Hyderabad: Earlier this week, All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen’s (AIMIM) Member of Parliament from Maharashtra’s Aurangabad, Imtiaz Jaleel, praised turmoil-ridden Shiv Sena’s chief Uddhav Thackeray for having offered to resign his post as chief minister.
In a tweet Wednesday, minutes after Maharashtra chief minister’s social media address over the turmoil in his party and the Maha Vikas Agadhi (MVA) government, Jaleel said Thackeray’s statement was a ‘tight slap’ to dissenters within the Sena.
“Appreciate the truthfulness of @CMOMaharashtra. We may have political/ideological differences with @ShivSena but after hearing Mr. Uddhav Thackeray today my respect for him has simply grown. Your politeness gave a tight slap to all the dissenters within your party,” Jaleel wrote.
This unusual development came days after the AIMIM, which has two MLAs in the Maharashtra Vidhan Sabha (legislative assembly), supported Sena-allies Congress and National Congress Party (NCP) during legislative council elections.
Political experts say the AIMIM, which is struggling to shake off its image as “BJP’s B-team”, or secret ally, could be trying to cozy up to other opposition parties; although experts add that it is too early to say if these gestures signal a change in the AIMIM’s policies or are merely momentary acts to gain political mileage.
On his part, Aurangabad MP Jaleel told ThePrint the AIMIM’s primary aim was to defeat the BJP in the Maharashtra MLC polls.
“Our party’s focus is to defeat BJP. So, any other parties with similar focus will get our support and that’s how we supported NCP and Congress. We also held discussions with MVA, who we support and mutually had an understanding. And we were just two MLAs — so number wise, it hardly makes a difference,” Jaleel said.
The Maharashtra Legislative Assembly’s strength is 288.
AIMIM’s national spokesperson and former MLA Waris Pathan said the party’s legislators had a “mutual understanding” with Congress and the NCP — completion of pending works in their constituencies in return for their support.
“Of course, the primary reason for the support is that we want to defeat BJP,” Pathan told ThePrint, adding that Jaleel’s tweet about Thackeray was his personal opinion and not the party’s official stand.
‘Owaisi unhappy at being left out of Oppn meet’
A political observer told ThePrint on condition of anonymity that AIMIM and two Andhra Pradesh-based parties — the ruling YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) and former chief minister Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party (TDP) — were left out of the meeting of opposition parties convened on 15 June.
The meeting was called to decide on a consensus candidate for the Presidential elections.
Both the TDP and YSRCP have had some kind of alliance with the BJP. While the TDP was part of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) until 2018, when it broke away over differences, the YSRCP is seen as an indirect ally of the NDA, the expert added.
On the other hand, the AIMIM is perhaps still unable to convince other opposition parties that it is not a “B-team of BJP”, said the expert.
Sources from AIMIM told ThePrint that party chief Asaduddin Owaisi was unhappy at being left out of the meeting, which West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had convened and 17 opposition parties, including the Congress, attended.
Owaisi, however, accepted NCP chief Sharad Pawar’s invitation to attend the next meeting of opposition parties and deputed Jaleel to represent the AIMIM in that meeting.
‘Cutting into’ secular votes
Election data shows how AIMIM — which had allied with Babu Singh Kushwaha and Bharat Mukti Morcha for the assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh — cut into Samajwadi Party’s votes in some constituencies.
For instance, in Moradabad Nagar seat, where BJP’s Ritesh Kumar Gupta secured 1,48,384 votes, winning by a thin margin of only 782 votes against SP’s Mohammad Yusuf Ansari, AIMIM got 2,661 votes. Similarly, in Bara Kursi Assembly seat, Barabanki, sitting BJP MLA Sakendra Pratap Verma’s victory margin against SP’s Rakesh Kumar Verma was just 217 votes. Here, AIMIM candidate Kumail Ashraf Khan got 8,541 votes.
A similar trend was seen in at least five other constituencies in UP. Additionally, this year’s assembly elections saw Owaisi attack the SP as much as the BJP.
However, this isn’t true for all states. In the 2020 Bihar assembly elections, AIMIM won 5 of the 20 seats it contested and NDA was successful in winning six other seats of the 20. But it was only in one of these seats — Raniganj — that the AIMIM polled more votes than the margin of victory between the NDA and the mahaghatbandhan (the alliance of Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Congress and Left parties) candidates.
The AIMIM’s shift towards other opposition parties, particularly the Congress, is surprising, especially since Owaisi has been a strong critic of the party, which, in turn, has always viewed his party as “BJP’s B-team”.
AIMIM’s Waris Pathan told ThePrint that his party is willing to work with any party wanting to defeat the BJP, but this shouldn’t be taken to mean that the AIMIM will inevitably enter into an alliance with them.
“We, ourselves, will not approach any party but if they (anti-BJP parties) approach us, we will not hesitate to support them.
“And just because we supported a particular party in MLC polls or participated in a Presidential poll discussion, does not mean we will have an alliance. That is not our stand at all. Depending on local political requirements and with an aim to defeat BJP, we take decisions [sic],” Pathan said.
AIMIM, Congress & TRS
AIMIM’s association with Congress isn’t new. The party had first aligned with the Congress in 1998 in undivided Andhra Pradesh when the then ruling Telugu Desam Party was with the BJP.
Owaisi, however, broke ties with Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the Centre and the Congress government in the state in 2012 after the arrest of AIMIM lawmakers following a row over the expansion of a temple adjoining Hyderabad’s historic Charminar.
After breaking away from the UPA in 2012, the AIMIM did not enter into an alliance with any party, either in the state or at the Centre.
In 2013, a movement for a separate state of Telangana picked up momentum in Andhra Pradesh. Telangana was eventually carved out in 2014 with KCR’s Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) emerging as the dominant party in the state.
Ever since 2014, AIMIM and TRS have shared a ‘friendly relationship’; although the two parties are not part of a formal alliance, and support each other whenever necessary.
At the national level, with 2014 becoming Modi’s year of victory, AIMIM distanced itself from the BJP over strong ideological differences. Since then, the party has moved beyond Telangana, trying to project itself as the voice of the minority community and even contesting elections in other states.
With no alliance in place with any national or regional party, the AIMIM constantly attacks other opposition parties, including the Congress, that promise to safeguard the rights of Muslims.
But the party is now determined to shed its image of being “BJP’s pawn” by aligning with other opposition parties — evident by the AIMIM extending support to the Congress and NCP in the Maharashtra MLC polls.
Ajay Gudavarthy, political analyst and assistant professor at the Centre for Political Studies in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), says these overtures could be “course correction”. The recent election in UP where AIMIM couldn’t win a single seat of the 97 it contested, showed that Muslims were unconvinced that Owaisi wanted to beat the BJP, he said.
“It’s not that the Muslim community prefers the Samajwadi Party or the Congress, but if they want an alternative to the BJP, these are the options. And Owaisi too, seems to have realised this,” Gudavarthy told ThePrint.
Owaisi’s line that the BJP and Congress are two sides of the same coin is also something most Muslims see as too brazen an assessment, especially when they face a direct threat from a particular party, he added.
Gudavarthy further explained: “The [Muslim] community responded to Owaisi by voting for SP [in large] numbers because they were not convinced that he is actually serious about defeating BJP.”
(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)