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5 years after it made a splash, AIMIM influence on the wane in Maharashtra

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In 2012, the Asaduddin Owaisi-led party clinched 11 out of 81 seats in Nanded municipal election in Maharashtra’s Marathwada region.

Mumbai: The 2012 election to the civic body of Nanded, a city in the Marathwada region, caused a stir in Maharashtra politics as the Asaduddin Owaisi-led All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) clinched 11 out of 81 seats in a Congress bastion.

Attracting the Muslim population that was disillusioned with the Congress, over the next few years the AIMIM carved its place in the state with two assembly seats and its councillors in a clutch of civic bodies, especially in Aurangabad where it ended with the second-highest tally.

However, five years after its splash in Nanded, the party’s influence among Maharashtra’s Muslims seems to be on the wane. Over the past six months, the Hyderabad-based AIMIM drew a blank in elections to four out of five municipal corporations with a significant Muslim population, the latest being Nanded with the party coming a full circle.

Surendra Jondhale, a Mumbai-based political commentator, said, “The first political preference for Muslims is a secular party and not an extremist one. Between 2012 and 2014, there was a feeling among the community that the Congress is taking the Muslim vote for granted. The larger anti-incumbency sentiment was evident among Muslims as well, so some briefly changed their political preference towards AIMIM.”

Jondhale added that pattern is changing as the prevalent Right-wing politics is pushing Muslim voters to consolidate their anti-BJP votes with the Congress. “Muslims are looking for an alternative in mainstream politics, and they think a vote for the AIMIM would be a wasted one,” he said.

In Nanded, which has a 33.59 per cent Muslim population as per the 2011 Census, all 32 AIMIM candidates lost earlier this month. Moreover, a majority of the AIMIM’s sitting corporators joined the Congress just ahead of the election and almost all retained their seats under the Congress banner.

Similarly, in May this year, in Bhiwandi-Nizampur, a town in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region with a 56 per cent Muslim population, the party fielded nine candidates, all of whom lost, while the Congress came to power. In Marathwada’s Parbhani and Latur too, where Muslims comprise 41.25 per cent and 23.95 per cent, respectively, the AIMIM fielded candidates in double digits, but could not open its account despite heavily canvassing. While Congress dominated Parbhani, BJP took away Latur.

Marathwada was once part of the princely state of Hyderabad, where the AIMIM’s base is.

The only city with a large Muslim population where the AIMIM has won in the past six months is Malegaon, where 78.95 per cent of the population is Muslim. However, despite aggressive campaigning, only seven of the party’s 37 candidates triumphed, while the Congress finished with the highest tally.

Waris Pathan, one of the two AIMIM legislators in Maharashtra, representing the assembly constituency of Mumbai’s Byculla, said the party is satisfied with the percentage of votes it received at most places. “In Nanded, the defections and poor ground preparation impacted our performance. We are trying to ascertain what went wrong. But at most other places, this was the first time we were contesting and we got a good number of votes.”

Pathan added it is possible that an anti-BJP sentiment may be helping the Congress, but longer-term, the AIMIM is here to stay. “People have tremendous faith in the party. It is only about time,” he said.

However, Maulana Mehmood Dariyabadi, general secretary of the All India Ulema Council, a body of Muslim scholars, said people gave the AIMIM a chance, and their elected representatives failed to deliver. “A new party seemed like an attractive option when people were angry with the Congress earlier. But its corporators didn’t work. As a party, I really don’t understand where the AIMIM is going. It is difficult to see it as an established political outfit,” he added.

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