The Congress which has set its eyes on wresting the Mumbai Municipal Corporation, Asia's largest civic body, from the Shiv Sena-BJP in the 2012, is alarmed by the possible Muslim support to Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena.
The meeting of prominent Muslim clerics with MNS president Raj Thackeray on the occasion of his birthday last month has sent alarm bells ringing in the Congress.
Just like elsewhere in the country, Congress sources said, Muslims and Dalit support is crucial for the party in Mumbai.
At least 12-14 Assembly segments out of the total 36 in Mumbai have a considerable Muslim voter population. There are 10 corporators belonging to the Congress who are Muslims, out of which two -- Amin Patel and Aslam Sheikh -- were elected to the Legislative Assembly.
In the 227-member civic body, the Congress has 76 corporators with two co-opted members. The Muslim population in Mumbai is estimated to be over 25 lakh.
"The meeting of Muslim clerics with Raj Thackeray and presenting him with a copy of the Marathi translation of Holy Quran is not a minor issue and the Congress leadership has taken it very seriously," Congress sources said.
However, MNS says it is not amused that the Congress is alarmed at the development. Vageesh Saraswat, vice-president of MNS said the MNS has "Maharashtra agenda and not Hindutva agenda."
Several Muslims have been associated with the party right since its inception. They have been given prominent posts in the parent party as well as affiliate bodies like the Vahatuk Sena among others.
"We are not looking at the Muslims as a political agenda. People of Maharashtra including Muslims have accepted us wholeheartedly," Saraswat said.
He said in the 2007 civic elections, MNS bagged seven seats. "In the Lok Sabha elections, we got more than 12 lakh votes in the dozen seats we contested in Mumbai, Thane and Nashik belts and in the Assembly elections, we got 13 seats. The 2012 civic elections in Mumbai will see the MNS in power," he said.
Saraswat said the MNS recently demonstrated for increasing the quota of Maharashtra Muslims for the Haj pilgrimage.
"Muslims from other states also avail of Maharashtra quota. If this continues where will Marathi Muslims go?" he asked.
Haji Arafat Sheikh, another MNS vice-president and head of the Vahatuk Sena said the meeting of Muslim clerics with Raj was not a political stunt.
"The delegation comprised top imams and maulanas from Mumbai, Pune and Nashik region. They don't usually gift the holy book to people. The imams told Raj to go through the book and understand Islam," he said.
According to him, Muslims are coming closer to MNS since last year, when Raj successfully ensured increasing the Haj quota from Maharashtra by 3000. As compared to UP and Bihar which was 35000, the Maharashtra quota was only 7000, despite the fact that the Haj centralised office is located in Mumbai.
"We saw to it that the quota was increased by 3000 and this year it is 12,000. Forty per cent of the total Muslim population in the state supports Raj Thackeray," he claimed.
Mumbai Congress president Kripashankar Singh said his party's focus will be on the all-inclusive development of Mumbai.
"So far, the Centre has sanctioned Rs 26,000 crore for various development activities in the city. But, the funds are not utilised properly. Hence, I have demanded that a nodal officer be appointed to monitor utilisation of funds for Mumbai. Congress does not believe in politics of regionalism, religion or caste," he said.