I still remember a telephonic chat I had with the president of All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen (AIMIM), Asaduddin Owaisi, on October 16, 2012, after his party had won 11 seats in the municipal elections in Nanded, central Maharashtra. He had sounded a warning bell by wresting these seats from Congress stalwart and former CM Ashok Chavan’s backyard.
“My party will continue to torment the Congress as long as it targets innocent Muslims in the name of terrorism and denies the backward community all-inclusive development. Congress has failed to understand the undercurrent and growing resentment in Muslims. We have been working hard in the erstwhile Hyderabad State region that includes Marathwada (central Maharashtra). We have tasted such thumping victory for the first time in the region, and we will make dents in the Congress in the coming years,” Owaisi had told me then.
The Hyderabad MP’s warning is now showing greater effects. In fact, we saw it coming in last October’s Assembly polls, when AIMIM bagged two seats — one each in Aurangabad and Byculla. Six months after the Assembly polls, the party struck a similar chord to claim 25 seats in the Aurangabad municipal polls, though it was not able to save its poll deposit in the Bandra East Assembly by-poll a couple of weeks ago. AIMIM’s notable achievement in Aurangabad is that it got five non-Muslim corporators elected, thus partially negating the notion that only the Muslim community stands by it.
Aurangabad saw AIMIM taking local Dalits (Hindu and Buddhists) in its fold successfully. And this Dalit-Muslim chemistry is going to pose a real challenge to the depleted Congress. We are not counting the NCP here, because it has at least 40-50 winning segments that are controlled by its regional satraps. The Congress does not enjoy NCP-like luxury; it has been relying heavily on Dalit and Muslim votes for the past several decades.
In doldrums after their crushing defeat in both the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections, Congress leaders now curse their fate. They hope the ‘Modi mania’ to subside gradually and the BJP to falter in the matters of governance, so that they get a chance to bounce back. However, going by AIMIM’s upsurge, the Congress may not be able to woo the Muslim and Dalit communities anytime soon. The Owaisi brothers are expected to storm many other Muslim-dominated towns in the state in the forthcoming local self-government elections, where Dalits, too, play a decisive role.
Congress leaders, who were earlier blamed for facilitating AIMIM’s entry into the state, are now targeting the BJP-Sena for encouraging AIMIM. They say that the ideologies of the two — the AIMIM and the BJP-Sena — are supplementary to each other and help in polarising votes. Surprisingly, Congressmen are hard pressed for answers when one asks them why their party didn’t try hard enough to make strong leaders among Muslims. The only exception was the late A R Antulay, who had won Indira Gandhi’s trust to become the state’s only Muslim CM. He enjoyed a brief tenure, after which the Muslims were denied top positions and influential departments in the state government. The Samajwadi Party first tapped Congress’ failure successfully in this regard, and, now it’s AIMIM’s turn to thrive on the resentment among Muslims.
AIMIM’s next targets are Mumbai, Thane, Bhiwandi, Malegaon and Dhule, where it has a sizeable following. Other than the Congress, AIMIM has also damaged the pro-Muslim Samajwadi Party, whose presence is also on the wane. Muslims seem to have accepted AIMIM as a formidable alternative at a time when the BJP and Shiv Sena are in power and the Congress is condemned.
AIMIM’s success also raises big concerns, especially in sensitive places like Mumbai where the Hindu-Muslim rift exists, but has remained largely invisible since the post-Babri riots. Laced with equally fundamental sensitivities, parties like Shiv Sena are not expected to sit idle. It was the Sena which made the most of anti-Muslim propaganda in central Maharashtra, where AIMIM found its first foothold. The Sena has benefited in a large way from AIMIM in the Aurangabad elections and Bandra (East) Assembly by-polls. The BJP, too, has these factors calculated in its scheme of things for the future.
The writer is Political Editor of mid-day