As the date for Bandra (East) Assembly constituency by-election inches closer, the possibility of a split in minority votes is giving sleepless nights to Congress leaders, as the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) seems determined to get a large chunk of Muslim votes.
Maharashtrians and Muslims form a large section of voters in the constituency. As the Sena is expecting support from the Maharashtrians, Congress candidate Narayan Rane is banking on Muslims votes to win the seat.
Necessitated by the death of sitting Sena MLA Prakash Sawant, the by-poll will see a tough contest between Sawant’s widow Trupti fielded by Sena and Congress’ Narayan Rane. The MIM has fielded Raja Rehbar Khan.
The election may decide the political fate of Rane, who lost the last Assembly election. Sensing the hurt MIM can cause to the prospects of his journey to the Assembly, Rane has reportedly sent feelers to Rahbar Khan, who alleged that Rane had made him an offer to withdraw his candidature. Rane, however, refuted the claim, saying it was a publicity stunt.
This time, owing to the popularity of MIM’s Owaisi brothers, Asaduddin and Akbaruddin, among the Muslim voters, a significant share of votes may swing towards the MIM camp.
Aggressive and fiery speeches by the brothers on issues such as the recent beef ban, scrapping of Muslim reservation, attacks on religious structures, among others have succeeded in drawing huge crowds in MIM’s rallies.
“MIM will not keep quite if the injustice against Muslims is not stopped. If MIM does not win from Bandra, it will be a victory of the communal BJP and Modi,” said Akbaruddin.
Muslim voters are divided between the Congress and MIM. “Congress has done nothing for us in the past. However, MIM’s work in Telangana shows that it has taken several steps for upliftment of Muslims,” said Junaid, 23, from Bharat nagar.
“Many small parties like MIM have come and gone. It is the Congress that has always been behind Muslims. We are not going to give in to emotional appeals being made by MIM,” said Mohammad Iqbal from Baharampada.
Political commenter Surendra Jondhale claimed the MIM may not be able to damage Congress vote base this election. “Polarisation of votes and poor candidates by the Congress was the reason behind the good performance of MIM in the last election. However, the situation is different this time and Muslims are not likely to get carried away by emotional speeches. In addition, major chunk of Muslims can support Rane for his identity as a person who dared to challenge Thackerays and Sena.” Jondhale said.
Meanwhile, MIM leaders are using anti-slaughter bill and Srikrishna Commission against Rane. “Rane signed the anti-slaughter bill and opposed implementation of Srikrishna Commission, which shows he is against Muslims,” said Byculla MLA and MIM leader Warris Pathan, in a recent rally.