Malegaon: In 1978, Sharad Pawar had defected from the Congress and was set to become Chief Minister of Maharashtra. The young Maratha leader had given a big jolt to the ruling Congress. During this political crisis, senior Congress leader and then Chief Minister of Maharashtra Vasantdada Patil invited Nehal Ahmed for a cup of tea at his official residence.
What transpired in that brief meeting became rarest of rare incident in the Indian politics.
Pledging support of all Congress legislators, Vasantdada Patel asked Nehal Ahmed to become Chief Minister of Maharashtra. It was an attempt by the frustrated Congress to finish-off Sharad Pawar, the veteran socialist leader recalled in a meeting with ummid.com in front of Dr. Shaban, Deputy Director Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), and Dr. Ayona Dutta of Leeds University, UK.
Nehal Ahmed was the Party Leader of Janata Party which had 99 MLAs in its kitty. He said he turned down the Congress offer because, he had given words to Sharad Pawar and had already promised him the support of all Janata Party MLAs. Nehal Ahmed’s refusal cleared all roadblocks and Pawar became chief minister to lead the Progressive Democratic Front (PDF) government which the political analysts termed not an elected government but one of defectors. But for Pawar, it was a masterstroke which he utilized successfully to build a strong political career.
Nehal Ahmed died on February 29, 2016 at the age of 90, leaving behind a legacy which is not only full of political drama, gimmicks and innovation but also of extraordinary commitment and statesmanship.
Saathi Nehal Ahmed, as he was fond of calling himself, was born on May 22, 1926 in Malegaon. He shifted to Nizamabad with his father Maulvi Mohammad Usman who had a job offer from the Nizam State. Back in Malegaon at the age of 11, Nehal Ahmed began helping his uncle at the family kirana shop. Business was dull and Nehal Ahmed spent most of his time reading newspapers. The daily dose of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad’s Al-Hilal, Khilafat and other Urdu newspapers of the time developed political interest in young Nehal and found in Ram Manohar Lohiya his ideal.
Nehal Ahmed’s father Maulvi Usman who established Jamiatus Swalehat – a madrasa exclusively for girls, did not like his son sharing stage with the socialists. He was president of Jamiat-e-Ulema Maharashtra and had political leaning towards the Congress. Therefore when Nehal Ahmed contested the local election first time, his father and other family members did not support him. They were of the view that a defeat in the election would force Nehal Ahmed to correct his political ideology. Nehal lost the election. But, contrary his father’s expectation, the defeat pushed Nehal further deep into the ranks and file of local socialist leadership. He won the 1954 civic polls and went on to become Municipal President.
This was the time when local politics was dominated by Khan Saheb Abdur Raheem, who was nominated by British rulers as Member of Assembly in 1937, Sabir Sattar and Ahmed Naseem Minanagri of Congress, and Haroon Ahmed Ansari, freedom fighter and Nehal Ahmed’s political mentor and towering socialist leader of the city. In 1952 state elections, Sabir Sattar of Congress defeated Khan Saheb Abdur Raheem who contested the election as Muslim League candidate. Sabir Sattar tasted defeat in the 1957 polls at the hands of Haroon Ansari of the Socialist Party.
Haroon Ansari later joined the Congress, and after his departure, the rein of the Socialist Party came in the hands of Nehal Ahmed. He contested the assembly elections first time in 1962 but was defeated by sitting MLA Haroon Ansari. In 1967 elections however he defeated his political mentor and became MLA. In 1972 elections, Haroon Ansari decided to play a kingmaker and instead of contesting the election, fielded Aisha Hakeem – a teacher by profession and kin of ex-MLA Khan Saheb Abdur Raheem as Congress candidate. Aisha Hakeem defeated Nehal Ahmed in the bitterly contested polls.
After the defeat in 1972 elections, Nehal Ahmed resorted to politics of aggression, and what his opponents claimed, of political blackmailing - giving the local politics a totally different turn and colour. He led the longest and infamous Mazdoor Tehreek, to teach powerloom weavers a lesson for supporting Congress candidate Aisha Hakeem. The weavers learnt the lesson well. Nehal Ahmed was back in the Maharashtra assembly after winning the 1978 elections and remained MLA till 1999.
Defeat in the 1999 assembly elections however was not the end of the roads for Nehal Ahmed. He was the one who opposed the upgradation of Malegaon civic body into a corporation. But, when the government finally took a decision and the first corporation election was held in 2001, Nehal Ahmed led the Janata Dal (Secular) to historic victory and became first Mayor of Malegaon. His political experimenting did not end here. He contested the 2009 parliamentary election after the Malegaon-Dhule parliamentary seat, reserved for SC/ST till then, was de-reserved.
During this long political inning Nehal Ahmed actively participated in Maharashtra movement and also went to jail when Indira Gandhi government imposed emergency in the country. But besides his commitment, grip on voters and statesmanship, it was the political innovation, drama and out of the way gimmicks for which Nehal Ahmed would be remembered forever.
Nehal Ahmed had solution to every problem and had a rare acumen to tackle police and legal hurdles. Once local police refused him permission to hold a public meeting, but he declared that the meeting will be held at the same venue and at the same time. At the scheduled time when party workers, and so thus the police, reached the venue, they saw the maverick socialist leader sitting in a hanging chair and delivering a speech.
At another instant, he was denied permission to take out a procession. He called party workers and asked them to imitate a baaraat. Now the scene was that Nehal Ahmed was leading this baaraat and party workers followed him singing the Sehra (typical local wedding song), not forgetting to raise political slogans in between.
He was accused of playing communal politics though he was the one who made Deepak Bhosle first non-Muslim Council President of the city. It was his way of doing politics, and of course, to his own advantage. Simultaneously, he made it sure that his political rivals did not become a challenge for him. And, he did so even if it was at the cost of the public interests. Former Maharashtra Housing Minister Gyasuddin Kazi shared with a friend that his ministry was forced to stop construction of 1000 homes at the MHB Colony in Malegaon midway because of the regular objections raised by Nehal Ahmed.
About twenty-five years later, when Nehal Ahmed decided to shift from his ancestor’s house in Nayapura, he did not find a better place than the incomplete MHB Colony - the same place from where his last journey began on February 29, 2016.
[The writer, Aleem Faizee is the Founder Editor of ummid.com]