After the latest Bihar assembly election, Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi’s party, the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, was called ‘vote katua’. ‘Katua’ is a derisive slur for Muslims in India.

This is not the first time that AIMIM has been on the receiving end of this slur, which has been inflicted at the party for cutting into opposition parties’ Muslim vote shares.

This time, AIMIM was accused of eating into the Muslim votes that could have been secured by the Mahagatbandhan in Bihar, consisting of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Congress and Left parties including the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Communist Party of India (CPI) and Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist)(Liberation).

After it won five of the 20 seats it contested in Bihar, AIMIM is ready to fight in the 2021 West Bengal assembly elections and eventually, the crucial Uttar Pradesh assembly elections of 2022.

Muslims in Uttar Pradesh make up 19.3% of the population and are thus a decisive factor in elections. However, their votes are currently split between Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and Congress. That the entry of AIMIM will further split Muslim votes is clear to see.

AIMIM has been actively working in Uttar Pradesh since 2015 and had contested the previous assembly elections of 2017 in the state. SP, during the elections, had cautioned Muslims against Owaisi’s party. However, out of the 57 candidates fielded by the SP in 2017 assembly elections, only seven emerged victorious.

What next for AIMIM?
Aminul Hasan Jafri, a journalist and AIMIM Member of Legislative Council, said that the party has been actively working to expand its base in many ways, especially in Uttar Pradesh. “Before fighting in elections again [after 2017 assembly elections in UP], we wanted to have some more presence on ground, which we now do have. We have already set up units in several districts across UP,” he said.

He added that the party is also planning to field Dalit candidates in UP. “The party aims to form a democratic secular front, and at the same time offer leadership to Muslims in this increasingly Hindutva-leaning country. But we are actively reaching out to different communities of the country too. We have been working with the Dalits and OBC’s in UP for many years,” he said.

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He added that while fielding Muslim candidates should not raise concerns as Muslims are an essential part of the country, the party doesn’t want to contest only those seats with a Muslim majority population.

“Our goal is to fight the BJP’s ideology of Hindutva and to give Muslims leadership. If this means that other so called secular parties get hurt by our entry into electoral parties, so be it.”

The Muslim vote
Political analysts in the state feel that the entry of AIMIM in 2022 UP elections can indeed benefit the BJP by further splitting the significant Muslim vote.

Syed Ibad, an Islamic Studies student at Nadwa College, Lucknow, said, “Until now, people thought that AIMIM has only been cutting votes from secular parties’ shares. But after the recent Bihar elections, that viewpoint must change, as AIMIM has been proven to command a significant section of votes on their own merit.”

Nadwa College is a reputed centre of Islamic learning and draws international students as well.

He added, “When AIMIM came into play and promised Muslims leadership, other parties started accusing them of cutting into vote share. Now, they will have to work harder to secure Muslim votes, they won’t get it so conveniently now that Muslims have a different choice.”

Ibad said that if two candidates – one from SP and another from AIMIM – are fielded from the Bhikapur Vidhan Sabha constituency in Faizabad, where he lives, he will vote for the stronger irrespective of the party.

Hafiz Sayeed, a former student of Nadwa and a resident of Lucknow said, “Why is it that these secular opposition parties lose elections to the BJP even when AIMIM is not contesting? Several parties are incapable of fighting the BJP, and like to put the blame on AIMIM to feel better about themselves.”

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Sayeed now runs an organisation called Muslims Youth Brothers, which undertakes relief effort in the state.

AIMIM’s UP prospects
Sharad Pradhan, a political analyst based in the state said that Owaisi’s party deserves credit for establishing itself despite all odds in Bihar.

“AIMIM is a regional party of the southern state Andhra Pradesh. To be able to succeed at establishing himself in a northern states like Bihar and outshine national parties such as the Congress is a huge achievement for Owaisi,” he said.

Owaisi’s entry into mainstream northern politics may not be the best thing for Muslims, according to Pradhan. “Essentially, he is attracting the Muslim vote by arousing Muslim sentiments and communal passions, similar to what the BJP does. He is also in a position to influence the Muslim youth,” he said, adding that it is unfair to entirely blame the party.

“In the current scenario, Muslims also are faced with a dilemma of who to choose. Congress, which they always supported is down in the dumps, especially because they are unable to rise beyond family. SP, which was the second choice of Muslims in Uttar Pradesh, has been fading. BSP too has essentially lost Muslim’s faith after Mayawati started dancing to the tunes of the BJP,” he said.

A fresh challenge
AIMIM will have a fair chance in the upcoming UP elections as Muslims do not have much of a choice, said Pradhan, warning that this would lead to ghettoism in politics. “Regardless, it’ll be a fresh challenge to the regional parties in the state,” he added.

He also said that Owaisi has the potential to become the Muslim voice in UP. “Nobody else has been raising their voice for Muslims for fear of being accused of Muslim appeasement. And with the rising tide of Hindutva, Muslims are now compelled to think about their welfare and choose leaders who will represent them.”

AIMIM, in the 2017 assembly elections in UP, had fielded candidates on 38 out of 403 seats. Out of the 38 candidates it had fielded, four stood in the second position while others fared badly. In spite of the performance, Owaisi had said that they would strengthen their position in the state with time.

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AIMIM public relations officer Mohommed Tauseef said that the party is keen to capitalise on the confidence boost after Bihar. “All state elections have different strategies. In UP, our main goal will be to stop the BJP.”

Ground realities
Talking about their earlier performances, Mohommed said, “Even in Bihar we had contested in 2005 and lost. We kept working in the state and now we have finally arrived. This victory didn’t come out of nowhere. In the same way, we have been active in UP for several years now and expect to put up a good fight this time.”

He said that in at least 40 out of 75 districts in UP, AIMIM has a strong presence on ground. “The party is active in full force,” he added.

Asim Waqar, AIMIM national spokesperson has been actively working in the state as well. Often accused of fighting on “safe, Muslim seats”, Waqar said that this would not be possible in UP. He said, “UP’s geography is such that there are Muslims in all 403 Vidhan Sabha seats. There is no ‘Muslim pocket’ as such and hence our strategy has to show that. People complain that we have been raising our voice for only the Muslim community. But that is far from the truth. We are with any community that is under-represented or oppressed in India including SC, ST, OBCs and Dalits.”

He also said that while SP’s Akhilesh Yadav or Congress’s Sonia Gandhi may be called secular for raising Muslim issues, AIMIM gets a ‘communal’ tag for doing the same thing. He added, “The process of seat selection is going on internally, and we plan to establish ourselves on those seats. Alliance possibilities are being explored right now.” #KhabarLive #hydnews