Ward No. 162 in Kurla (West) is reserved for women candidates, but SP candidate Shaikh Tabassum Haroon Rashid's picture is neither visible on the election hoardings nor in the party office. Instead her husband gleams from every poster and is campaigning on her behalf. What's worse, voters claim they have never even seen her
With hardly four days left for the civic polls, residents of Ward No. 162 in Kurla (West) are still perplexed. The Samajwadi Party might have gone hammer and tongs in their advertising to ensure that they win the seat, but most voters don't even know what their candidate looks like.
This election office at Kurla Pipe Road may look like any other office of
its sort ahead of polls, just that there is not a single photo of its candidate
Shaikh Tabassum Haroon Rashid. Instead, her husband Shaikh Haroon
Rashid is visible all over (in white kurta). Pic/Suresh KK
Shaikh Tabassum Haroon Rashid (34), the candidate from the party is standing from a ward reserved for women. Interestingly, many residents from the area whom Sunday MiD DAY spoke with claim that the candidate has neither been involved in any social work nor is she even participating in the ongoing election campaign.
Although political banners put in and around the constituency feature her name, her photograph is not visible on any of them. Instead, the pictures of her husband Shaikh Haroon Rashid (38), popularly known in the area as Babloo, and Samajwadi Party chief (Maharashtra) Abu Asim Azmi adorn the posters. What's more, Babloo is seen actively campaigning for his wife in the locality. She, however, has remained conspicuous by her absence.
Afraid that she might at best be a proxy candidate, one of the residents of the ward, claimed on the condition of anonymity, "Out of the eight women candidates from various political parties who have filed their nomination papers, everyone except Tabassum has taken part in the campaign and interacted with the common people. All we know about Tabassum is that she is a housewife married to Babloo. None of us have ever seen her."
When contacted, Babloo who is a businessman by profession, said, "If Rabri Devi can become the Chief Minister of Bihar because of her husband Laloo Prasad Yadav, I am sure my wife Tabassum will become the Corporator, because I am with her."
A mother of three, Tabassum, according to her husband is a housewife and "a dedicated woman". "I have been doing social work in the area for the last 15 years and am well versed with civic issues. I contested the 2007 civic elections and emerged the second runner up, losing by a few hundred votes. But I have a good relation with people from all communities and because of my goodwill I am confident that my wife will surely win with 3000 votes."
When questioned why she hasn't been seen campaigning so far, Babloo claimed, "My wife is meeting women from the locality and the entire campaign is being done by me on her behalf." Vouching for his wife's ability to deliver if she is elected as the Corporator from the ward, the 38 year-old claimed that he would accompany her whenever she required him to be present. According to him, he will even accompany her to various departments and assist her in solving public grievances.
When Sunday MiD DAY contacted Samajwadi Party Maharashtra chief Abu Asim Azmi, he claimed that this is not a unique case. He said, "It is a scene that is played out across India, wherever women's reservation has come into force. Muslim women candidates have mostly not ventured out for political campaigns and have still won the elections because of the support from their husbands and family members. Moreover, Muslim women candidates are determined and have the ability to raise public issues on larger platforms. I am sure even Tabassum will make this come true after winning the election."
However noted Islamic scholar Asghar Ali Engineer disagrees from Azmi's point of view. According to Engineer, "This is ridiculous, how can the husband of a woman candidate conduct a proxy election campaigning on her behalf. Whether it is an election campaign or a corporation meeting, she must appear for herself; if she does not talk to the people, how will she solve their problem?"
Nitai Mehta, Managing Trustee of Praja Foundation, a well-known NGO, shared similar views. According to him, "This is an insult to the voters. The candidate contesting the election should be campaigning for herself rather than using someone else." According to Mehta, past surveys conducted by Praja have revealed how the performance of most Corporators is nothing home to write about and with constituencies getting reserved for women this will further worsen the prevailing condition. "In reserved constituencies, many of them may not even have the basic understanding of civic issues and how to table them on behalf of voters."
The Trustee in-charge of Elections, AGNI (Action for good Governance and Networking in India), Sharad Kumar echoed a similar concern. According to him, "It is unfortunate that voters are given no choice but to accept the candidates the way they are presented. Even the Public Interest Litigation filed before the division bench of Bombay High Court demanding for 'do not want to vote button' to be incorporated on EVM machines is not going to come to help at least for this election." Since the high court accepted the PIL on Wednesday, the argument and hearing of the case will only occur in the future, thereby not leaving such an option open for the current election.
Pointing out that Tabassum's case is reflective of a much deeper malaise, Kumar added, "Due to the 50 per cent reservation policy this election will witness the maximum women candidates we have seen so far who have no clue about civic issues and services. They will fail to solve the civic issues of constituencies and will merely become silent spectators in the corporation hall."
With inputs from Saurabh Katkurwar