BTP set to break up with Owaisi, but AIMIM revs up for foray into Gujarat Assembly polls

Months before the Gujarat Assembly elections, slated for December this year, the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM)’s chief Asaduddin Owaisi landed in Ahmedabad on Thursday to reach out to his party rank and file and look for new alliance partners. Officially, Owaisi arrived in the capital to attend an Iftaar event organised by the state AIMIM unit, even as the visit also served as an opportunity for him to galvanise his activists and boost the party membership drive. The alliance issue has also assumed urgency for Owaisi since the AIMIM’s existing partnership with the Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) seems to have virtually collapsed now.

Currently, the AIMIM, which is estimated to have around 20,000 workers in Gujarat, has support bases in some pockets in over a dozen districts across the state, where the percentage of the Muslim population is relatively higher. Owaisi’s visit was however met with protests in Ahmedabad’s Juhapura locality, Gujarat’s largest Muslim ghetto, where he went to a mosque to offer namaz.

Making its electoral debut in Gujarat in civic polls last year, the AIMIM had carved a slice of the Opposition space for itself by winning altogether 25 seats, including 7 seats in the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation. The AIMIM had won the remaining 18 seats in the municipalities of Modasa in Aravalli district, Godhra in Panchmahal, and in Bharuch. The party had then nominated its candidates in 14 districts across the state. It had also fielded non-Muslim nominees in several wards, of whom a candidate also won the election.

The AIMIM had then forged an alliance with the BTP, which has some influence in Bharuch and Narmada districts. In the run-up to the Gujarat Assembly polls, the BTP is however eyeing an alliance with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) on the ground, according to an AIMIM source, that “it was local elections last year but the coming Assembly polls will be a different ball game”.

Meanwhile, addressing reporters during his Ahmedabad tour, Owaisi said he will keep visiting Gujarat this year in order to “correct any mistakes, strengthen the party and give our best in the Assembly polls”.

Owaisi with the party’s state president Sabir Kabliwala in Ahmedabad on Thursday. (Express Photo: Nirmal Harindran)

An erstwhile Congress ally, the BTP had broken its alliance with the grand old party ahead of last year’s urban local body polls. Joining hands with the AIMIM, it had then accused the Congress of being “two faced”. However, the BTP leaders, including Chhotubhai Vasava and Mahesh Vasava, recently met AAP supremo and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, sending out clear signals that their party is heading to tie up with the AAP for the Assembly polls.

Faced with these developments, the AIMIM seems to have initiated its bid to scout for new allies in Gujarat, even as it has intensified its attempts to expand its base in Muslim-dominated pockets in the state.

When asked about the possibility of the BTP preferring the AAP to the AIMIM, Owaisi said, “Every party has the right to work as per their wish. We cannot stop anyone from joining someone else and neither can they. We are also looking for possible alliances and coalitions. However, it will be too early to spell out our preferences now.”

As per the 2011 census, of Gujarat’s total 6.04 crore population, the Muslim population is over 58 lakhs. However, in the 182-member Gujarat Assembly, there are only three Muslim MLAs — Gyasuddin Shaikh, Imran Khedawala and Mohammad Javid Pirzada — all of whom belong to the Congress.

In view of the Muslim community’s gross under-representation in the Assembly and other bodies, the AIMIM has plans to make inroads in different parts of Gujarat, especially in urban belts stretching beyond major cities.

“Last time AIMIM had contested local body polls on selected seats in a handful of regions. However, this year we are planning to contest on many more seats to expand our bases to cities such as Palanpur, Siddhpur, Surat, Junagadh, among others,” said Shamshad Pathan, AIMIM vice president. “We are looking for like-minded parties with whom we can form an alliance. Additionally, we are also strengthening our own bases.”

The Gujarat Assembly polls have always been a two-party affair, with the BJP ruling the state for over 25 years and the Congress continuing to play the role of the principal Opposition party. With the AAP now aggressively stepping up its Gujarat moves, planning to contest from all the Assembly seats, the evolving election scene may undergo changes.

In this backdrop, the Congress has sharpened its attack on the AIMIM, accusing it of being the BJP’s “B team”. “The Muslim community in Gujarat is aware. They have seen the results of UP elections and how AIMIM couldn’t manage to win anything but did damage to the secular vote share, which ultimately benefited the BJP. They understand that this party (AIMIM) only approaches them during elections, and they have made up their mind to reject them and give their vote to a party that actually cares for them. This is why we saw citizens protesting against Owaisi when he arrived in Juhapura,” said Congress MLA Khedawala.

Hitting back, Owaisi said, “We did not contest the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha polls in Gujarat. How many seats did the Congress win? Zero. These allegations have now gotten old.”

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