Bhopal: The assembly polls in the saffron stronghold Madhya Pradesh saw the emergence of a new minority face from Congress — Muslim hardliner Arif Masood who has been extremely vocal about issues such as Ram temple, mob lynching and Triple Talaq Bill.
Contesting from Bhopal Madhya constituency, Masood defeated sitting MLA Suredra Nath Singh, a grounded politician and old friend of outgoing Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan. The constituency represents a sizable part of the Muslim-dominated Old Bhopal.
Shunning his white skull cap and sporting Tilak on forehead, Masood offered a peep into his campaign strategy when he went around seeking votes in the Hindu dominated areas.
He even paid a visit to Hanuman temple in the last phase of campaigning. His publicity materials exhibited his concern for the downtrodden form the both the communities.
This shift in Masood's strategy came after 2013, when he lost to Singh after an intense polarised battle.
Besides wooing the Hindus, Masood, a close aide of senior Congress leader Suresh Pachauri, also worked extensively to attract Dalits within his constituency. A couple of months ago, the middle-aged politician even took out a religious procession of Dalits with pomp and show.
“My win is the win of Ganga-Jamuni tahzeeb in the city,” Masood had said after the poll results.
Notwithstanding his ‘soft’ image peddled in this poll, Masood has been a prominent voice on anything connected to Muslims in Old city areas and also on issues of national importance.
As an executive member of All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), the newly elected MLA always voiced his views on Ram temple issues.
He also vociferously opposed the Triple Talaq Bill through various protests in the state and led protests in Bhopal when mob lynchings made national headlines.
Masood emerged victorious in the vicinity of Bhopal North constituency represented by an ‘invincible’ Arif Aqueel’, who won five times from the seat including three times right under the nose of the BJP in 2003, 2008 and 2013. Still, Aqueel and Masood have remained poles apart in Bhopal politics.
Masood has risen from the ranks in the Congress from being student union leader in NSUI, which he represented as district general secretary, and later as district head. Starting his career as a student leader at Benazir College, he had worked under the tutelage of former Congress veteran Rasool Ahmed Siddiqui.
In 2001, an armed mob had vandalised Lilly Talkies in the old city for screening blockbuster film ‘Gadar: Ek Prem Katha’ and Masood, then a youth congress leader, was the one who had led the mobsters. The then Chief Minister Digvijay Singh had expelled him from the party.
He was also part of the Samajwadi Party for a while, where he continued to work for the community and later joined All India Milli Council and All India Muslim Personal Law Board. His popularity grew rapidly, especially among the local Muslim youth and the Congress appointed him as its spokesperson. In 2010, he was made the convener of Congress Minorities Cell.
Eventually, he was fielded against Surendra Nath Singh from Bhopal Madhya in 2013 but lost.
Singh, known to be a close confidante of CM Shivraj, perhaps lost due to his below the par zeal towards developmental issues. “The illegal gumtis (roadside kiosks) flourished under his tenure, even in posh localities and he seems to be doing nothing besides being visible in New Market (main market in Bhopal where Singh met locals every evening),” said a resident of Bhopal Madhya.
A close aide of Masood even claimed that the BJP supporters tried polarising the contest by fanning a hardliner image of Masood on Ram temple and other issues, but could not succeed.
Noted author and journalist Rasheed Kidwai from Bhopal claims that Masood has mellowed down a lot lately and is expected to get subdued further once he becomes part of the mainstream politics, just like other Muslim politicians tend to do. Kidwai replied in affirmative when asked whether Masood’s win is a response from the minority community which is hard-pressed during the present rule in the country.
Meanwhile, the MP assembly which till now has witnessed a lone Muslim MLA Arif Aqueel, will soon see a new lawmaker in Masood and the community-related issues are likely to be pushed in the House vigorously, opine many Muslim residents in the city.