In a bid to win Maharashtra in the Assembly polls, the Bharatiya Janata Party has started wooing the Muslim community, whose votes could swing at least 80 seats the party’s way.
The Muslim minority, which makes up 11% of Maharashtra's population, have traditionally voted for the Congress and other parties. In the city, the BJP’s targets are Mumbadevi, Colaba, Byculla, Kurla, Bandra, Dharavi, Govandi, Versova, Anushakti Nagar, Mankhurd and Malad, though some of them will be contested by ally Shiv Sena.
Based on the Lok Sabha outcome, the BJP believes it could snatch a sizeable number of votes in these segments from the Congress. The Congress gained in only three minority-dominated constituencies of Byculla, Mumbadevi and Mankhurd (held by SP), while the NCP, too, lost the lead in three sitting segments, of which two have a sizeable Muslim population. The BJP and Sena led in all other minority-dominated segments.
Interestingly, in Uttar Pradesh the BJP is accused of polarising votes, where its leaders have been deriding the community over sensitive issues.
First on the BJP’s agenda to woo the community in Maharashtra is to seek Muslim support for its agenda of all-inclusive development at a function in the city on Thursday. This will be done through Union minority affairs minister Najma Heptulla, who recently courted controversy by saying all Muslims in the country were ‘originally’ Hindus. On the dais will be ex-minister Syed Shahanawaz Hussain and the party’s state unit chief Devendra Fadanavis, Vinod Tawde and city president Ashish Shelar, who is seeking to contest from Bandra. Together they will try to wipe out the party’s anti-Muslim image following the Babri demolition, the Gujarat riots and BJP’s opposition to the state’s scheme of modernising madrasas. Similar functions will the held across the state.
On BJP’s mind are segments in Thane, Akola, Nanded, Nashik, Latur and Beed districts, and Nagpur, which have Muslim strongholds that could tilt the poll results either way. In 2009, the BJP bagged two more seats than the Sena and together the two could not cross the 90 mark. This time, however, the BJP aims to gain by projecting itself as a party for all.
Shelar said, “Our theme‘sabka sath, sabka vikas’ (support to all, development of all), and based on this theme, we will appeal to our Muslim brothers and sisters to vote for us.”