iconimg Sunday, August 30, 2015

Sunita Aron, Hindustan Times
Sarai Mir, June 03, 2007
Abu Salem's political plans may have backfired but his brother Abu Jais seems determined to enter active politics. In local parlance, 'It is a status symbol. At least one member of the family has to be in politics.' Salem’s brother himself confirmed the plans: “I am from the Samajwadi Party and I work for my party. Certainly, I would want to contest elections, but much would depend on netaji (referring to Mulayam Singh Yadav)”. When asked if his brother had finally shelved his political plans, he quipped, “The matter is now in the court. He wanted to contest elections. Talks were also going on with Sone Lal Patel’s Apna Dal but then this fiasco happened. His name was found missing in the voter’s list.”

Beyond this, he carefully avoided talking about his infamous brother. “Jab parivar mein char log hote hai, to unki soch bhi alag hoti hai (when there are four members in a family, then they don’t necessarily think alike)”. While insisting that people should understand him, he says: “Sometimes son is known by his father’s name while sometimes it could be vice versa.”

When told that people connect their family’s prosperity to Salem's underworld activities, he retorted: “We have our own business. How can there be any connection between the two.” He closed the conversation with, “I don’t meet him, I don’t talk about him.”

Local people don’t agree with this. But they prefer not to dabble in their affairs.

Abu Salem’s family lives in Sarai Mir, which is known more in the Middle East than India primarily because at least two members from each family of this town of 70,000 has migrated in search of a job.

Though local people jabber about Salem's childhood, they hide their ‘sentimental support’ for the incarcerated leader. They either prefer to maintain “safe distance or silence”. Talk to any shopkeeper in the vicinity of his house and you get to hear loads of tales about his childhood.

“He was a poor boy who used to run for petty errands,” says one man. Another recalls how Salem in tatters used to fetch tea from a dhabha before he left for Mumbai. But they would scratch their head when asked, “When did you last see him?” Pat comes the reply, “He hasn’t visited the area for several years now.”

But quietly they admit two things. One: Salem’s popularity among the youth. Second: The family’s prosperity that they connect with Salem’s rise.