Ahmedabad: Buoyed by its spectacular performance in the recent Bihar assembly polls, the All-India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) has now trained its guns on the upcoming elections to the 323 local self-government institutions in Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled Gujarat and has been firing on all cylinders to grab a sizable piece of the pie.
With six municipal corporations, 55 municipalities, 31 district panchayats and 231 taluka panchayats going to polls next month in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's home state, two senior leaders of the party have been on a whistle-stop tour of the cities for the last three days what with AIMIM supremo Asaduddin Owaisi himself scheduled to visit the state next week.
Imtiaz Jaleel, the party's Aurangabad Lok Sabha MP and head of the Maharashtra unit, as well as Waris Pathan, a former Maharashtra legislator, have so far addressed meetings in Muslim-dominated localities in Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Surat and Bharuch to woo the minority community among the 30-million voters.
After AIMIM raised many eyebrows last week by striking a seat-sharing deal with the Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) boasting two legislators in the 182-member Gujarat legislative assembly, the party duo has been rendezvousing with local intellectuals to chalk out a surefire barn-storming strategy before Owaisi descends on the state to propagandise its six million Muslims and finalise the short-listed candidates.
Jaleel told a gathering of AIMIM supporters here on Monday that Gujarat had been dominated by BJP and the Congress but his party would not only prove to be the third force but would leave the rivals dumbstruck by emerging victorious in several seats in all civic and panchayat polls.
Indeed, the stage is set for a thrilling battle of ballots to capture local bodies with many other big and small parties also throwing their hats into the ring for the first time in the provincial polls.
Former Gujarat Chief Minister Shankersinh Vaghela's Praja Shakti Party, the Aam Aadmi party (AAP), the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Bahujan Mukti Party (BMP) have rolled up their sleeves to enter the local poll arena for leading BJP and the Congress a merry dance.
Arvind Kejriwal's AAP has already appointed presidents of various districts and municipal corporations in the state and has become the first party to release the list of its 504 candidates with more names to be announced soon.
AAP's national spokesperson Atishi Singh was here recently to make the announcement and meet ticket aspirants. She told Madhyamam that BJP and the Congress were always hand-in-glove with each other during local elections but her party would present itself as an alternative as people of Gujarat wanted a change.
Interestingly, BJP and the Congress always declare their candidates for local polls at the eleventh hour but AAP has announced the names 45 days early "to allow voters to study the concerned candidates and take an informed decision before exercising their franchise."
What's more, SDPI, political outfit of the Popular Front of India, which had set up a base in Gujarat in 2018, has of late been hobnobbing with leaders of BSP and BMP to contest the local polls on a single platform. Gujarat SDPI secretary Ikramuddin Shaikh had recently accused the police of harassing party leaders in the name of surveillance.
Senior Congress leader Arjun Modhwadia told Madhyamam that in the local bodies or the assembly in Gujarat, only the Congress and BJP ruled the roost and all attempts to form a third alternative had always fallen flat in the past.
"Both AAP and AIMIM are B teams of the ruling BJP which is fast losing popularity and hence the saffron party has invited the two parties to enter the local poll arena and divide the Congress votes," said Modhwadia, former leader of the Opposition in the legislative assembly.
Congress legislator Gyasuddin Shaikh said that already the faulty delimitation of the municipal boundaries divided the Muslim votes but entry of AIMIM and other parties further ruined the winning prospects of Muslim candidates.
The Congress has launched a campaign to reach out to urban voters of six municipal corporations under which residents of Ahmedabad, Bhavnagar, Jamnagar, Rajkot, Surat and Vadodara can raise civic issues by calling up a dedicated number or sending messages on Whatsapp.
There are only three Muslim MLAs in the 182-member Gujarat assembly with only 20 Councillors from the minority community in the civic body in Ahmedabad, four in Surat, three in Bhavnagar and just one in Vadodara.