Muslim community votes will play a key role in the elections to at least a dozen constituencies of the 48 Lok Sabha seats in Maharashtra.
Of the 11.24 crore population of the state, Muslims comprise nearly 1.30 crore. And their presence is strong in the six constituencies of the commercial capital — Mumbai South, Mumbai South Central, Mumbai North Central, Mumbai North East, Mumbai North West and Mumbai North.
Besides, in Thane district, Thane and Bhiwandi have a sizable Muslim population. Other constituencies include Aurangabad Parbhani and Latur in Marathwada region, Dhule in Khandesh-North Maharashtra and Akola in Vidarbha.
All these seats are currently controlled by the BJP-Shiv Sena saffron alliance. However, between 2014 and 2019, a lot of water has flowed under the bridge.
While the Congress-NCP has formed a 56-party alliance, the Prakash Ambedkar-led Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh and Asaduddin Owaisi-led AIMIM have joined hands to form the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi and have fielded candidates in all seats.
Community leaders, speaking to DH, said that Muslims would vote decisively this time. "At one point, a stalwart like Congress leader late A R Antulay was a member from Maharashtra. We want a leader of his stature in Parliament again," a senior community leader said.
Maulana Syed Athar Ali, president of All India Ulema Association and a member of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, said that the representation of Muslims is poor. "It appears that we are born to give votes and not take votes," he said, adding that political parties were taking Muslims for granted.
"All parties have engaged in lip service as far as Muslims are concerned...and we have been living with it," said Rehan Maqbool, a retired teacher based in Mumbai. He also added that the BJP interpreting Islamic laws as per its convenience was not a healthy trend.
"As far as Maharashtra is concerned, one of the long pending demands is reservation in jobs. In Maharashtra, we have 68% reservation, but Muslims who are majorly economically backward, have not got reservation. We are not against reservation to others, but the point is that we also need reservation," said Mumbai-based journalist and activist Aijaz Ahmed Ansari.
If one looks at the candiates' list so far, the BJP and Sena have not fielded any Muslim face. While the Congress had fielded Hidayat Patel from Akola, AIMIM legislator Imtiaz Jaleel will contest from Aurangabad.
In Rajya Sabha, the Congress and NCP have one member each from Muslim community — Husain Dalwai and Majeed Memon, respectively.
Ansari said that the representation of Muslims in the 288-member Maharashtra Legislative Assembly is not appreciable. "We have seven Muslim MLAs — four from Congress, two from AIMIM and one from NCP," he said.