Mumbai: The splits, broken alliances and defections from one political party to other are not the only reasons why the 2014 Maharashtra assembly elections are different. The emergence of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) in Maharashtra politics has not only worried the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party but it has also totally sidelined once strong contender of the Muslim votes and Samajwadi Party Maharashtra stalwart Abu Asim Azmi.
[AIMIM Chief Asaduddin Owaisi addressing a rally in Aurangabad (Photo: ummid.com)]
There was a time when he would travel across the length and breadth of the state – in chopper or in an impressive fleet of expensive SUVs and luxury cars with at least hundred supporters always on board to seek votes. Wherever he went, he would cozy with people mainly Muslims and flaunt his vote base to bargain with other parties. This was a routine since 1995 when he joined the Samajwadi Party to enter active politics till the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
All this however vanished with the entry of the Hyderabad based All Indian Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) into the Maharashtra politics. Also, the vigor, appeal, gusto and the tongue-in-cheek comments that were once hallmarks of Azmi and his rallies have all been taken by AIMIM Chief Asaduddin Owaisi, and his younger brother and AIMIM House Leader in Telangana Assembly Akbaruddin Owaisi.
There are various reasons being cited for this turnaround. Abu Asim Azmi himself blames the Congress which he says backstabbed him, kept him engaged till the last day of filing nomination papers, and then refused to form an alliance for the October 2014 assembly polls.
After Congress's refusal, Azmi held talks with the NCP for a pre-poll alliance. The talks with NCP also failed leaving Azmi and his Samajwadi Party to contest the election alone.
In between, sitting MLA and senior SP leader Rashid Tahir Momin deserted the party to join the NCP. It was a severe blow to Azmi, as Tahir directly blamed Azmi for his decision to leave the party.
Amid fire-fighting and alliance talks, valuable time was lost, and Azmi had little time left for finding suitable candidates for the 288 assembly seats. The result was that SP could field only 27 candidates for the October 15 polls.
The situation is exploited well by Owaisi brothers, and they used intelligently the vacuum created by Abu Asim Azmi and SP's failure to field enough candidates in the election. The AIMIM, which had surprised the Congress and NCP by grabbing 13 seats from them in the Nanded civic elections held in October 2012, has fielded a total of 24 seats – mostly in the constituencies dominated by Muslims, Dalits and other backwards.
The Owaisi brothers, known for fiery speeches, are criss-crossing these 24 constituencies to address rallies and organize road shows. They are travelling in bullet-proof vehicles, and like Abu Asim Azmi would do, are being followed by party MLAs in Telangana and other supporters in luxury cars and SUVs.
And, the fanfare with which they are running the AIMIM campaign in Maharashtra to woo the voters and their rallies, road shows and public meetings are attracting such huge crowds everywhere that the rival parties are scared and feeling nervous. They are accusing the AIMIM of contesting the elections to divide the secular votes and in turn help the Sena and BJP.
The AIMIM on its part rejects the accusation and says the Muslim votes are not the property of the Congress or the NCP, and they should no longer be expected to vote just for the sake of secularism. The say the parties like Congress and NCP take Muslim votes in the name of secularism but had done nothing for the welfare of the community.
The allegations and counter allegations apart, and notwithstanding the fact that the huge crowds in the AIMIM rallies do not necessarily mean that they will transform into votes, one thing is for sure: The Owaisi brothers' entry into Maharashtra politics is a shocker and severe blow for Abu Asim Azmi and he can no longer claim himself to be the sole leader of Muslims in Maharashtra.