Shahnawaz Shaikh is the municipal councillor from Jamalpur Ward which lies in the heart of the old city of Ahmedabad. The area is largely Muslim-dominated with around 60,000 voters out of the total of the registered 88,000 electorates. Shaikh, who has been active in student politics for more than a decade now with the NSUI, defeated his nearest rival by a margin of 13,500 votes in the municipality elections.
Jamalpur ward is quite extensive in size as it was formed after delimitation, leading from the merger of four wards. The area is a commercial wholesale market and thriving with energy. In Shaikh’s own words, “mostly educated people live there as schools, colleges, industries and factories are all over the place”.
Here is an exclusive chat with the young Congress leader:
While the Congress won three seats in your area, the BJP lost its deposit. Do you think the Muslim voters are unhappy with Modi?
Yes, it’s an open game and it is visible. The more the BJP say they are different from the Muslims, the more they marginalize the Muslim voters. For them, it is a part of political strategy. On the other hand, we are working honestly for all sections of the society.
Especially in Gujarat, after 2002, the BJP has been very inactive in the Ahmedabad city area leading to much dissatisfaction of the public. Besides, nothing concrete or any sorts of big projects were seen in the Muslim areas. There are problems of drainage. Muslims don’t even have the basic facilities, which is their constitutional right.
So you mean that there has not been any development as it is a Muslim area?
It is simple. Ahmedabad city has 48 wards. When BJP people allocate funds for these wards (budget is Rs 6000 cr/year), they sit with a map and evaluates the concrete patch of the Congress, the Muslim dominant wards, and their own. Accordingly, the fund is being allocated which is unjust. Unfortunately, the funds are allocated to those areas where there is no need by overlooking the parts where there is a serious need.
But, it would have been possible that some Muslims would have been voted BJP?
No, I don’t think so. Muslims are not prepared in any way to vote for BJP.
Now what is the trend for the upcoming state assembly elections?
See, there are a lot of difficulties for the Congress in the urban areas. Congress has just three seats while the rest is with BJP. If we talk about the turnaround, just 3-4 months ago, the panchayat elections happened. Congress won with decent numbers securing 23 out of 29 districts. We have got an edge in all the local body elections. So this is heading towards a big change, also there are many issues like the Patidar movement, the OBC movement etc.
Will the Congress be benefitted from these movements?
The BJP has been ruling the state for 22 years now. So, people want change and it is evident from the fact they are making Congress win in local body elections.
Hardik Patel has openly supported Congress, would it be an advantage?
All these ongoing movements have expectation from the Congress that if we come to power, the justice will be delivered. They all want to beat the BJP. This time, the Congress has been working actively, the manner in which strategies are being set, ideas are being implemented is commendable. More focus is being given on the rural areas also.
It is the first time in last 15 years that Modi is not present in Gujarat. Will it be of any benefit for the Congress?
There comes a natural attachment among people when a person from their state becomes the PM. But Anandiben could not manage the government and failed to complete even her tenure. There’s a negative environment against the BJP and Amit Shah. Even after Modi became the PM, he hasn’t done anything significant for the state. It will fall in the Congress’ favor.
Congress will contest only against BJP or is there any issue of its own?
The party has its own issues. Congress is in talks with all the activists. We will fulfill their demands once we come to power. Besides, we have promised to waive the loan on Khedpur. About 40 lakh youth are unemployed in Gujarat, to give them employment is our primary objective. Additionally, unemployment allowance will also be targeted at.
Dalits who were with the Congress before, have started their own movement now? Is this a loss for the Congress?
Please understand that if there is any movement in any place, then it is against the current government. Like the movement in Delhi that happened after the Nirbhaya rape issue, it was against the government, so I understand that whatever movement is going on in Gujarat is running due to the failure of the government.
Every time NSUI wins elections in colleges but that doesn’t get convert in votes in mainstream politics. Why?
Gujarat has been under the BJP rule for 22 years but students have always supported NSUI. This is a very intriguing question which everybody keeps asking. The answer to this is that we live on campus with students. We make the people know and feel that we are with them. Our visibility is highest there. The second reason is that NSUI always stands with the students’ unlike the ABVP.
You have been in public office for a year and a half now, what new have you done?
Whenever we used to go for campaigning, there was an opinion in the minds of the people that – the leaders come once in five years and do not show themselves in the area again. Such a statement from the public made me very upset and I decided that at least I will not let this happen. Therefore, I took up an initiative called “corporator aapke ghar” (Your corporator in your house), wherein I go to the houses of the people in the area and interact with them every Sunday.
Who is your inspiration?
My father! My father is a doctor and since childhood, I have seen him going for house calls even at 2 am without complaining. When it comes to his work, it hardly matters to him if there is a marriage in the house or someone has died, he has made work his priority.
What are your views on Rahul Gandhi?
I wanted to become the president of NSUI of Gujarat State and participated in the talent hunt. I met Rahul Ji during the interview process. That was the first time I got an opportunity to meet him. He made me the National General Secretary of NSUI. It has been a good journey with him. I got the chance to work and know him better.
While working with him, I realise how Rahul Gandhi thinks of empowering people. He is genuinely concerned about poor people and how to make them progress in life. He is a proponent of the idea of decentralisation of power, as he is not power hungry.
So, Rahul Gandhi has a big role to play in expanding the scope of the country’s politics. He never says that ‘I know all’; in fact, he learns things by putting himself into that situation every time. Thus, I have seen a completely clean personality; a pure heart. It is very fortunate that the country is getting such great leader from the Congress. He is hope for the younger generation, of suffering farmers, of gender empowerment etc.
The next generation belongs to the Congress, to Rahul Gandhi. If not today, then tomorrow people will accept Rahul Gandhi completely with their hearts. And I believe that it is only Congress that can give the right direction to the country.