In a short span of last five years, the popularity of Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) – the pro-Muslim party from Hyderabad headed by Owaisi brothers known for their firebrand and equally inflammatory speeches – has increasingly grown in Marathwada region of Maharashtra. The region, which was a part of the erstwhile Hyderabad state till its integration with India in 1948, was later merged in Maharashtra state. It has a strong Muslim presence in all of its 8 districts.
Despite the growing popularity and surprising success in the municipal polls in the region, the party has curiously decided against fielding a single candidate from the eight Lok Sabha seats in the region.
Though the party, headed by London-educated lawyer Asaduddin Owaisi, is popular among the Muslims in and around Hyderabad, its influence began to grow outside and it became a force to reckon with in Marathwada in 2012, when it contested the municipal elections in Nanded, one of the biggest cities in the economically backward region. The party contested 41 seats in the civic body and won 11, emerging as second largest party. Before 2012, the MIM had just one corporator elected in a by-poll.
After breakthrough in Nanded, the party opened offices in all eight districts of the region. The Muslim-populated areas of Aurangabad, Nanded and Parbhani also witnessed protest rallies following the anti-Muslim riots in Myanmar and in Dhule recently. The Owaisi brothers also announced their rallies in the region but were forced to cancel them after the administration feared it would lead to law and order issues.
Congress and NCP leaders in the region concede that the Owaisi brothers have struck a chord with the Muslims in the region – especially among youngsters. It’s therefore not surprising that the MIM leadership’s decision of not fielding any candidates for the LS polls from the region is raising several eyebrows. Some allege the party has struck a deal with Congress that it won’t fight Lok Sabha polls to avoid splitting Muslim votes and in return it would get support in upcoming Assembly polls.
“It’s simple. Had MIM fielded a candidate in Nanded and Aurangabad, it would have weaned away at least 50,000 to 1 lakh votes away from Congress. In both these constituencies, the victory margins have never been more than 60,000 to 80,000 votes. This would have certainly spoiled the chances of Congress,” says a Congress leader from Nanded.
The party supporters, however, say the decision was a result of the thinking that dividing Muslim votes will amount to playing in the hands of “communal forces.”
Party supremo Asaduddin Owaisi denies both these theories, but adds that the party would ask its supporters to vote for secular candidates without naming anyone.
“We took the decision of not fielding candidates in Marathwada after consulting party elders. We want to focus on the Assembly elections in Maharashtra, which are due later this year. In the Assembly polls, we will field approximately 8 to 10 candidates in the region. We want to go ahead step by step,” Owaisi told The Indian Express.
“Now I am being blamed for playing into the hands of Congress. Had I fielded candidates, they would have said I was working for BJP,” he says.