Rivals allege that Owaisi’s politics is centered around mobilization of the Muslims and aims at dividing the secular votes.
On the face of it, AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi, whose party faced a wash-out in the recent West Bengal assembly polls, is set to join the 2022 Uttar Pradesh poll fray to take on the BJP.
Owaisi fancies himself as a champion of the Indian Muslims and has been making attempts over the past years to expand wings outside his bastion Hyderabad, which he represents in the Lok Sabha.
However, his rivals allege that Owaisi’s politics is centered around mobilization of the Muslims and aims at dividing the secular votes which indirectly helps the BJP in a multi-cornered contest.
The charges do not appear to be baseless. Owaisi’s party won five out of the 20 assembly seats it contested in the 2020 Bihar polls and indirectly helped the JD-U-BJP combine to retain power for a fourth-term.
Elated over the outcome, AIMIM had planned to contest around 25 seats in the April West Bengal assembly polls but fought only in seven. He could not make a mark as the state’s 30 percent Muslims voted en bloc in favour of chief minister Mamata Banerjee.
Owaisi has now set his eyes on UP and is trying to woo the state’s 19 percent Muslims to dent the ruling BJP.
However, the Hyderabad MP is aware of his branding and therefore is going to the elections as part of a new political formation.
As far as his stated objective is concerned, Owaisi’s recent remarks indicate that the script for next year’s poll battle is ready.
The AIMIM chief has vowed not to let Yogi Adityanath return to power while the chief minister, who presents himself as a Hindutva icon, has readily accepted the challenge.
Owaisi also questioned RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s remarks that all Indians shared a common DNA and those responsible for lynching of Muslims were not Hindus.
Asaduddin Owaisi is a big leader of our nation. If he has challenged BJP (for 2022 Assembly elections) then BJP's worker accepts his (Asaduddin Owaisi) challenge. There is no doubt that BJP will form government in Uttar Pradesh (in 2022): Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath pic.twitter.com/93fUPShYFk
— ANI UP (@ANINewsUP) July 3, 2021
The Muslim factor
Owaisi’s main aim is to woo the UP’s 19 percent Muslim vote share which usually gets split between the regional parties Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party and to some extent, the Congress.
Owaisi wants to present himself as a leader who can become the voice of UP’s Muslims in the run up to the elections next year. Whether the move will benefit him electorally or not remains to be seen but playing up the minority card could result in a reverse communal mobilization and benefit the party that panders to the majority sentiment.
On its part, the BJP is bound to highlight that the Supreme Court’s nod for the construction of Lord Ram temple in Ayodhya came under its rule, to keep its core constituency intact.
If the Owaisi factor helps the saffron party get some additional votes, the BJP can only welcome the move.
Bengal vs UP
In West Bengal, the Muslim voters had to choose between the Trinamool Congress, Congress and the newly-formed Indian Secular Front but finally went with the ruling party.
In UP, the AIMIM seeks to replace the traditional options for Muslim voters, like the SP, BSP and the Congress.
The AIMIM is blaming both the SP and the BSP of having treated Muslims like second grade citizens and claims that by mobilizing the entire community, it can defeat the BJP.
The AIMIM is focusing on 100 seats, spread across the different regions of the state, where Muslims comprise over 20 percent of the electorate.
Owaisi’s party had tried its luck in UP earlier too when it had fielded 38 candidates in the 2017 polls but could not win a single seat and ended up getting just 2.46 percent vote share.
If the past record is an indicator, it is unlikely that the state’s minority community would get swayed by a new suitor.
The AIMIM plans to contest around 100 of the total 403 assembly seats in UP as part of the Bhagidari Sankalp Morcha, which has around nine smaller outfits, including the Azad Samaj Party floated by Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad and the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party formed by former BJP ally OP Rajbhar.
The leaders of the new grouping claim they have come together to form a secular alternative and are trying to unite sections of Dalit, OBC and Muslim voters.
But there are questions whether a new front, formed less than a year ahead of the polls and lacking a clear focus, would be able to influence its targeted segment.
SP, BSP shun AIMIM
Sensing that the AIMIM could eat into their Muslim vote bank, both the SP and the BSP have maintained distance from Owaisi.
There were some reports that the Bahujan Samaj Party, which had a pact with Owaisi’s party and former Union minister Upendra Kushwaha’s RLSP in the 2020 Bihar assembly polls, could have an alliance with the AIMIM for the 2022 UP assembly elections.
BSP chief Mayawati, who is trying to project her party as a representative of all sections of society, feared that having any truck Owaisi could also drive away the Hindu voters and quickly clarified that she will go solo in both UP and Uttarakhand, which will also have polls next year.
BSP’s rivals suspect that Mayawati may join hands with the BJP post poll. Speculation over the issue arose recently when the BSP failed to put up candidates for the post of Panchayat heads in several districts which indirectly helped the BJP nominees get elected unopposed.
Like BSP, the SP too has been getting sizeable Muslim votes in the past and fears that having a tie up with the AIMIM could turn the Hindus away from it.
Interestingly, the new grouping has caught the attention of Shivpal Singh Yadav, uncle of former chief minister and SP president Akhilesh Yadav, who had formed his own Pragatisheel Samajwadi Party Lohia party.
Days after Akhilesh said that PSPL will merge with the SP, Shivpal met Owaisi, setting off rumours that he may join the new formation.
Owaisi has said on record that the Yadav-Muslim politics will not work in UP anymore but how much ground the two regional parties can hold will determine where the new entrant stands after the polls.