Bhim denotes Dalit icon Bhimrao Ambedkar, while Mim denotes the letter 'M' in the Urdu alphabet; the party used the slogan effectively in the 2014 Maharashtra assembly elections
A Muslim leader from the south, the lone Member of Parliament of his political party, has apparently become a feared threat to the maintenance of communal harmony in a state in northern India.
The Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party government in Uttar Pradesh has denied All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen chief, and three-time Lok Sabha Member of Parliament from Hyderabad, Asaduddin Owaisi, permission to hold public meetings in the state as many as six times since February 2014. But Owaisi finally travelled to western Uttar Pradesh earlier this week, attending iftar parties in Meerut and Agra on July 6 and 7 and declaring the intent of AIMIM, also called only Majlis, to field candidates for the 2017 state assembly polls.
Owaisi didn't disclose the number of seats his party might contest but the party's Uttar Pradesh unit hopes it would be at least a hundred of the 403 seats in the assembly.
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The 46-year-old London-trained lawyer attacked the Akhilesh government for having failed to keep promises made to the Muslim community. He said the SP and Bharatiya Janata Party were two sides of the same coin and hand in glove behind the frequent communal clashes in the state.
Owaisi also took on Samajwadi Party's Muslim leader and minister Azam Khan, accusing him of inaction during the communal riots in Muzaffarnagar in September 2013. He charged the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh of trying to make India a Hindu state.
But Owaisi, who has tried to bill the Majlis as a party not only of the Muslims but also of Dalits, steered clear of criticising Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati. Thousands of Muslim youth converged to meet Owaisi at Shahi Mahal on Hapur Road in Meerut and a dargah in Agra.
The Majlis has spent the past six months setting up district units and enrolling members in UP. It claims to have enrolled over a lakh members in the state and set up at least 50 district units. The party is likely to test its strength, as it did in Maharashtra, with elections to panchayats and blocks by the end of this year in UP.
Samajwadi Party leaders dismiss Owaisi as little threat to the party's Muslim support base. "Owaisi misleads Muslims by his oratorical skills but has done little for them. The community will see through him," said Naresh Agarwal, a Rajya Sabha member of the party.
But the administration has taken Owaisi more seriously by denying him permission to hold public meetings thrice in Azamgarh in 2014, once in Allahabad in September, and then again on March 29 in Agra and on April 26 in Allahabad. Fear of breach of peace and maintenance of communal harmony was a reason frequently proffered.
"No instructions are imposed on inflammatory speeches in the state by Yogi Adityanath, Sadhvi Prachi and Sakshi Maharaj. Why is only Owaisi banned?" UP unit Majlis leader Shauqat Ali asked.
The Majlis plans to focus on the 130-odd assembly seats where Muslims comprise more than 20 per cent of the electorate -- much of western UP and the districts of Azamgarh, Fatehpur and Unnao. Owaisi even selected a village in Azamgarh, the Lok Sabha constituency of SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, as his choice for the Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana.
Several of these seats are also reserved for scheduled castes, which could help Majlis repeat its slogan of 'Jai Bhim, Jai Mim' -- Bhim denoting Dalit icon Bhimrao Ambedkar and Mim denoting the letter 'M' in the Urdu alphabet -- that it used effectively in the Maharashtra assembly elections in October 2014 and Aurangabad assembly polls in April this year. Six of the 26 winning candidates of the Majlis in Aurangabad were Dalits. In all these elections, the Majlis picked professionals like journalists, doctors and lawyers to contest on the party's 'kite' symbol.
Apart from UP, the Majlis has started a membership drive in Delhi to prepare for the 2017 civic polls in the city and also in Bengaluru and Mysuru of Karnataka. Owaisi has visited the two cities to prepare the party rank and file for the upcoming civic polls.
Whatever the fate of AIMIM's UP experiment, it has already proven its relevance as a spoiler for the so-called "secular" parties who can no longer afford to take their "Muslim vote bank" for granted.
The importance of AIMIM
Hyderabad-based All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen claims to be a political party "dedicated to protect and advance the rights of Muslims, Dalits, Backward Classes and all other underprivileged communities in India". The party has its roots in the MIM founded in late the 1920s. A cultural and religious outfit to start with, MIM became politically active after it aligned with the Muslim League in the late 1930s.
Nawab Bahadur Yar Jung was the first president of MIM. Abdul Wahid Owaisi succeeded Jung. In 1975, Sultan Salahuddin Owaisi, son of Abdul Wahid, "took control" of the party.
Salahuddin was "considered the strongest person in Hyderabad politics, as his power extended till the borders of Andhra Pradesh. Muslims in the state rallied behind him and he was considered to be the man who could tilt the Muslim vote bank in Andhra Pradesh to whichever party he felt like supporting," the party website states.
Salahuddin was a two-time MLA and elected to the Lok Sabha for a consecutive six terms, from 1984 to 1999.
Salahuddin's eldest son Asaduddin, succeeded him as the party president in 2004. He was elected to the Andhra assembly in 1994 and 1999 and has won the 2004, 2009 and 2014 elections from the Hyderabad Lok Sabha seat.
Asaduddin has expanded the party's area of work outside Hyderabad in recent years.
In 2014, in the Telangana assembly elections, the AIMIM contested 35 seats. It was the runner-up in four and polled 12.4 per cent votes on the seats contested. The current mayor of Hyderabad, Majid Hussain, is from AIMIM and the party has 45 corporators in Hyderabad Municipal Corporation.
AIMIM's first real foray outside Andhra Pradesh/Telangana was in elections to the Nanded Municipal Corporation, stronghold of Congress leader Ashok Chavan, in 2012. It won 11 of the 81 seats.
The party contested 24 of the 288 seats in the October 2014 Maharashtra elections. It polled 13.16 per cent of votes in the seats contested and 0.9 per cent votes in the state. The party won two seats, was runner-up in three and its candidates were number three in eight. It fielded journalists, doctors and other professionals.
In April 2015, AIMIM stunned peopled by its performance in the Aurangabad civic polls. AIMIM emerged the second largest party, with 26 seats. The Shiv Sena won 28 and the BJP 24, while the Congress was reduced to 11 and the Nationalist Congress Party to two in the 113-member corporation. Of the 26, six of AIMIM's corporators are Dalits.
Prospects in Uttar Pradesh
AIMIM could fight as many as 100 of the 403 seats, fielding candidates in seats reserved for scheduled castes.
Muslims comprise 18 per cent of UP's population but have uneven geographic distribution concentrated as they are in the sub-regions of Upper Doab, Rohilkhand, Awadh and parts of Eastern UP. Nearly 20 districts and 100 tehsils have over 20 per cent Muslims, and their vote has the potential to impact the outcome in 130 of 403 seats. Many of these seats are reserved for scheduled castes.
In 2012, as many 67 Muslims or 17.12 per cent of 403 seats were elected to the UP assembly the highest since independence. However, not a single Muslim won in any of UP's seats in the Lok Sabha polls of 2014.