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Will Muslim voters swing together this time?

Published On : 19 Jan 2017   |  Reported By : Courtesy : The Hindu   |  Pic On: Photo credit : The Hindu

Mumbai (The Hindu): The 20.65 per cent Muslims could alter the political equation in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) elections, especially with the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) jumping into the fray.

The Muslim votes have so far been divided between the Indian National Congress, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Samajwadi Party (SP), and a few independents. Only 21 of the 227 corporators at the BMC are from the Muslim community, which has a population of 25,68,961 as per the 2011 census and is the second most-popular religious community in Mumbai.

Of the 21 corporators, the Congress is leading with 10, while the NCP has two, and the Peasants and Workers Party (PWP) has one corporator. Five of the total nine corporators of the SP are Muslims. Besides, three Muslim corporators have contested and won independently. There are no Muslim corporators from the Shiv Sena or the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), but the Sena has nominated Meraj Shaikh as its corporator and even made him the chief whip in the civic body.

Interestingly, the AIMIM is the first one to get into the election mode and has held two rallies. The Supreme Court ruling against votes being sought in the name of religion has altered the party’s stance. Unlike last time when the party chief had demanded a separate budgetary allocation for Muslims, they are talking of working for all. “We will work for the betterment of the city and its underprivileged, downtrodden, and the poor. Roads, water and development are for all. People look upon us as an alternative to the Congress-NCP and Sena-BJP; both alliances got power at different times, but did nothing for the people. We bagged 60 seats in the recently-concluded local elections in the State,” said Waris Pathan, AIMIM’s only member to the Assembly from Mumbai.

The Owaisi brothers — Asaduddin and his younger brother Akbaruddin — will be addressing about 30 rallies. Sources say the party will consolidate its strength by contesting only in about 50 seats in Muslim-dominated areas like Byculla, Nagpada, Dongri, Kurla, Govandi and Mankhurd.

The AIMIM is also fighting a battle of credibility with doubts being cast about it being in cahoots with the ruling BJP. “Why does a Hyderabad-based party go all the way to contest only in states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, where the BJP needs it to polarise voters and cut down the secular votes? They attract crowds, but fail to convert them into votes,” said Mohsin Haider, general secretary of the Congress’s city unit.

“The AIMIM stokes emotions on non-existent issues like the Bharat mata ki jai controversy, and such things don’t go down well with Muslims. A political party cannot run solely on the strength of Muslim voters. Many parties pay Muslims to stand as dummy candidates to deliberately break the vote bank. The Muslim vote bank is likely to get divided among the main political parties and the many independents,” said Ilyas Bashir Shaikh, an independent corporator from Bharat Nagar, Bandra. Mr. Shaikh contested and won with the help of non-governmental organisations.

“Mainstream parties do not give enough representation to Muslims. The delimitation of wards has also gone against us thus reducing our importance in less than 20 wards,” said Raees Shaikh, the leader of the SP in the BMC. “The community has now become smart and will throw its weight behind the winning candidates irrespective of the party they contest from; it won’t waste votes,” said Mr. Meraj Shaikh.

“In a corporation election, the face of the candidate assumes importance. People vote for those who are approachable and helpful in their daily lives; there are more expectations from a corporator than from a MLA or an MP. It’s the candidates who poll the votes and not just the parties. There are roughly more than 50 constituencies across the city with more than 25 per cent of their electorate being Muslims and more than 30 constituencies where Muslims constitute more than 45 per cent of the electorate. But, the number of Muslim corporators is less due to the division of votes among Muslim candidates,” said Mr. Haider. Many of the Muslim-dominated areas like Dongri, Jogeshwari and Versova have non-Muslim candidates because of the distribution of votes.

His view is echoed by Khairunissa Akbar Hussain, PWP corporator. “Our community lacks unity. For every Muslim candidate, there are many independents who muddy the waters, and this reduces our strength and numbers in the corporation.”

Incidentally, most of the senior Muslim corporators have sustained their political careers in spite of hoping on to different parties at different times; allegiance to parties almost seems irrelevant to their voters. Ms. Hussain contested on a SP ticket in 2007, won in 2012 on a PWP ticket, and is now seeking a Congress ticket. Mr. Haider won three elections as a SP candidate and another term as a Congress candidate. He is seeking a Congress ticket for his wife Meher Haider.

“Over 70 per cent of the electorate in Sewri are Muslims and yet Sena candidates have always won from here because they see the work of the Sena cadre. The Muslim community never has problems with the Sena,” said Mr. Meraj Shaikh.

Now it remains to be seen about how many tickets are given to Muslims by the parties this year and how the community votes.

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