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Shazia window on AAP chief turf
- Ghaziabad mulls new secular ‘alternative’

Shazia Ilmi campaigns in Ghaziabad on Thursday. Picture by Prem Singh

Ghaziabad, March 28: To shopkeeper Rafiuddin, the key feature of this election is that the sizeable Muslim population of Ghaziabad has an “alternative” to the Samajwadi Party “for the first time”.

“I’m not saying that all of us are going to vote for the Aam Aadmi Party. What I’m saying is that the entire community is deeply pondering over it as an alternative,” said the 40-year-old who runs a store at Masuri village in the Loni area of Ghaziabad.

On the face of it, Aam Aadmi Party candidate Shazia Ilmi has started off with several leg-ups in this western Uttar Pradesh pocket in Delhi’s neighbourhood where Muslims make up a fourth of the population.

One, Muslim anger at the Samajwadi government’s handling of last year’s violence in Muzaffarnagar, as well as the lack of development and the truancy of outgoing MP Rajnath Singh, the BJP president, who has now switched seats.

Two, Kejriwal’s local links: he lived in Ghaziabad city’s Kausambi locality till three months ago and his party has 32 offices in the constituency, including four in Loni.

Delhi resident Shazia, therefore, has been able to shed the “outsider” tag in a way Congress candidate Raj Babbar, who has switched seats from Firozabad, and the BJP’s V.K. Singh, a Haryana native, haven’t been able to.

Rafiuddin’s friend and business partner Shafayat Ali echoed his views.

“Our Samajwadi MLA lives in the next village but I have never seen him here. Neither has Rajnath Singh visited us. As for Raj Babbar, I’m sure he will run back to Mumbai after the election even if he wins,” Ali said.

“At least, Kejriwal is in Kausambi,” he added, referring to the Aam Aadmi Party office in that locality, 12km from Masuri. “I can take my problems to him. At least, he will sweep away the gandagi (filth) with his broom!”

Ali said that for the first time in years, he was “thinking of my options”.

“All these parties have promised us many things but haven’t fulfilled any. During the rains, these roads are knee-deep in slush and the children can’t go to school. I keep asking myself, ‘What is the harm in trying out a new alternative?”’

Loni resident Anwar Hossain explained why he believes the Congress is not the “new alternative”.

“There is no Congress vote left here. We live so close to Delhi, yet the (central) government can’t see us and has done nothing for us,” he said.

Congress candidate Surendra Prakash Goel had won in 2004 before delimitation but apparently got the caste equations wrong in 2009.

The Dalits have been voting for the Bahujan Samaj Party, which holds four of the five Assembly segments in Ghaziabad and is expected to mount a strong challenge. The upper castes voted primarily for Rajnath the last time.

“We feel betrayed by all the big parties. Even the Aam Aadmi Party, I’m sure, will turn out to be the same in the long run, but since they haven’t failed us yet, maybe they are a good choice,” said Naien Saifi, 35, from Pipleda village, who works with a private firm in Ghaziabad city.

“I read about them in the social media, listen to them on TV. I can say that when we sit down for chats in the evening, the Aam Aadmi Party as an alternative is discussed.”

Shazia’s key challenge, she seems to believe, is “false propaganda”.

“I’m your sister; don’t listen to those who try to mislead you,” she told the Muslim-majority villages among the dozen-odd settlements she visited yesterday.

Referring to a morphed Internet photo showing Kejriwal tying Narendra Modi’s bootlaces, she told the crowd at Khachda that these had been “made on computers”.

At her next stop, she dismissed reports about her visit to a temple to pray to Shiva as “concocted”.

Shazia had indeed visited a temple and offered water to the Shiva idol, news pictures of which are available in the public domain. She chastised accompanying journalists today for publicising what she claimed was a non-story.

Ghaziabad’s 23.55 lakh voters can exercise their choice on April 10.