The Congress now wants to forge an alliance with the state unit of the Samajwadi Party to consolidate Muslim votes ahead of assembly polls. Congress is holding high-level talks in this regard with the Abu Azmi-led smaller party, which is seeking to maximize its interests before inking a deal. Rais Shaikh, SP leader and corporator confirmed the development.
Why are the two parties coming together"
They believe that consolidation of Muslim votes would give the front more solidity. "Azmi Saheb wants secular forces to unite to keep communal forces at bay," said Rais Shaikh, SP leader and corporator.
Affirming the move, Congress leader Nizamuddin Rayeen said: "Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) is also supporting the move, and if everything goes according to plan, a formal announcement will be made after Eid."
Muslims have been the major vote bank for not only Congress and NCP, but also Samajwadi Party. Though SP has only three MLAs, including Abu Azmi, it has often played the spoiler during elections in many (assembly) constituencies which has a large concentration of Muslims.
"Including SP in the alliance will definitely help us consolidate Muslim votes, which otherwise get divided, helping rivals," said a senior Congress leader admitting to the delicate position Congress and NCP were finding themselves in after being trounced in the Lok Sabha polls.
Can Muslims influence Maharashtra polls?
Muslims account for 11% of the population in the state and 15% in Mumbai city. The current assembly of 288 has 11 Muslim MLAs: 7 of them are MLAs from the city itself. Of the 11, seven are in the ruling alliance (5 Cong, 2 NCP) and two in SP. On an average, there are 3.35 lakh Muslims each in 10 districts and can alone generate 16 seats proportionately, says a Congress functionary. But the average number of Muslim legislators between 1952 and 1999 was only about 9.5.
Underlining the importance of Muslim votes, a SP leader says: "In 2004 and 2009, the number of Muslim MLAs grew to 11. In addition to this, 8 Muslims from various parties came runner-up, and 23 Muslim contestants were placed second runner-up, indicating that 42 constituencies had significant number of Muslim voters."
What the alliance implies
NCP and Congress may have to rethink their seat-sharing formula. In 2009 assembly elections, NCP contested in 114 seats while Congress contested 174. This time, NCP wants a 50:50 share. With SP too joining the alliance, these two parties may have to sacrifice a few seats to accommodate the smallest partner.
Azmi, MLA from Govandi, has been staunch opponent of the Congress-led state govt since the past many years. He has accused Congress of oppressing Muslims and falsely implicating them in criminal cases, including terror-related ones. All this while his party's national leadership had been supporting the UPA government.