More than the size of the crowd that had gathered to cheer All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) leader Akbaruddin Owaisi at the party’s recent rally in Byculla, it was the volume of youngsters in the audience that had older voters from south Mumbai’s Muslim-dominated areas concerned.
Not just political parties, even locals are worried that the foray of the AIMIM, known for its provocative brand of politics, into Maharashtra’s electoral scene could split Muslim votes, given the sway it seems to hold among young voters. The Mumbadevi constituency accounted for almost 1 lakh voters in the 2009 state polls. For the upcoming polls, around 18,000 of its eligible voters are aged between 18 and 25. Of these 8,000 are from the minority community.
“The senior members of the community should guide the youth about the consequence of picking any political outfit with extremist views,” said Farid Khan, general secretary of the Urdu Markaz, a cultural outfit in Mumbadevi.
Some fear that unlike the tested Muslim parties in the state, such as the Indian Union Muslim League and the Samajwadi Party, the MIM has barely any presence in Mumbai or Maharashtra, and may not be able to look out for them. “Many times, a section of the minority has voted for an extremist parties and has sometimes faced the brunt of it. But at least those parties are based out of the city to help in unpleasant times. We don’t perceive that sense of protection from MIM,” said a middle-aged voter from Byculla.
The AIMIM, on its part, is doing a fair bit to reach out to young voters. Its Facebook page, ‘AIMIM Mumbai- young boys,’ has received thumping support from the city’s Muslim youth. “We have created about 60 WhatsApp groups to reach out to young voters. The response has been unprecedented,” said Akeel Shaikh, the party’s social media co-coordinator.
The Congress-NCP combine is worried about a split in votes. “It is a concern. Thus, we are also using social networking platforms to connect with young voters,” said Congress’ Amin Patel, sitting Mumbadevi MLA.
Others in the fray claim voters will see through AIMIM’s ‘shallow’ manifesto. “They are not bothered about basic concerns such as water supply and women’s empowerment,” said Khalid Mammoo, the Mumbadevi candidate for the Indian Union Muslim League.