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Maharashtra Polls: Communal card loses appeal
Saturday October 11, 2014 9:52 AM, Nilofar Suhrawardy

A lot more is at stake in Maharashtra assembly elections than just the impact of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's political campaign. Each of the five key parties in the fray is hopeful of its political gamble benefitting it.

Asad Owaisi
[All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) Chief Asaduddin Owaisi's road show in Malegaon. Andhra -based MIM has fielded 24 candidates in largely Muslim and Dalit populated areas, while Muslim League has fielded six candidates. (Photo:]

What is perhaps most intriguing is the manner in which Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), its former ally, Shiv Sena and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) seem to have almost reversed their political strategy.

Granting tickets to Muslim candidates, though symbolic, marks the change. This partly displays their attempt to turn their backs toward the communal card they have tried using earlier in Maharashtra assembly elections.

Besides, it is possible that electoral shocks received by the BJP in assembly by-polls held last month has forced it to change its strategy.

Major electoral blow received by the BJP also proved that it couldn't always rely on the Modi wave, particularly in assembly elections.

Politically, it is intriguing that former allies have chosen to part ways and contest Maharashtra assembly elections separately. Having failed to reach an agreement on seat adjustments, the BJP and Shiv Sena are contesting separately. This also suggests that Shiv Sena is more confident about its own political hold in Maharashtra than on the Modi wave.

It is for the first time since 1989 that thee BJP and Shiv Sena are contesting Maharashtra assembly elections separately. Allied earlier, Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) have split to contest these polls. The fifth key party in the fray is MNS.

The vote bank in Maharashtra, which is expected to see considerable division, is that of Muslims, who form around 13.4 percent of the state's population. Muslim candidates constitute 3.3 percent of the total candidates fielded. For the 288-member Maharashtra assembly, total number of candidates fielded by five major parties is 1,356. In 2009, total candidates fielded were 705, 19 of whom were Muslims. Compared to rival parties, maximum Muslim candidates — 19 have been fielded by Congress. In 2009, in alliance with NCP, Congress had contested on 170 seats and had given tickets to 12 Muslims. The same year, NCP had fielded four Muslims from the 113 seats it had contested in alliance with Congress. In the present election scenario, NCP has given tickets to 16 Muslims.

There is nothing surprising about increase in number of Muslim candidates fielded by Congress and NCP. The same opinion cannot be held about similar attempt being made by rival parties. Compared to one Muslim candidate fielded by the BJP in 2009, it has given tickets to two Muslims this time. Shiv Sena fielded one Muslim in 2009 and has fielded only one again. This time, MNS has fielded seven Muslim candidates, compared to one in 2009 assembly polls.

Hoping to enter Maharashtra politics, smaller Muslim parties are also trying their luck. Andhra -based All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) has fielded 24 candidates in largely Muslim and Dalit populated areas, while Muslim League has fielded six candidates.

The current political scenario in Maharashtra, marked by increase in number of Muslim candidates fielded by rival parties conveys one message strongly. Even the most extremist communal parties have tacitly accepted that to hold power in state assembly, they have no option but to try and reach out to Muslims.

[Nilofar Suhrawardy is senior journalist and columnist based in New Delhi. She can be contaced at The above artice is first published by Arab News.]

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