In Aurangabad, Drinking Water brings a Former Journalist to Parliament
In conversation with MP Imtiyaz Jaleel
Imtiyaz Jaleel’s Lok Sabha win in Aurangabad is historic in more ways than one – he is a journalist-turned-politician; the first MP from the Owaisi-led All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen outside of their Hyderabadi stronghold; and Maharashtra’s first Lok Sabha MP from the Muslim community in 15 years. Yet, perhaps the most striking feature of his electoral win is his campaign, which was based on issues of social and developmental importance amidst a sea change in Indian politics towards communal mobilization.
Jaleel’s electoral campaign was built around an issue that by far surpasses any communal divisions: thirst. Amidst one of the worst drought Maharashtra has ever seen, Jaleel spoke about providing drinking water to people in Aurangabad, one of the worst-affected areas in the state. “The water crisis in Aurangabad is partly due to the failure of rains, but the culture the BJP has brought to the Municipal Corporation in its 30-year rule is that of making money – off roads, garbage, and even water. This culture needed to go,” Jaleel told The Citizen.
“The Shiv Sena had been trying to make Aurangabad the first Indian city to privatize water, they wanted to bring in a company owned by a member of Rajya Sabha who also owns the Zee Network. The general image created by the Sena was that if they do not bring in the company, people of Aurangabad would not be able to get water at all. I was the only one opposing this,” he said.
“The problem was not the availability of water, which depends on the natural resources, it is the distribution system that the company was going to work on. So why can’t the same thing be done by the government departments? It is a difficult thing, but can be solved by the government to a great extent. I am still against private companies because you cannot sell water and give it in the hands of private players. We also have to consider our poor people,” he added.
Imtiyaz Jaleel is the first to displace Shiv Sena’s Chandrakanth Khaire as Member of Parliament in 15 years, winning the Lok Sabha elections with a margin of merely 4,492 votes. While Khaire ran for the fourth consecutive time on his communal slogan of “Khan pahije ki Baan pahije” (Do you want Bow or Arrow), Jaleel, who ran from a joint Asaduddin Owaisi-led AIMIM and Prakash Ambedkar-led Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) ticket, not only won Muslim and Dalit votes, but also those from the Maratha, Brahmin, Sikh and Christian communities – creating a dent even in Shiv Sena’s traditional Hindu vote bank. Shiv Sena’s Maratha vote bank was also split by former MLA Harshavardhan Jadhan, a proponent of Maratha Reservations.
According to Jaleel, the votes he has received from the non-Muslims are a certificate of his work as an MLA in the last 4 and a half years. “I welcome these votes even more than those of the Muslim community, because Muslims would any way vote for Muslim candidate.But other communities voting for a Muslim candidate from the MIM at a time when a Narendra Modi wave is upon us, is a huge thing,” he stated.
Jaleel’s win in Aurangabad also comes after years of fear-mongering and violent riots in Aurangabad. The riots in Gandhinagar last year, which killed and injured over 50 people and led to hoardes of shops belonging to people from all communities being set on fire, have often been attributed to the Shiv Sena’s characteristic communal moves. In this environment, then MLA Imtiyaz Jaleel was also seen raising party money to rebuild the shops and redress the damages caused during the violence.
“Every five years around election time, all discussions became centered around topics of Hindu-Muslim, Khan-Baan, Mandir-Masjid, issues that did not concern common people. For over 20 years, Shiv Sena had been feeding the same debate, But the people of Aurangabad were fed up of it and wanted good rule, water and sanitation. Even the Shiv Sainiks was against his own MP because they just kept breaking up communal issues. So, I just focused on the development tracks and the great problems of water and sanitation. People realized that I am educated and capable, and gave me a chance,” said Jaleel. “The public has done its job, now it is time for me to do my work”. As MP, he seeks to rope in various government departments and work in close connection with them to help aid the drinking water crisis in Aurangabad.
The polling results in Aurangabad, along with the constituency turning its back on the NDA’s cult of personality campaign resting on the image of Narendra Modi, show a turn away from politics centered on the greater good and towards real self-representation. Jaleel believes that the success of such a local issue-based campaign in Aurangabad rests also on the image of the candidates. “People have seen my work in the last 4.5 years, and they saw me as an educated candidate who was working for their issues of health, water and sanitation. They saw that I have never been involved in a wrong cause, and saw me fit to be their honest representative,” he said.
In 2014, right before the Assembly Elections, Jaleel left a 23-year long career as a journalist and decided to run for MLA from his hometown. Starting his campaign with 22 days left to polling, he managed to defeat three sitting MLAs from Shiv Sena, Congress and BJP in a thumping victory by over 20,000 votes. When asked about why he decided to turn to politics, Jaleel says that it was unplanned and “almost by accident”. A journalist for over two decades – first with Lokamat and later with NDTV – Jaleel decided to step away from journalism in 2014. “When I started as a journalist, the Editorial Department used to take a call on what stories should be covered and how much space should be given to them. But now, the Editorial Department had become secondary, and the Advertising Department and the Management take the call based on what story gets them ads. Moreover, with new news channels and papers coming up, a lot of shady people have started entering the profession, who do not do their work ethically. I still believe journalism is the most important profession, but because of these reasons, the credibility of the media has reduced significantly. So, after covering one last story at Pankaja Munde’s rally in Beer after her father and BJP minister Gopinath Munde’s death, I decided to leave my position within the media,” he said.
Jaleel, as the sole member of the western Maharashtra bureau, had to do stories on all issues, including business, crime, and politics; but according to him, his interest lay in stories of human interest, even as a journalist. Jaleel also did a lot of stories promoting communal harmony during his stint with NDTV. “It is always important to remember that there is no caste or religion when it comes to journalism,” said Jaleel, commenting on his work in the field.
According to him, he sent in his resignation to NDTV right before the 2014 Assembly Elections, as he did not want to cover the elections, having “seen the rule of media in general during the Lok Sabha elections which Narendra Modi had won”. “I had initially decided to join Symbiosis institute as a lecturer in Media Studies. But when I came to Aurangabad, my hometown, everybody here was talking about the elections, which were just a month away. Sharad Pawar’s NCP said they would give a ticket to Muslim candidates, but all Muslim candidates vying for the ticket were shady characters with criminal backgrounds – how could we let them be MLAs? Some of my friends were into politics, but they did not want to enter the electoral ring thinking that money and muscle power is required. Once, my friends and I were sitting together in a hotel trying to pursue another friend to run for MLA, but he got irritated and said, why don’t you do it, you don’t have a job right now either, and we can work towards this together. I thought why not, and I decided to do it”.
Despite being the only Muslim to be elected to the Parliament from Maharashtra, Jaleel remains optimistic about his work as the people’s representative. “I believe that if one does their work properly and proposes policies for the people’s good, all MPs will accept it whether from BJP or Congress. I have the people’s trust, and I am looking forward to bringing more change in Aurangabad”, he said.
Jaleel’s election to the Parliament can serve as hope for real electoral politics – one based on the people’s immediate needs and issues, the maintenance of peace, and on informed voting – amidst the overwhelmingly communal and nationalistic politics of the 2019 Elections. By electing a member of a minority community to the Lok Sabha, Aurangabad disproves the validity of the practice of parties giving tickets to members of the dominant caste and religious community in order to secure votes. It is evident that even amidst the current wave, good governance still matters to people.