With the All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (AIMIM) putting up a good electoral show and winning five seats in the recently-concluded Bihar Assembly elections, the political milieu in Congress-ruled Rajasthan is abuzz with speculation of the AIMIM making inroads in the state.
The probable entry of the AIMIM in Rajasthan has also prompted a response from the Congress, which has accused its chief Asaduddin Owaisi of being an “agent” of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP.
“Owaisi is seen working as an agent of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP, for the purpose of weakening the Congress and those forces which want to keep the country united. I have faith that forces which strengthen the unity of the country reject Owaisi or any others and the next government in Rajasthan will be formed by the Congress party,” Congress MLA and party Chief Whip Mahesh Joshi told reporters in Jaipur on Tuesday.
The saffron party hit back, with BJP national secretary Dr Alka Gurjar accusing both the AIMIM and the Congress do “politics of appeasement” based on the Muslim vote.
Some Congress leaders feel that several factors, such as discontent amongst the Muslim community over the recent mayoral elections in Jaipur, have resulted in an environment fit for the AIMIM to cultivate a support base.
“In the recent mayoral elections for the Jaipur Heritage Municipal Corporation, the Congress party couldn’t agree on a Muslim mayoral candidate, despite the fact that the majority of councillors of the Congress and the independents supporting it are Muslims. There are not enough boards or commissions where the Congress has ensured representation of Muslims. Factors such as these are presenting AIMIM as an alternative, particularly among the youth,” said a senior Congress leader who was active in the municipal elections in Jaipur.
Several Muslim outfits had demonstrated against the Ashok Gehlot-led state government after the Congress had failed to field a mayoral candidate from the minority community, with many within the party accusing its Muslim MLAs of not agreeing on any name because they didn’t want to create a potential rival to their candidature in the Assembly elections.
“Ever since the Bihar election results, there is an increased interest among the members of the minority community about the AIMIM. Issues such as the dissent over the mayoral election have also contributed to it. If AIMIM fights elections in Rajasthan, it’s obvious that it won’t harm the BJP’s poll prospects but can result in electoral damage for the Congress because at present, almost all of the minority community votes for the Congress party,” said Abdul Razzak Bhati, Congress leader and former member of the Rajasthan Pradesh Congress Committee.
He added that he will raise this issue before the Congress leadership in Rajasthan so that “improvements” can made and the party doesn’t have to suffer electoral losses.
Some Muslim community leaders say that they have already contacted the AIMIM, inviting it to field candidates in Rajasthan.
“After the results of the Bihar elections, I reached out to the AIMIM central leadership and Asaduddin Owaisi, inviting him to make the party’s entry in Rajasthan. Especially among the youth in Rajasthan, there is a sense of disillusionment with the Congress as it often appears the party has taken the minority votes for granted. We want equal participation and stake holding in the decision making process,” said advocate Mujahid Naqvi, a Muslim social leader from Jaipur who is also a member of the Rajasthan Muslim Forum.
Citing issues such as grievances of Urdu teachers and lack of representation of Muslims in political appointments, he said that a large section of minority voters feel “neglected”.
“The AIMIM is not a Muslim party but it is a secular party for which the Constitution is the highest authority and it also raises the issues of backward and weaker sections of the society. The Congress doesn’t raise issues affecting the minority community, fearing that it will lose Hindu votes. It is because of these factors that there is an increased call in Rajasthan to see AIMIM as an alternative option,” said Naqvi.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Joshi downplayed his earlier comments and said that people from all sections of the society are happy with the work done by the Congress government in Rajasthan.
“Be it Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs or Christians, people from all sections of the society can see the development works done by Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and they are happy with our performance across sectors. That is why we did well in the local body polls and went on to win in four municipal corporations. There will be no effect of anything on the popularity of Congress,” said Joshi.