Towards the end of 2014 when Shiv Sena MLA Bala Sawant, who represented Bandra East in the Assembly, was battling illness, former corporator Rahbar Khan was getting ready for a major battle.
Months before the Sena legislator passed away, Khan and his party — All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen or AIMIM — had identified the constituency as critical to not just their near-term political fortunes in Maharashtra, but also to plans for expanding foothold in the city, keeping an eye on the 2017 Mumbai civic elections and the April 22 Aurangabad local polls.
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AIMIM, which had finished third in the constituency in the last year’s Assembly elections garnering nearly 24,000 votes, is leaving no stone unturned to win the Bandra East bypoll. Volunteers from Hyderabad, Mumbra and Aurangabad have reached the constituency for campaigning, which has turned out to be a political discourse bordering polarisation.
The election to this seat is scheduled for April 11 (Saturday) with Khan pitted against senior Congress leader Narayan Rane, whose political survival is at stake after losing home turf Sindhudurg last year, and Sawant’s wife Trupti.
The two Owaisi brothers — Asaduddin and Akbaruddin — have addressed seven public gatherings in over 20 days.
AIMIM is looking to double its votes this time to boost its fortunes in the city and the state, after the party’s breakthrough win in Byculla and Aurangabad Central in the Assembly elections.
For electoral success, AIMIM is targeting around 80,000 Muslim and 50,000 Dalit voters in Bandra East, where the total electorate is 2.5 lakh. AIMIM had successfully tapped voters from both the communities last year.
“We are committed to taking along the Dalits and other weaker sections. I don’t view them from the prism of politics.
Congress is demeaning voters by saying that we are after their votebank. Voters are not like bonded labour to one party. They have the right to choose,” said Asaduddin, the AIMIM chief.
Bandra East is one of the constituencies in the city which have a high Muslim population. It was also among the worst-affected areas during the communal riots that followed the 1993 serial blasts.
Rahbar Khan, AIMIM candidate, said: “He (Sawant) was terminally ill and we had an inkling that there would be an election again. This time, party members claim, that it is not just people from the Muslim community who are supporting AIMIM. Throughout its campaign, star campaigners and party volunteers have appealed to the sizeable Dalit population of the constituency, annoying Congress leaders.”
Dharmesh Vyas, former corporator and Mumbai Congress functionary, said, “It is obvious to everybody, including minorities, that AIMIM is trying to polarise the atmosphere. They are targeting Congress’ votes and it will help Shiv Sena.”
A win in Bandra East will bolster the party, which is also looking to contest elections in UP and West Bengal. Waris Pathan, AIMIM legislator from Byculla, said: “Having two significant Assembly seats in Mumbai, winning a seat that is Shiv Sena’s stronghold, and defeating a heavyweight politician like Narayan Rane will boost people’s confidence in AIMIM.”
He said the party is also eyeing the Mumbai civic elections. “We will definitely be contesting the civic polls, mainly from minority dominated areas. We will probably target contesting from at least 50-60 seats of the 227,” he said.
Even for Sena, there is a lot at stake. Bala Sawant had won Bandra East seat twice consecutively Even Thackeray’s home Matoshree falls in this constituency.
And, then there are scores to settle with against old rival Rane, who cut his teeth with Sena.
The constituency also starkly reflects the two sides of Mumbai. On one side is the city’s business district Bandra Kurla, which houses some of India’s marquee names in the financial sector, on the other there are slums in areas such as Behrampada, Naupada, Bharat Nagar, Dnyaneshwar Nagar.
EC objects to Rane’s press meet
The Election Commission Friday disallowed a press meet convened by Congress candidate for Bandra (East) Assembly bypoll Narayan Rane, following which he said he would challenge the decision in court. Campaigning for the bypoll scheduled for Saturday had ended on Thursday. Despite the EC ruling, Rane, however, later spoke with a section of the press, lashing out at the Shiv Sena.