Surging MIM now targets municipal polls

Having tasted electoral success in the municipal bodies in Nanded and Aurangabad in Marathwada region and the 2014 Maharashtra Legislative Assembly elections, the Hyderabad-headquartered Owaisi brothers-led Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen has now a goal set – to win seats in the civic bodies in 2017 when urban pockets like Mumbai, Thane and Pune go to polls.

The AIMIM or MIM has its task cut out and according to informed sources, the Owaisi brothers – Asaduddin Owaisi and Akbaruddin Owaisi – are going to increase their visits to Mumbai and other urban pockets of Maharashtra. And they have several burning issues in hand – the Muslim reservation, the beef ban and reported communal incidents.

The first success came in 2012 in Nanded municipal polls where the MIM won 11 of the 81 seats. In the 2014 Assembly elections, it won two seats – Imtiyaz Jaleel, a journalist-turned-politician from Aurangabad Central and activist-lawyer Waris Pathan from Byculla.

And now, by winning the Aurangabad Municipal Corporation securing 25 of the 113 wards and emerging as the main opposition, the message is clear, both to the ruling BJP-Shiv Sena saffron alliance dispensation and the Congress and NCP, the two former allies that ran the Democratic Front government for 15 years. It is pertinent to mention here that Nanded is the home turf of Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee (MPCC) president Ashok Chavan, a former chief minister. Chavan’s father late S B Chavan was CM and Union minister.

“It is wrong to say that we are raising the issue of Muslims…we are for all, we want development for all, it would be wrong to term MIM as a party of a particular region, it is for all,” Asaduddin Owaisi, MP, repeated himself in several of the meetings that he had addressed in Maharashtra. In the run up to the polls in Mumbai, one of the biggest and richest civic body in the world, the MIM is consolidating the Muslim-Dalit votes and often raises the issues vis-à-vis the two big communities are facing. 

The slogan of Jai Meem-Jai Bheem is gaining strength as a counter to the Shiv Shakti-Bhim Shakti, which has been propagated by none other than late Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray. The Sena founder had pursued Republican Party of India (RPI) president Ramdas Athawale, to be part of the grand coalition – and he has now been given a Rajya Sabha berth.

It  must, however, be noted that Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati’s social engineering has not worked in Maharashtra. In the 1980s, leader of one of the RPI faction Jogendra Kavade formed the Dalit Muslim Suraksha Mahasangh along with smuggler-turned-politician Haji Mastan, but it did not work.

Another RPI leader Prakash Ambedkar, grandson of Babasaheb Ambedkar, successfully initiated a grand coalition of Dalits, Muslims and other backward classes (OBC) in Akola district of Vidarbha. The new political development poses a big challenge to the Congress. The party has just two Lok Sabha seats from Maharashtra. In the Vidhan Sabha, the Congress has a strength of 42 of the 288 seats.

The surge of MIM has led to allegations from the Congress that MIM is hand-in-glove with the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena and this is reflected from the arguments and counter-arguments, the statements of Owaisi brothers and the reactions and editorials in Saamna, the Shiv Sena Marathi mouthpiece and Dophar ka Saamna, the Hindi tabloid version of the party organ.

This had gathered momentum after veteran Congressman and former chief minister Narayan Rane was defeated from Bandra-East during the bypolls by Shiv Sena’s Trupti Sawant, the death of whose husband Prakash alias Bala Sawant necessitated the byelections.

“The 2014 Bandra-East assembly polls and the 2015 byelections have shown that people are with MIM. We may not have won the seats, but our presence and impact has been felt,” Pathan said.

Muslim-dominated areas

Going forward from here, the MIM would play a role in the elections to local bodies in Mumbai, Thane, Pune, Pimpri-Chinchwad, Nashik and Nagpur. These are urban pockets, and have a large working and migrant population where the Owaisi brothers would be focusing.

Besides, they would also be targeting places like Malegaon, Bhiwandi and Dhule – places with a sizeable Muslim population and with a history of communal clashes. The MIM is also looking at states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal.

Though the Congress and Sharad Pawar-led NCP have been threatened by the mushrooming of MIM cadres, the Samajwadi Party too has reasons to be worried. Political analysts say there is resentment among Muslims against the present saffron alliance government – particularly, the way it handled the Muslim reservation issue and the subsequent Presidential assent to the Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Act, 1995, which bans the slaughter of bulls and bullocks besides cows – leaving only water buffaloes for slaughter, subject to conditions and norms.

The Muslim community was deeply disturbed with this development and the traders stayed away from slaughter of water buffalos for more than a month. Besides this, a large number of Muslim youth continue to be in jails in terror-related cases, another major issue for the Muslim community.

What seems to be a significant strong point for the MIM is that the local bodies which go to polls in 2017 face multiple problems and corruption is one common issue. It is giving the Muslims and Dalits, among others, a new option.

“We are clear what needs to be done. We have seen over the years how the municipal corporations are run and who exactly controls the Aurangabad Corporation...here we have a mandate to be the Opposition and we will ensure that we fulfill the role of an effective Opposition, not like other opposition parties,” Owaisi said.

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