Row of saffron hijabs herald Shiv Sena’s ‘maiden’ Muslim Sarpanch

The sleepy Apta village erupted into celebrations when a demure, house-wife-turned politician Nazneen K. Patel, was unanimously elected the Sarpanch on Thursday.

She has created history of sorts — becoming the first ever Muslim woman Sarpanch of Shiv Sena in the state, and a first for the party in the past six decades since the Apta Village Panchayat came into being where the Peasants & Workers Party enjoyed unbroken control of its bastion.

The village had elected 11 members, including two from the Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, in the 2021 Panchayat polls, swept by the Maha Vikas Aghadi, with Patel now getting the top post — reserved for women — in rotation from the PWP’s outgoing Sarpanch, Nikita D. Bhoir.

Scores of Muslim women Sainiks, sporting dazzling saffron-black ‘hijabs’ turned out to celebrate Patel’s election, who accepted and acknowledged their greetings and wishes, distributed sweets and goodness all around.

Taking charge on Friday, Patel said that her entire focus would be on developmental issues for which the entire village — with a population of around 10,000 comprising a mix of tribals, Marathas, Kolis, Brahmins, Muslims, etc., — has wholeheartedly supported the MVA.

“There are 14 tribal hamlets (wadis) which require several amenities, aanganwadis to be improved, maternity hospital where services have to be strengthened, and improving the conditions of several roads in and around Apta,” Patel told IANS.

Apta is a coastal village nestling on the banks of the Patalganga River where the PWP has held sway for past six decades, but now it has come under Shiv Sena’s control, said her husband, Khalil Patel.

Nazneen Patel’s elevation has charged the MVA allies — Sena-Nationalist Congress Party-Congress — symbolising a whiff of fresh air in the toxicity of the so-called ‘hijab row’ affecting different parts of India.

Sena’s farmer face and MoS Kishore Tiwari said Patel’s election shows the “benign face of Shiv Sena under the leadership of Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray” despite attempts by the Opposition to portray it otherwise.

“No matter how vitiated the religious scenario in the country, in Apta there is complete communal camaraderie, and it is with the full support of the three allies this ‘change’ was possible,” Panvel Congress Working President Abhijit Patil said.

Eminent lawyer and NCP former MP Majeed Memon said while the BJP is busy in toppling the MVA, the three parties are making “perceptible changes” at all levels in the polity with long-term implications.

“The BJP is unable to digest all the good work done by MVA and is hounding us with misuse of Central probe agencies, the Governor’s post and other forms of harassment… But developments like Apta village prove that the MVA is on the right track,” Memon asserted.

The Patel couple said with pride that Apta is an example of “how India lives harmoniously in the villages,” untouched by the communal monsters unleashed in many areas.

“We all celebrate Ganeshotsav, Eid, Diwali and other festivals of all religions joyfully together… Nobody talks of religious politics… The masses are only concerned with developmental issues,” smiled Nazneen Patel, with her 19-year old daughter Rukhsar and 16-year-old son Saad standing beside.

(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at: q.najmi@ians.in)

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