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Riots have polarised voters in this textile town

April 18, 2009 13:12 IST

With neither the ubiquitous poll posters nor big rallies and fiery speeches of candidates, not much is evident in Dhule to suggest that this north Maharashtra town goes to polls in barely five days.

The constituency hogged national limelight all for wrong reasons -- communal riots and two blasts in Malegaon, which forms part of the constituency. Both the issues may impact poll result.

The Lok Sabha seat has 17 lakh voters, including around 4.5 lakh Muslims and a huge chunk of Marathas.

There is likely to be a straight fight between Congress candidate Amrish Patel and BJP's Pratap Sonawane. The Third Front has fielded Nihal Ahmed (JD-S) to attract Muslim votes. Former MLA Anil Gote, who was jailed in the Telgi stamp paper scam, is contesting as his Loksangram party's nominee.

Dhule is among the five constituencies in the state having a sizeable Muslim population. But in the backdrop of the October communal riots, Hindu-Muslim votes have been polarised and BJP may gain from the situation.

The riots started with a banner allegedly inciting Hindus against Muslims reportedly put up by the `Hindu Rakshak Samitee.'

The situation is no different in Malegaon, which is famous for its loom industry. The September 29, 2008 bomb blast in Malegaon, which claimed six lives, has caused consternation among local Muslims.

With the alleged involvement of Hindu outfits in the blast, which occurred two years after multiple explosions in the textile town, there are still frayed tempers in Malegaon.

Dhule constituency was earlier reserved for Schedule Tribes but was de-reserved post-delimitation. The sitting MP, Bapu Hari Chaure, belongs to Congress. In Malegaon constituency, now added to Dhule, sitting MP Harishchandra Chavan belongs to BJP.

"With considerable Muslim voters, Congress and Third Front are playing secular politics, while BJP is busy attracting Hindu votes. It is advantage BJP as Patel and Ahmed face division of Muslim votes," Manohar Patil, editor of local newspaper Shramarajya, said.

A group of Muslims is supporting Congress, while others are backing Ahmed. Patel, who owns a flourishing gold business, conceded that there would be division of Muslim votes.

"The Third Front has fielded a Muslim candidate but that will not affect much. Our main focus is on development, as the region is backward," he told PTI.

However, what worries Patel more is the infighting within Congress. Former Maharashtra Minister Rohidas Patil is disgruntled over denial of ticket and may play spoilsport as he commands a significant chunk of Maratha votes.

Local Muslims have developed anti-Congress feelings.

"We have trusted that party so far. But Muslim children were arrested in connection with the blasts, which killed our own people," Chairman of Malegaon-based Maulana Azad Research Institute, Abdul Hamid Ansari, said.

Janata Dal-Secular's Ahmed, a former Minister of State who has represented Malegaon in the Legislative Assembly, is confident of attracting 'Hindu secular votes'.

He favours development and modernisation with a human face. "Development should not mean loss of jobs. We are against modernisation if it reduces employment opportunities."

Gote also has a good network in Dhule district. After his release from jail, he has been vociferous on the demand for construction of the Dhule-Manmad-Indore railway line.

"This route would provide jobs to thousands of people here," said Gote's wife Hema.

Shruti Ganapatye in Dhule
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