Faced With Tough Polls, Owaisi Banks on Division of anti-AIMIM Votes to Retain Hold Over Hyderabad
According to political observers, Owaisi’s AIMIM is fighting a ‘do-or-die’ battle in Charminar, Malakpet and Nampalli Assembly seats.
Hyderabad: A few hundred meters from the historic Charminar in old city, AIMIM leader Akbaruddin Owaisi makes a speech. In his inimitable style, the rabble-rouser declares to his cheering supporters that there would be no government in Telangana minus his party MLAs.
"If HD Kumaraswamy can become the chief minister of Karnataka with just 37 MLAs, why can't I become the chief minister of my state?" he asks. The crowd claps and cheers.
After he moves to some other locality, the people start discussing the possibility of the AIMIM, led by Akbaruddin’s elder brother and Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi, playing the role of ‘kingmaker’ in the 119-member Telangana Assembly once election results are out.
Most, including some of his loyal supporters, agree that it is just bravado and for the first time in many years Owaisi brothers are facing a tough challenge in their own fiefdom. The AIMIM had seven MLAs in the dissolved Telangana Assembly and is contesting in eight seats this time.
The party’s tough battle ahead is apparent to Altaf Ali Khan, who runs a shop near Charminar. "Two months ago, things were in favour of Owaisi's party. But, it’s changing rapidly. It seems they miscalculated and misread the signals. Out of seven seats, the party is facing stiff competition in three. To remain a force in Hyderabad, they have to win all seven seats. Even if they lose just one or two seats, they will lose a lot more in perception and politically," he says.
Seasoned political experts, too, agree with Khan’s summary of AIMIM’s prospects. They say Owaisi’s party is fighting a ‘do-or-die’ battle in Charminar, Malakpet and Nampalli Assembly seats.
The Congress-led ‘Mahakutami’ or grand alliance with the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) of Andhra Pradesh CM Chandrababu Naidu has put up three-four strong candidates who can match Owaisi's money and muscle power, pundits say.
The ‘Mahakutami’ has fielded TDP's Muzaffar Ali Khan in Malakpet and Congress' Fairoz Khan in Nampalli. In Charminar, Mohammad Ghouse of the Congress is giving a tough fight to MIM.
Senior political analyst Syed Sajjadul Hasnain told News18 that a photo-finish is expected in at least two seats this time.
"I can't say AIMIM is losing. Even if they win all seven, they will retain at least two seats by a small margin. The contest is heating up. The campaign strategy has also changed. Suddenly, they are taking more about development and less about religion etc," he said.
The AIMIM's support to Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao’s Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) could be both advantageous and disadvantageous, political observers argue.
"Muslims feel that KCR is with the BJP in New Delhi. The AIMIM is backing him here. For the first time, many Muslims are openly questioning Owaisi's commitment to them. He is now walking a tight rope," says Mubashiruddin, a senior journalist from Hyderabad.
Asaduddin Owaisi counters the charge of being a ‘BJP agent’ with the argument that it is not necessary for all anti-BJP forces to fight under the leadership of the Congress. "Let Rahul Gandhi win 120 seats for the Congress in upcoming Lok Sabha elections. We will fight the BJP here. We don't need him," said Owaisi.
Contrary to popular belief, Hyderabad has more Hindus than Muslims. According to latest data, the seven constituencies together have about 52% Hindu votes and 46-48% Muslim votes.
In all previous elections, the AIMIM managed to have a "friendly" fight in Hyderabad by clinching a deal with other major parties.
The division of Hindu votes among the Congress, TDP and BJP helped AIMIM easily win the old city.
This time, the ‘Mahakutami’ is expected to consolidate anti-AIMIM votes. "If they manage to take away a significant chunk of Muslim votes from AIMIM, the game is over for Owaisi brothers. Nobody is sure about that," said a voter in Malakpet.
The BJP, which is still a minor force in Telangana, is campaigning aggressively in and around Hyderabad, leading to speculation that it is trying to divide anti-TRS and AIMIM votes with the sole intention of exacting revenge on Chandrababu Naidu, who quit the NDA to form the grand alliance with the Congress.
The BJP is hoping to win five seats and may end up winning at least three seats, predict observers.
"The only hope for the TRS is the BJP now. The more votes the BJP gets, the more it helps the TRS. The BJP is making all possible efforts to divide anti-TRS votes to make sure that Rahul-Naidu friendship fails. That's why the BJP has got its big guns, including PM Narendra Modi and party chief Amit Shah, to campaign in the state. Even Rajnath Singh and Yogi Adityanath have campaigned for the party," a TDP leader said.
In Hyderabad, the voting percentage has remained around 65%. If the voting percentage goes up, it may go against the AIMIM, claim local poll watchers.
Besides Hyderabad district, Muslim voters are in large numbers in Nizamabad, Adilabad and Warangal districts. Congress and TDP leaders hope that if they back the ‘Mahakutami’, the election may throw up shocking results for the TRS.
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