In the past, on every counting day, Syed Imtiaz Jaleel used to be busy chasing stories and analysing election results. This year was different for him when he himself became the story.
A journalist with NDTV until till two months ago, Jaleel on the counting day was busy attending congratulatory calls as he made history by winning Aurangabad central seat on All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) ticket. Jaleel’s rise from being a journalist to legislator was as intriguing as his party’s strong debut in Maharashtra.
“The people of Aurangabad have shown faith in me and my party as they feel only AIMIM can be their voice,” Jaleel told HT on phone. Jaleel defeated the sitting Shiv Sena legislator Pradeep Jaiswal by a margin of around 20,000 votes.
During the run up to the 2014 Lok Sabha election Jaleel was contemplating quitting journalism. The assembly election provided him that opportunity and he bid goodbye to the profession he served for two decades.
“While covering Lok Sabha elections during summer, I got a sense that media was losing its credibility. I also sensed political parties were playing out dirty political games. So I decided to be the part of the change.”
Contesting elections from Aurangabad central seat was a conscious decision that Jaleel made as the seat falls in his hometown with a considerable Muslim votebank. But many were surprised over Jaleel’s decision to contest election under the banner of AIMIM, known for its fundamentalist approach.
“There are different political parties serving interests of different communities. Since all the mainstream parties have ignored Muslims, the community now is looking towards AIMIM to be their voice.”
Jaleel’s observation may have been out of partisanship but wasn’t off the mark. The AIMIM contested 24 seats in the state of which 16 were in Mumbai. Fighting its very first elections in Maharashtra, the party led by Asaduddin Owaisi and his rather hardliner brother Akrabuddin found success.
The AIMIM won two seats, finished second runner up in four and fared impressively in over dozens seats, achieving 0.9 % votes. Waris Yusuf Pathan became AIMIM’s another legislator after he won elections from Byculla, Mumbai. Pathan defeated BJP nominee Madhu Chavan and former underworld don Arun Gawali’s daughter Geeta in a triangular contest.
Political observers feel AIMIM’s growth talks about religious polarization. “The rise of BJP as the main force in state politics has made the Muslims vote for a hardline outfit AIMIM. As a result Muslim votes shifted from Congress to AIMIM,” said Chitra Lele, a professor of political science at SNDT University.
According to Lele, Muslims in the state have begun to think that the Congress hasn’t done justice to them. “Be it arrests of some Muslim youths from Marathwada in terror cases or the fear of BJP’s growth, Muslims here see the Congress as party which has used them only as votebank,” said Lele.