By Anita Mendonca | Malwani | 7 July 2018: With the Lok Sabha elections just a year away, several far-right fringe groups including the Dharam Jagaran Samanvay Samiti, Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Rashtriya Hindu Andolan, Rashtrawadi Shiv Sena, Shiv Sena Hindustan, Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, Hindu Dharma Sena, Hindu Makkal Katchi, Hindu Rashtra Sena, Sanathan Sanstha, Bajrang Dal, Durga Vahini, etc., are trying to gain a foot-hold in the sensitive area of Malwani, a part of the North-western suburb of Malad in suburban Mumbai, claim State police intelligence (SID) reports.
The above groups including some unnamed covert extremist Hindu outfits are trying very hard to recruit members and set up a base for themselves in Malwani, using the general poverty and discontentment in the area as an excuse, as the locality battles a series of social problems including unemployment, lack of civic amenities, lack of local recreational activity, growing drug and alcohol abuse among youngsters, prostitution, bootlegging, theft, counterfeiting, etc.
The average population of Malwani falls in the lower income group and more than 50 per cent of the residents have a tough time making ends meet. There is also a huge BPL (below poverty line) concentration in the area, who depend on odd jobs to earn their daily bread and dal-roti.
A ghetto with a significant Muslim population, Malwani had hit the headlines a few years ago when four local Muslim boys had left to join the terrorist outfit Islamic State (IS). Of them, two returned home, one is in the National Investigation Agency (NIA) custody, while one is untraceable, states a Times of India report, dated 12th March 2017. There are many Christians and Catholics – most of them East Indians who pride themselves on being called the original inhabitants of Mumbai.
For now, Hindus, Muslims and Christians including a huge population of scheduled castes and Dalits, live in harmony in Malwani, thanks to the efforts of the local MLA Aslam Shaikh and his team, but a small communal spark can be very dangerous in the area.
Apart from facing threats of radicalization, Malwani also battles drug menace, claims the above TOI report. With unemployment on the rise, there is a significant increase in the number of drugs addicts and peddlers alike. This is a hotbed for trouble and even a small spark can ignite a huge fire which can turn into a communal inferno, says social worker Gerard Lobo, a resident of Orlem and a member of the Bharat Citizens Action Forum (BCAF) active in the area.
A sizeable population in Malwani lives in slums and shanties and overcrowding and lack of civic amenities is one of the major shortfalls in the area. State intelligence officials who track Malwani are worried about both extremist Hindu and Muslim groups trying to create tension in the area and Malwani police station is manned by an additional force to handle such problems.
Congress MLA Aslam Shaikh has been trying very hard for the last few years, to provide local employment for the Malwani youth and keep them occupied to ensure that they don’t get influenced and picked up by radical elements.
The statements of BJP MP Gopal Shetty made in such a politically and communally sensitive area assume significance. Was there a larger plan at work. Sources say, Shetty was trying to set off a small spark that would burn unnoticed, only to create an explosion later on, maybe months later. Was Shetty trying to instigate the Muslims against the Christians in the area? Or was he trying to send a subtle message or hint to the extremist Hindu groups trying to set up shop in Malwani? Shetty it seems, has a personal grouse with some aggressive Christian social welfare groups in the area, which Shetty and his ilk including the Bajrang Dal, RSS and VHP think are indulging in conversion in a very subtle manner. There are several Christian social welfare groups active in Malwani, Madh, Aksa, Gorai and Charkop, which have long been a thorn in Shetty’s side. He has been nursing a grudge against such activity, but is unable to do much as long as all the communities stand united.
Intelligence sources claim that Shetty’s statement no matter how seemingly innocent or innocuous, must be investigated with a high-powered magnifying glass, given the location in which it was made. Asaduddin Owaisi‘s All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) party is trying very hard to ween away Muslims from their traditional Congress fold and plans to field MP as well as MLA candidates from the area. Could it be a secret pact between the AIMIM and the BJP to destabilize the Congress in the area? The timing of the statement also assumes importance, as the BJP gets on the defensive, from an earlier position of strength two years ago. The BJPs local political partner the Shiv Sena is also making inroads in the area and the party could be feeling threatened politically.
For now the plan if there was one, does not seem to have succeeded. But Gopal Shetty’s arrogance and ego – he refused to apologize and still claims he said nothing wrong or incorrect – could be a big hindrance in communal harmony in Malwani. Residents of Malwani must be vigilant against such communal forces that will try very hard to disturb the peace in the area in the coming months.