Stepping out after leading congregational prayers at Malegaon’s Jama Masjid, a tall, visibly nervous Mufti Ismail (51) is surrounded by power loom workers waiting to shake hands with him.
The mufti is used to people crowding around him.
The only difference this time around is that people who earn no more then Rs 400 every week in Malegaon’s dying power loom industry are pressing five and ten rupee notes in the mufti’s hand as their contribution towards his election campaign.
“Yesterday I received a contribution of Rs 157,” mufti Ismail says, displaying a letter signed by 157 residents who contributed Re 1 each towards his campaign. Malegaon, a Muslim-dominated town once known as the Manchester of India for its booming textile industry, is now notorious for its poor urban infrastructure and for being a communal hotbed.
The rising discontent Malegaon’s residents with its established politicians like sitting Congress Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA), Shaikh Rashid, means men like mufti who travels on a bicycle and speaks about developing the town are getting support from the citizens.
The mufti, a graduate in Islamic Theology from Deoband, Uttar Pradesh, is the Imam of Malegaon’s Jama Masjid and the head of the Jamiat-ul-Ulema-e-Hind’s Malegaon chapter.
He rose from a humble beginning to start a power loom and land dealing business of his own. He started a weekly religious discourse, Islahi Mashra to bring social awakening amongst Malegaon’s populace.
The mufti capitalised on his growing popularity and rose to prominence after a people’s front called Kaumi Mahaz floated by him was voted to power in the Malegaon Municipal Corporation in 2007.
Since then the mufti’s clout has been growing steadily.
He is contesting from Vinay Kore’s Jan Surajya Party. Kore is a cabinet minister in the present Democratic front government.
“Politics is an integral part of Islam. I believe that the entry of Muslim clerics in political life will not only help bring transparency in public life but will also help in clearing misconceptions against Islam,” Mufti Ismail said.
He will take on sitting MLA Sheikh Rashid and veteran Janta Dal leader Nihal Ahmed.
“We elected these representatives and are paying a price,” Aftab Ansari a power loom worker said.
“It is now time to give Mufti sahab a chance.”