Who is Jitendra Awhad, the Maharashtra ex-minister held for stopping film screening

Jitendra Awhad, the NCP leader who was arrested Friday for forcing the cancellation of the screening of Har Har Mahadev at a Thane mall, had said the Marathi movie “distorted the Maratha history and such movies would not be allowed to be released in the state”.

The first information report in the case was registered Tuesday under sections related to rioting, voluntarily causing hurt and provoking the breach of trust. There were also complaints that some of the moviegoers were assaulted by NCP workers.

This was, however, not the first time Awhad had fallen foul of the law. In 2020, when he was a minister in the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi government, he and 15-20 others allegedly assaulted a Thane-based civil engineer who posted online a morphed photograph of the minister. He was arrested in connection with the incident but granted bail on the same day.

The 59-year-old Awhad, a three-time MLA for Mumbra and a close associate of NCP chief Sharad Pawar, joined politics as a student activist protesting against rising college fees in 1982.

Starting his political career with the Congress, Awhad held positions such as the state chief secretary and general secretary of the NSUI, the party’s student wing, and also served as its national general secretary in 1991. In 1996 Awhad was appointed president of the state Youth Congress.

Awhad joined the NCP when Pawar parted ways with the Congress. His loyalty to Pawar earned him the nomination as a Member of the Legislative Council for two successive terms, in 2002 and 2008.

Awhad made his first successful electoral foray in the 2009 Assembly elections, winning from the Muslim-majority Mumbra-Kalwa constituency by a margin of 15,689 votes against a Shiv Sena candidate. He won the seat again in 2014 and 2019.

Awhad served briefly as the minister for medical education and horticulture in 2014. In 2019, when the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi government was formed, he was made the housing minister.

Awhad, who belongs to an OBC community, has been vocal against what he calls “Manuvadi forces”. In 2018 the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad told a sessions court in Mumbai that suspected right-wing activists had carried out a reconnaissance of several people including Awhad for “speaking against the Hindu religion”.

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