Mumbai: Congress which has set its eyes on wresting the Mumbai Municipal Corporation, Asia`s largest civic body, from the Shiv Sena-BJP in the 2012 is wary of the
possible Muslim support to Raj Thackeray led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS).
The meeting of prominent Muslim clerics from Mumbai with MNS president Raj Thackeray on the occasion of his birthday last month has sent alarm bells in the Congress.
Just like elsewhere in the country, Congress sources said Muslims and Dalit support is crucial for the party in the country`s commercial capital.
Atleast 12-14 Assembly segments out of the total 36 in Mumbai are Muslim dominated or areas where Muslims form sizeable voter population.
There are 10 corporators belonging to the Congress who are Muslims, out of which two -- Amin Patel and Aslam Sheikh -- were elected to the Legislative Assembly.
In the 227 member civic body, the Congress has 76 corporators with two co-opted members. The Muslim population in Mumbai is over 25 lakh majority of which belong to Memon, Khoja, Shia communities who have been living in the city for generations.
Similarly, there is a sizeable chunk of Muslims who have migrated from Uttar Pradesh and made the city their home.
Congress sources said traditionally they have been supporting the Congress.
Sources said Muslims have never supported communal forces. But, MNS has not done or spoken anything against Muslims. If the community feels that MNS can be an option,
Congress is in for serious trouble and its dreams of capturing the civic body will be dashed.
"The meeting of Muslim clerics with Raj Thackeray an presenting him with a copy of the Marathi translation of Holy Quran is not a minor issue and the Congress leadership has taken it very seriously," party sources said.
However, MNS says it is not amused that the Congress is alarmed at the development. Party leaders say it was because the Congress has always considered Muslims just as a
Vageesh Saraswat, vice president of MNS told a news agency that MNS has Maharashtra agenda and not Hindutva agenda. Several Muslims have been associated with the party right since its inception. They have been given prominent posts in the parent party as well as affiliate bodies like the Vahatuk Sena among others.
"We are not looking at the Muslims as a political agenda. People of Maharashtra including Muslims have accepted us wholeheartedly," Saraswat said.
He said in the 2007 civic elections, MNS bagged seven seats. "In the Lok Sabha elections, we got more than 12 lakh votes in the dozen seats we contested in Mumbai, Thane and Nashik belts and in the Assembly elections, we got 13 seats. The 2012 civic elections in Mumbai will see the MNS in power," he said.
According to Saraswat, MNS will fight for the rights of those who live in Maharashtra and wholeheartedly love the state.
"We consider them as Marathi and we will fight for their rights. The party recently demonstrated for increasing the quota of Maharashtra Muslims for the Haj pilgrimage.
Muslims from other states also avail of Maharashtra quota. If this continues where will Marathi Muslims go?" he asked. Haji Arafat Sheikh, another MNS Vice President and
head of the Vahatuk Sena said that meeting of Muslim clerics with Raj was not a political stunt.
"The delegation comprised top imams and maulanas from Mumbai, Pune and Nashik region. They, presenting Marathi version of Quran, is very significant. For Muslims, nothing is more important than Quran. They don`t usually gift the holy book to people. The imams told Raj to go through the book and understand Islam," he said.
"Raj is not against Muslims and many Muslims are in fact attracted to him because of the development issues he takes up," he added.
Sheikh said Muslims are disillusioned with Congress and NCP and are looking for a good alternative.
According to him, Muslims are coming closer to MNS since last year, when Raj successfully ensured increasing the Haj quota from Maharashtra by 3000. As compared to UP and Bihar which was 35000, the Maharashtra quota was only 7000,
despite the fact that the Haj centralised office is located in Mumbai.