Hyderabad: Making its first serious attempt to expand its base outside Telangana, the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) is looking to make inroads in Maharashtra where it has fielded 25 candidates for the October 15 Assembly Elections.
A key force in Hyderabad politics, the Muslim political party is trying to get a foothold in the crowded political space of Maharashtra, where Muslims constitute about 11 percent of its 114 million population.
Led by party chief Asaduddin Owaisi and his firebrand younger brother Akbaruddin, the MIM ran an aggressive campaign in Muslim-majority constituencies in Mumbai, Nanded, Parbhani, Osmanabad, Solapur, Malegaon and other parts of the state.
Camping in the state for over 20 days, Akbaruddin Owaisi addressed election rallies which drew huge crowds while Asaduddin Owaisi, a MP from Hyderabad, conducted road shows and door-to-door campaigning.
The party even roped in its other legislators from Telangana to manage the poll campaign.
Party sources said it was not difficult for their leaders to connect to the people in Maharashtra.
"People, especially youngsters, had been demanding that Akbaruddin Owaisi address meetings in Maharashtra," a source close to the young leader said.
Asaduddin Owaisi, the London-educated barrister, is a well-known Muslim leader who visits various parts of the country and participates in TV debates on Muslims issues.
MIM had been contesting local body elections in pockets of Maharashtra which were part of the erstwhile Hyderabad State.
It emerged as a key force in the Nanded municipal corporation by bagging 13 seats in 2012. It is now trying to build on this success.
Its candidates include legendary singer Mohammed Rafi's son Shahid Rafi (Mumbadevi) and former TV journalist Imtiyaz Jaleel (Aurangabad Central).
"MIM has come here not to win or lose elections but to fight for self-respect and rights of Muslims," Akbaruddin Owaisi repeated at his election meetings.
He rejected the criticism that MIM's presence would split secular votes.
"What has the so-called secular alliance of the Congress-NCP done for Muslims in 15 years?" asked Akbar, leader of the MIM in the Telangana assembly.
At every rally, he exhorted Muslims to demonstrate their political awareness by electing representatives who can raise their voice in the legislature.
Drawing a parallel between Telangana and Maharashtra, the MIM leaders explained at every meeting how the party fought to protect the interests of the community in Hyderabad and other parts of Telangana.
They argued that only through political power can Muslims resolve their problems. They pointed out that the unity demonstrated by Muslims forced the successive governments in united Andhra Pradesh to take steps to address economic, social and educational backwardness of the community.
"There is a Rs.1,000 crore budget for 40 lakh (four million) Muslims in Telangana, but 1.5 crore (15 million) Muslims in Maharashtra have a meagre budget of Rs.500 crore and only half of this amount is actually spent," he said.
Alleging that the Congress-NCP combine did nothing for Muslims, Akbar asserted that 333 Muslims died in police custody in the last 10 years. According to him, 40 percent of all prisoners in Maharashtra jails were Muslims.
The MIM highlighted the work it is doing in the areas of education and healthcare in Telangana. The party runs several institutions including two hospitals, a medical college, an engineering college and a bank.
Like in Telangana, the MIM is stressing the need for Muslim-Dalit unity as it feels they face similar socio-economic problems. The MIM candidates in Maharashtra include three Dalits.
The party made a non-Muslim as Hyderabad's mayor in the past and also has some non-Muslims among its corporators in the city.
MIM, which has one member in the Lok Sabha and seven members in the Telangana assembly, fielded a few Dalits in the recent elections in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.