In what will add to the troubles of the already beleaguered Cong-NCP, who are still smarting from a drubbing in the Lok Sabha elections, the All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) has decided to contest the assembly polls from Maharashtra's Muslim and Dalit dominated pockets.
The hardline AIMIM had burst on to the political scene by netting 11 seats in the Nanded civic polls in 2012. Nanded, in Marathwada, is the stronghold of former CM Ashok Chavan, who is one of the two Congress nominees from Maharashtra who made it to the lower house of parliament.
AIMIM's firebrand leaders – Lok Sabha MP Asaduddin Owaisi and MLA Akbaruddin Owaisi – had campaigned in Nanded, where the party contested in an alliance with the Dalit dominated Samvidhan Party, which picked up two seats. The AIMIM, which had its roots in the 'Razakars', who supported the Nizam of Hyderabad and resisted the state's integration into India, had campaigned on issues like Muslim youth from the Marathwada region being picked up on terror charges and the anti-Muslim violence in Assam.
Muslim leaders from the Congress and NCP admit that the AIMIM has struck a chord in the Muslim youth and right-wing elements. However, the party had given a respite to the ruling alliance by opting out of the Lok Sabha contest.
"We will contest the assembly elections from Muslim majority seats including those in Mumbai," AIMIM Maharashtra chief Syed Moin told dna. He added that they had refrained from putting up candidates in the Lok Sabha elections to "prevent a division in the secular votes," which would have helped the Narendra Modi-led BJP. Moin said Muslim voters were a minority in Lok Sabha constituencies, and hence, the AIMIM would not be in a winnable position.
"Now, we have decided that despite giving an opportunity to the Cong-NCP, they have been unable to counter the Shiv Sena and BJP. So, the AIMIM will join the fray," said Moin, adding that they would focus on constituencies which had a significant Dalit and Muslim presence. Moin indicated that they were open to an alliance with Dalit parties.
"The AIMIM did not contest the Lok Sabha polls and Muslims were polarised in favour of the Cong-NCP in Maharashtra. However, Congress and NCP supporters chose to side with the BJP and Shiv Sena. So, while they (Cong-NCP) secured Muslim and minority votes, they could not gain the votes of their core supporters," said Moin, denying allegations that they would eat into Cong-NCP votes.
He also mooted the need for reservations to be extended to the Muslims. "We are not opposing reservations for Marathas, but Muslims must be given their rights," said Moin, adding that despite Muslim support ensuring that Congress nominees got through in Nanded and Hingoli (Rajiv Satav), the community had not received adequate political representation in the Marathwada region.
The AIMIM will also hold Iftar parties across the state during Ramzan, including Mumbai, where Asaduddin Owaisi will be present.