had sought ticket from the Congress to contest in the upcoming polls from Bhopal North but was denied and the ticket was given to Arif Aqueel, again. Disappointed with this, Siddiqui’s daughter, Fatima joined the BJP.
The BJP, which has openly given a wide berth to Muslim candidates, pitted Fatima against Aqueel on Bhopal North seat, days after her joining. The move came as a shock to many. Fatima is the lone Muslim candidate of BJP in the 230-member list for the ensuing election.
What makes this fight more interesting is the family history of the candidates. Fatima is taking on Congress heavyweight Arif Aqueel, who had played a key role in the 1993 defeat of her father — former minister Rasool Ahmed Siddiqui. Back then, Arif had contested from Bhopal North as a Janata Dal candidate and cut into Congress votes, which helped BJP’s Ramesh Sharma aka Guttu Bhaiya sail through. Siddiqui, a two-time MLA from Bhopal North never recovered from the defeat and died of a heart attack in 1997.
Following the BJP ticket, Rasool Siddiqui’s daughter is leaving no stone unturned to avenge her father’s 25-year-old defeat and reclaim the glory of her father.
The daughter of the late Congressman started singing BJP’s praises soon after she got the ticket.
“I was destined to join BJP to help women from Muslim community who believe in self-reliance and want to financially support their families,” 35-year-old Fatima told the media.
She believes that the BJP’s stand on triple talaq was revolutionary, but points out that what’s needed now is to make Muslim women self-reliant.
On the campaign trail, it’s easy to see Fatima has a way with the crowds. It’s also apparent that people haven’t forgotten the goodwill her father earned with his work for Bhopal gas victims. Gas-hit Muslims account for as much as 45 per cent of the Bhopal North electorate.
“My father was a firm promoter of Hindu-Muslim brotherhood and stood for ‘Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb’. And I have seen the same in chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan who also believes in the same philosophy. He is secular, doing good work and taking care of people from all sections of society,” said Fatima, adding she has the same feeling about Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
But Fatima believes that her first step in politics is destined to avenge her father’s defeat. She believes that the tradition of Hindu-Muslim unity her father advocated needs to be preserved — and BJP is the best vehicle for it. “Schemes such as Ladli Laxmi and Kanyadaan, where a Hindu girl is married alongside a Muslim girl, give a boost to secularism in India. People availing of Teerth Yatra scheme are also helping others to take part in Haj. No major riots have been reported in last 15 years of BJP regime. These are beautiful relations that one can see in Madhya Pradesh, thanks to the BJP-led state government,” gushed Fatima.
However, a look at the data on communal incidents makes it clear that the candidate’s praises are just eyewash. On February 6, 2018, Union Minister of State for Home Hansraj Ahir informed the Lok Sabha that in the year 2017, Madhya Pradesh witnessed 60 incidents of riots in which nine people were killed and 191 injured. Again in June 2018, the state was gripped in incidences of communal violence where four districts of the state including Shajapur, Damoh, Tikamgarh and Rajgarh witnessed clashes and tensions between different communities. Newsclick had earlier reported that in 2016 too, the state had been caught in a series of communal incidences.
Tough Fight for A First-timer
As a first-timer, Fatima has an uphill battle against the Congress that hasn’t lost in Bhopal North since 1998. Aqeel is a five-time winner here (1990, 1998, 2003, 2008, 2013) and Bhopal North is considered as an impregnable Congress bastion.
“Aqueel takes advantage of the illiterate and poor and deceives them through religious sentiments,” she alleged calling her Congress rival communal.
Aqueel brushed off her barb saying, “I challenge BJP to stop my winning spree. I will secure more votes from the home ward of BJP’s mayor Alok Sharma apart from other common wards. This discards the allegation of being communal. She is a novice and her popularity is very thin in the local areas,” Aqeel told pointing out that he has earlier won from Hindu and SC-dominated wards. “You can win once or twice by playing the communal card but not for five times. People like me because of my work not name,” he added.
Former minister Siddiqui was third in the race when he lost his last election in 1993. This shows where the incumbent candidate stands, said the Congress MLA.
Commenting over the possibility of winning, senior journalist Ashutosh Shukla said, “If you take a sharp look at the composition of the constituency then you will find that it is a mixed population but Muslim voters are dominating here. Bhopal North is basically old Bhopal which is also a business hub. If we talk about the winning possibility of Arif, he has been winning this seat since 1998 with a good margin. He got more than 59,000 votes in 2008 and 73,000 in 2013, a sharp jump. But Fatima, who is contesting for the first time, will only succeed if the work of her father pays off."