Decoding Owaisi’s Aurangabad foray

For the first time in its history, the All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (AIMIM) is venturing outside Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. In addition to its chief Asaduddin Owaisi contesting in Hyderabad Lok Sabha constituency, the party will field candidates in Aurangabad in Maharashtra and Kishengunj in Bihar. While Aurangabad MLA Imtiaz Jaleel will be its candidate in Aurangabad, Akhter Ul Imam, AIMIM’s Bihar unit chief will contest from Kishengunj.

Battleground Aurangabad was not part of the original plan. The seat had been given to Prakash Ambedkar’s Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh as part of the alliance in Maharashtra and it had even announced a candidate. Jaleel however, suggested that the AIMIM should contest the seat in order to increase its footprint beyond Hyderabad. Owaisi followed up with consultations with those who mattered in the Maharashtra unit and decided on Jaleel as the AIMIM candidate.

Imtiaz Jaleel (left) with Asaduddin Owaisi

Jaleel has been in politics only for a few years. He was the NDTV correspondent in Pune for several years before deciding to chuck journalism for active politics. His Twitter bio puts it without mincing words : “Switched over roles after being behind the camera for over 2 decades and running after news to being the news myself as MLA from Aurangabad.”

What does the decision mean for the AIMIM? In 2016, then Rajya Sabha MP and lyricist Javed Akhtar had derided Asaduddin Owaisi by describing the lawmaker as “a person who thinks of himself as a national leader but in reality is no more than a leader of a mohalla (locality) of Hyderabad.” Other detractors too have dismissed the AIMIM as an outfit whose clout does not extend beyond the heritage city. This move presents the party with an opportunity to expand to newer areas and show to people like Akhtar that Owaisi carries weight beyond Hyderabad and the idiot box.

The AIMIM contested five seats in 2014, one in Andhra Pradesh and four in Telangana. It won only in Hyderabad, a seat it has held since 1984. It has two MLAs in Maharashtra. In 2015, it unsuccessfully contested six seats in the Seemanchal region of Bihar and came a cropper in 38 seats in the Uttar Pradesh elections in 2017. 

The AIMIM will be on familiar territory in Aurangabad. Even better, it won’t invite the charge often thrown at it of splitting the secular vote, thereby helping the BJP-led combine. Since 1999, the Congress or its ally, the NCP has never won Aurangabad. For the past four elections, Aurangabad has been a Shiv Sena bastion, its leader Chandrakant Khaire winning without a break. 

With Ambedkar as its alliance partner, there will also be an attempt to project the MIM as not a party of Muslims alone but of the downtrodden. The aim is to woo the non-Muslim voters whose socio-economic profile matches with those of Muslims, who are economically not so well off. 

The move is tactically also important because Telangana chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao wants to be a force to reckon with at the Centre. His aim is to win 16 seats in Telangana, with Hyderabad in AIMIM’s kitty. With the optics of putting up a fight in other parts of India, Owaisi can also be part of the power structure should a Federal Front government that KCR is keen on constructing take charge in the event of both the NDA and the UPA not getting the numbers. 

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