Last Updated: November 04, 2023, 09:20 IST
Atif Aqueel with the poster carrying the picture of his father, Arif Aqueel. Atif says he did not expect his uncle to disobey his father. (News18)
The apparent split in the Aqueel family has given a chance to the BJP to capture the seat that has eluded the party for the last 25 years
For 25 years, the Bhopal (North) seat has been synonymous with veteran Congress MLA Arif Aqueel. His brother, Aameer Aqueel, was his trusted aide to win elections here since 1998. But this time, a full-on family drama in the Aqueel family is giving the BJP a chance to storm the Congress bastion.
With Arif in hospital due to ill-health at 71 years of age, the Congress has chosen his novice son, a young Atif Aqueel, as its candidate after Arif chose him as his political heir. But in this seat with a nearly 50 per cent Muslim population, Aameer has now rebelled, protesting against his brother’s decision and is in the field as an independent candidate. The ‘back-stabbing’ has left the Aqueel family shocked and devastated as they all — Arif, Atif and Aameer — live in the same residence near Lakshmi Talkies in old Bhopal.
“I did not expect that my uncle will disobey my father which he had never done in his entire life…we are saddened by that. But my uncle won’t upset our calculations and I will win this seat as people respect my father,” Atif told News18 at his election office in the old part of the city. Atif calls himself ‘Atif Arif Aqueel’ on election posters to associate with his father. The party’s campaign vehicles carry an audio message from Arif Aqueel, appearing to people to trust his son and not his rebel brother.
BJP sniffs a chance
This family drama has given confidence to the BJP candidate — former Mayor Alok Sharma — from the seat that has eluded BJP for the last 25 years. “Arif Aqueel always practised wrong policies. Here the election was always on the communal issue between Muslims and Hindus. But we want an election on development issues. The entire old city has now understood that the ‘gundagardi’ of the Aqueels will not work — their family is spilt, how will they serve the city?” Sharma told News18.
BJP candidate, former Mayor Alok Sharma, says the city has now understood that the gundagardi of the Aqueels will not work. (News18)
Atif Aqueel, however, told News18 that his father always got 30,000-35,000 Hindu votes in Bhopal (North) as he stood for communal harmony and worked for all. “My father is a symbol of communal harmony and he has kept the ganga-jamuni tehzeeb alive here…this is an island of peace. He has got a lot of love. I have copied his working style,” Atif said. But Sharma countered that Hindus voted for Arif Aqueel “out of fear” and the family captured booths and relied on fake voters to win in the past.
Atif Aqueel terms his uncle’s candidature as a conspiracy of the BJP to break the vote bank. “BJP has been trying to beat us on this seat for over two decades. Earlier, they took away our people and this time they broke our family to try and win. But BJP plans will fail,” Atif says. He points out that his father gave a chance to his uncle Aameer in the corporator elections in 2014 but Aameer lost the ward which was 80 per cent Muslim-dominated. “Hence, my father knew only I could be his political heir,” Atif said.
Locals say BJP has put up no Muslim candidate while Congress has propped up two — including Atif Aqueel — and hence, it is important to make them both win. (News18)
Shopkeepers just outside the Aqueel family home rue the split in the family. “Atif will win…Aameer won’t get more than 5,000 votes. People of this area have full faith in Arif Aqueel who is ailing in hospital,” they told News18. But BJP’s Sharma says he was born in the old lanes of Bhopal and is appealing to the Muslims to rise above religion and vote for development. “There are potholed roads, old electricity poles here. People will vote for BJP and for change,” Sharma told News18 during campaigning.
Atif Aqueel is among the just two Muslim candidates of the Congress in the Madhya Pradesh assembly elections, with the other being sitting MLA Aarif Masood from the adjoining Bhopal (North) seat. The BJP has not put up any Muslim candidate in MP. The state has about 8 per cent Muslim population. “We knew BJP never puts up Muslim candidates but even the Congress has put up only two of them. That makes it even more important for them both to win,” says a group of people at ‘Modi Medical’ shop here in old Bhopal.
Aman SharmaAman Sharma, Senior Editor (Politics), at CNN-News18, and Bureau Chief at News18 in Delhi, has nearly two decades of experience in covering the wide s…Read More