The AIMIM or ‘All India ‘Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen’ led by the fire brand Asaduddin Owaisi is contesting on 35 of the 403 seats in Uttar Pradesh, mostly in the Muslim concentrated western region of rohilkhand and few minority concentrated districts of purvanchal/eastern UP that goes to poll in the 6th and 7th phases of the election.
The AIMIM which started its journey from the old city of Hyderabad made its mark outside its comfort zone when in 2012, it won 11 seats in the 81-member Nanded Municipal Corporation elections in Maharashtra.
Two years hence, AIMIM took everyone by surprise when it contested the 2014 Maharashtra assembly elections, won 2 seats, and stood second and third is several of the 24 minority concentrated seats that it fought. MNS (Maharashtra navnirman sena) led by the charismatic Raj Thackrey could win only 1 seat in the elections. In 2015 the party contested in the Aurangabad municipal elections and further strengthened its foothold by winning 26 of the 113 seats.
AIMIM also contested the Bihar assembly elections in 2016 but failed to open its account after contesting in 6 of the 243 seats, mainly in the Muslim concentrated Seemanchal region.
After this dismal performance, AIMIM staged a comeback when it contested and won encouragingly in the local body elections of Maharashtra – securing 2/227 seats in Asia’s wealthiest Municipal Corporation BMC (Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation) and gained footholds by registering wins in various minority concentrated towns like Amravati, Mumbra & Solapur.
Political pundits who often referred to AIMIM as a spoiler for the secular parties agreed that AIMIM did come up as a force to reckon with in the state, 11.54*% of which is constituted by Muslims.
Today, as the most populous state of the country - UP goes to vote, all eyes are on the 19.23% Muslim population of the state that makes over 3.85 crore in number.
In addition to being a verdict on Modi’s demonetization move, test for Akhilesh Yadav’s popularity, fight for Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP) comeback, this election also happens to be a litmus test for the AIMIM and the political alternative that it brings.
Though most of the seats that AIMIM is contesting have sizeable Muslim population and an en-bloc voting by the community can lead a candidate to victory but a lack of organizational structure and cadres to match those of established parties like SP, BSP & BJP is a big challenge for AIMIM.
The mainstream media has continued to predict that the Muslims will predominantly vote for the SP-Congress alliance which seems to be most suitably placed to defeat the BJP. However what the media often forgets are the nodes of perceived betrayal by the ruling government against the community by showing apathy for scores of Muslim issues like education, employment and industrial development in sectors like textiles, brasswares, handicrafts etc where the majority of Muslims work.
If it were the Muzaffarnagar riots in the West that hurt the reputation of Akhilesh Yadav amongst the community, it was the brutal murder of DSP Zia-ul-Haque in the stronghold of SP supported MLA Raja Bhhaiya that damaged the party’s standing in the east. The dreaded gangster from pratapgarh, widely held responsible for the murder of the Muslim police officer continues to be a cabinet minister in the SP government.
During the run-up to the assembly elections, Akhilesh Yadav continuously denied permission to ‘Asaduddin Owaisi’ to hold public rallies under the pretext of ‘communal harmony’. However at the same time SP exhibited a soft attitude towards ‘Adityanath Yogi’ – five time BJP MP from Gorakhpur often criticized for delivering hate speeches. This step-motherly treatment to a popular Muslim leader has also bewildered the youth from the community.
Eastern UP is home to a sizeable weaving community most of which happens to be Muslims. Recent technological developments, fierce competition by larger players from other states and government’s inaction towards solving the local industry related issues has taken away living from scores of poor families.
Numerous voters from this community might have been reported to have said on the camera that there is a wave in support of the SP-Congress alliance, but the fact remains that the five years of rule of the incumbent government hasn’t been able to change things for these poorest-of-the-poor weavers dependent on the dying handloom industry. One cannot deny the possibility of these disenchanted voters trying out a new alternative this time.
Though it can only be told on the 11th of March which way did the Muslim vote, but there is one thing that can be definitely said now – gone are the days when Muslim vote could be taken for granted! This election has provided numerous options to the largest Muslim population of the country to choose from.
Remains to be seen if Owaisi pulls-off a Maharashtra or ends up doing a bihar in UP!
(*Source – Census of india 2011. Haider Talat can be reached at @haider_talat)