Jaipur: Amid speculation that Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) could make its political foray in Rajasthan, a war of words has broken out between the Congress and the BJP.
The buzz in political circles is that Owaisi, who heads the AIMIM, is exploring options to expand the party’s base in Rajasthan and a virtual rally might be arranged for Owaisi in the state soon.
The reports of AIMIM’s entry is causing concern in Congress ranks over a possible realignment of the Muslim vote which it had taken for granted till now.
Of late, there is anger building up among Muslims against the Congress government over a number of issues.
In the recent civic elections, there was a demand from the Muslim leaders in Congress to make a Muslim mayor for the Jaipur Heritage Municipal Corporation which falls largely in the old city with a large Muslim population. However, Congress did not accept that demand, leading to resentment.
Mohammed Sharif, a state Congress committee member and president of the Muslim Progressive Forum Rajasthan, says the Congress should not take Muslims for granted.
“Congress will definitely face a threat if AIMIM enters the electoral fray. Of the 200 assembly seats, there are 40-45 seats where Muslims are in good strength. If there is a triangular fight due to entry of AIMIM, then it will be a tough contest,” said Sharif, who led the campaign for a Muslim mayor in Jaipur Heritage municipal corporation.
Sharif admitted that there is unhappiness among the Muslims with the Congress party. “The Muslims did not get adequate representation in the cabinet. There is only one Muslim minister. There is no representation in the Rajasthan Public Service Commission and no additional advocate general from the Muslim community has been appointed, all political appointments are on hold,” he said.
Sharif points out that there was only a 0.5 per cent difference in votes between the Congress and BJP in the 2018 assembly elections. Congress got 39.3 per cent vote share and won 99 seats while the BJP got 38.8 per cent vote share and won 79 seats.
“In such a scenario, if the Muslim vote shifts, then Congress will be in trouble,” he said.
Sharif said he has apprised party leaders of the situation. He has also written to chief minister Ashok Gehlot to ensure the Muslim community gets adequate representation in the government and in the Congress party.
The building resentment and talk of Owaisi’s entry in Rajasthan seems to have rattled Congress leaders. On Tuesday, Mahesh Joshi, senior Congress leader and chief whip in the assembly, called Owaisi a BJP agent. He said if Owaisi came to Rajasthan, people will not accept him.
BJP national secretary Alka Gurjar hit back at the grand old party saying that Congress and AIMIM are two sides of the same coin and both follow politics of appeasement and are eyeing the Muslim votebank.
She said the people are happy with the work being done by the government of prime minister Narendra Modi and the recent results of the Bihar elections and the by-elections are testimony to that.
Political analyst Ashfaque Kayamkhani said Joshi’s statements were a reflection of Congress’ nervousness. “Congress has always taken Muslim and SC voters for granted and exploited them politically. Now they are worried that they might lose these votes and are making such statements,” he said.
Kayamkhani said Congress should introspect about how it has used the minority community for political benefit without giving it adequate representation.
Political analyst Narayan Bareth says Owaisi’s entry will damage the Congress to some extent. “Muslims should not vote merely on religious lines. The Gehlot government has done a lot for Muslims. Some people are trying to create a false impression that Muslims have not got anything.”
Bareth said if the Muslims go along with Owaisi, it will be a dangerous trend. “If Muslims fall for Owaisi’s minority card then it will be easier for the BJP to play its majority card and tougher for secular parties to uphold the secular fabric of the country,” he said.
After winning five seats in the Bihar assembly election, Owaisi’s eyes are on the 2021 Bengal assembly polls and the 2022 UP assembly elections. It is likely that his party will contest the Rajasthan assembly elections that are due in December 2023.
Rajasthan’s politics has so far been the playground of the BJP and the Congress and a third front has never emerged as a serious contender, be it the Janata Party, Janata Dal, BSP, NCP, CPIM, or AAP or Nagaur MP Hanuman Beniwal’s Rashtriya Loktantrik Party which has managed to carve a niche in Jat dominated districts in western Rajasthan.