AIMIM poised for debut in Mumbai civic body; party targets Muslim, Dalit dominated areas

After its successful foray in Maharashtra by winning two seats in the legislative assembly and some seats in the Nanded and Aurangabad civic bodies, the Hyderabad-based All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) is poised for debut in Mumbai, primarily eyeing predominantly Muslim and Dalit localities.

The AIMIM, which has hit headlines in the past for controversial statements by its leaders Asaduddin Owaisi and his brother Akbaruddin, has, after winning the Byculla and Aurangabad (Central) assembly seats in 2014; 11 seats in the Nanded Municipal Corporation in 2012; and 25 in the Aurangabad Municipal Corporation in 2015, is likely to contest around 70 out of the 227 seats in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) polls scheduled for 21 February.

Over the past few years, the AIMIM has gained considerable following in Muslim pockets of Mumbai, with its leaders, mainly the star campaigner Asaduddin Owaisi, taking a hardline against mainstream political parties for marginalizing the community. The party’s strategy has been to polarize the Muslims and forge solidarity with Dalits to form a considerable vote-bank. In the process, the AIMIM aims to target the traditional voters of the mainstream ‘secular’ parties like the Congress and the NCP.

Asaduddin Owaisi. AFP

Asaduddin Owaisi. AFP

When the AIMIM made a debut in Nanded civic body, it was considered to be a stray incident arising out of disillusionment of the local Muslims over the Congress-NCP rule. However, when the party bagged two seats in the assembly polls, it created ripples in political circles. The party, subsequently, continued with asserting its presence by an impressive debut in the Aurangabad civic body, after the change of guard in the state.

For wooing Muslims, the party’s strategy is to portray the incumbent rulers in the state as anti-Muslims. The previous government had granted a five per cent quota in jobs and education for Muslims by issuing an ordinance on the eve of the 2014 elections. The High Court had stayed the quota in jobs but allowed it in education. However, after assuming office, the new BJP government allowed the ordinance on Muslim quota both in education and jobs to lapse. The party highlights the woes of Muslims, despite their support to mainstream ‘secular’ parties. The AIMIM also distances itself from Muslim fundamentalist organizations, condemns Islamic terrorism and swears by the constitution.

To gain support from Dalit voters, Asaduddin Owaisi, makes it a point to eulogize Dalit icon Dr B R Ambedkar and the fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution of which Ambedkar was the chief architect. The AIMIM has also coined the ‘Jai MIM – Jai Bheem’ slogan to bring Dalits and Muslims together. Since, traditionally, Dalits live on the outskirts of villages and share spaces with Muslims in ghettoes in villages and cities, the party aims at targeting the anguish and insecurity among voters of both communities. Owaisi has also visited families of Dalits, who were subjected to atrocities by upper castes and expressed solidarity with them and called for a Dalit-Muslim unity to take on the oppressors.

“We have lost faith in secular parties,” a senior leader from the Muslim community, requesting anonymity, said, “The secular parties have used us only for getting votes and ignored our problems. We want to come into the mainstream, especially our younger generation is looking forward to better education and employment, but the situation is bad and there is sense of insecurity after the BJP coming to power in the state and central governments.” He pointed out that Owaisi had called for budgetary allocation for Muslims from the BMC budget in proportion to their population, which might click for the AIMIM.

The attempt to unite Dalit and Muslim voters is reminiscent of the Dalit-Muslim Suraksha Mahasangh launched by reformed smuggler Haji Mastan Mirza and Dalit leader Prof Jogendra Kawade in the 1980s. The Mahasangh, however, did not succeed in making any significant political impact.

The rising graph of the AIMIM, has however, not been steady. In the 2014 assembly polls, the party candidate Rahebar Siraj Khan from Bandra (East) constituency, had secured an impressive 23,976 votes, though he had lost the seat. Shiv Sena’s Prakash (Bala) Sawant had won the seat, polling 41,388 votes, with runner-up BJP’s Krishna Parker garnering 25,791 votes. In the 2015 byelection necessitated due to the death of Sawant, his widow Trupti Sawant won the seat securing 52,711 votes, trouncing former chief minister Narayan Rane (Congress) who garnered 33,703 votes. The MIM continued to be in the third position, but its candidate Rahbar Khan could garner only 15,050 votes.

The AIMIM, however, is looking forward to swing the Samajwadi Party’s (SP’s) voters in its favour by focusing not just on Muslims migrating from rural Maharashtra to Mumbai, but also those from North Indian states. The SP has nine corporators in the BMC. A party functionary said that the party’s focus would be in predominantly Muslim-Dalit areas like Byculla, Kurla, Bandra, Godandi, Dharavi, Wadala, Sewri, Jogeshwari, Andheri and Malad.

Published Date: Jan 18, 2017 18:42 PM | Updated Date: Jan 18, 2017 18:42 PM

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