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Come April, Muslim votes to play key role in 14 seats in Maharashtra

The Congress-NCP combine, which was said to be the natural home for Muslim voters, is likely to see a dent in this support base with the emergence of the Prakash Ambedkar-Asaduddin Owaisi political front in the state.

Written by Zeeshan Shaikh | Mumbai |
Updated: March 13, 2019 5:12:06 am
Maharashtra’s 1.3 crore Muslims make up 11.56 per cent of the state’s 11.24 crore population. (Photo: Express Archive)

The much-touted Muslim card will play a role in 14 of the 48 Lok Sabha seats in the state with some improvement likely in the relationship that the community has shared historically with the BJP.

The Congress-NCP combine, which was said to be the natural home for Muslim voters, is likely to see a dent in this support base with the emergence of the Prakash Ambedkar-Asaduddin Owaisi political front in the state.

“Unlike north India, there is no fear of the BJP among Muslims in Maharashtra. However, there is strong antipathy against the Congress. The Muslim in Maharashtra is willing to hedge his bets. He will support a BJP-Shiv Sena candidate where he feels he has no options. He will support a Congress-NCP candidate he feels can challenge the BJP and, at the same time, vote for a strong Bahujan Vanchit Aghadi candidate who can put up a fight. Muslims have stopped voting as a monolith,” said Ubaid Bahussain, a political activist who had run a campaign seeking greater electoral representation for Muslims.

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Maharashtra’s 1.3 crore Muslims make up 11.56 per cent of the state’s 11.24 crore population. It does, however, have a slightly higher concentration in northern Konkan, Khandesh, Marathwada and western Vidarbha.

The Muslim community will play a substantial role in 14 Lok Sabha constituencies —including seats in Mumbai — where they make up between 14 and 25 per cent of the electorate. These 14 seats where Muslims will play a major role are Dhule, Nanded, Parbhani, Latur, Aurangabad, Bhiwandi, Akola, Thane and the six seats of Mumbai.

At present, the BJP-SS has control of 13 of these 14 seats. In 2009, the Congress-NCP combine had won nine of these seats and the BJP-SS four. The polarisation created by the 2014 Modi wave had neutralised the Muslim vote leading to a BJP sweep in these 14 seats.

Even though Muslims have traditionally flocked to the Congress-NCP, there is an increasing sense within the community to detach itself from the binary of Congress-BJP politics. The emergence of the Ambedkar-Owaisi Bahujan Vanchit Aghadi has provided Muslims another alternative to choose from.

Incidentally, the Congress, which is also accused of toeing a soft Hindutva line, is hesitant in launching a public outreach towards the Muslim community. Whereas, the party will need the support of Muslim votes if it wants to win back these 14 seats from the BJP-SS. However, Muslim activists accuse the Congress of not choosing to field Muslim candidates from seats where Muslims have a sizeable population.

The Congress has, however, publicly stated that there is difficulty in finding Muslim candidates who can win. “I will be happy to accommodate someone from the minority communities if the chances of winning are good,” state Congress president Ashok Chavan had said.

A few Muslim intellectuals, however, still feel that the Muslim community is a natural electoral ally of the Congress.

If the Congress fails to improve its tally in these 14 seats, it can be said for sure that the Congress has been abandoned by the Muslim community in the state.

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