Waking up from its a year and half long slumber in Maharashtra, the Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee has finally started thinking of measures to improve “public presence” and “visibility”. The party organisation has recently formed a strategic planning department with the intention of focusing on critical issues in the state. One of these is countering the influence of AIMIM and Asaduddin Owaisi, and winning back the Muslim vote. The party also plans to induct nearly 4,000 youth as foot soldiers who will propagate the party’s presence at the grassroots.
“We will expose the nexus between AIMIM and the BJP. It is BJP which is covertly supporting the MIM to break away the Muslim vote bank from the Congress. We look at MIM as a big challenge. It originated in Maharashtra. If you see, it debuted in Maharashtra in the 2014 Assembly elections, and won only two seats. But it damaged the Congress the most by taking away 20% vote share. This breaking away of the Muslim vote has directly benefitted the BJP,” said Shehzad Poonawala, the youngest member of the 12-member strategic committee.
Senior Congress leader Sharad Ranpise has been entrusted with the responsibility of heading the committee. The other members are Ratnakar Mahajan, Arif Naseem Khan, Hussain Dalwai, Nitin Raut, Rajani Patil, Subodh Mohite, Shirish Chaudhary, Bandubhau Savarbandhe, Sachin Sawant, Vishwanath Patil and Shehzad Poonawala.
Sources said that Poonawala has been entrusted with the responsibility of bringing back Muslims to the party fold, countering the influence of MIM and increasing social media presence of the party to attract the youth.
Asked about the recently formed strategic committee and its objectives, he said that the short term goal was to eye the corporation elections to be held in Maharashtra in 2017. “In the long run, we will take up local issues at each place, bring out the truth about Smart City initiatives and showcase how the government is not able to achieve anything substantial through the JNNURM. Nothing is happening there. For example, in Pune, the much-promised Metro is not yet functional. The city is suffering. It is costing it so much. We will take up all such issues and use social media effectively to highlight them,” he told The Sunday Guardian.
Asked about the influence of MIM on Muslims in Maharashtra, and the Congress strategy to counter it, he said that the party will use the “Bihar model” here.
“In Bihar elections, our efforts paid off. That is exactly what we are going to replicate in Maharashtra now. There, we exposed MIM completely. We told people how there was a tacit understanding between the MIM and the BJP. Also, at a personal level, I have fought against Owaisi several times. When he had commented against Hindu gods and goddesses, I was the most vociferous attacker on him. We will also bring it to the notice of people what the Owaisis have done in Hyderabad where they hold a majority. We will show how they have misappropriated properties and brought Hyderabad to the lowest level of development index,” Poonawala told The Sunday Guardian. He said that in Maharashtra, the Congress planned to use the anti-incumbency feeling against Shiv Sena in the corporation MCGM (Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai) polls. “We want to regain our strength in the corporation polls,” he said. “We will tell the minority community that we have traditionally chosen Nehru and Azad over Jinnah. All those who want to speak the language of Jinnah should go to Pakistan. We have chosen to go with Indian Constitutional secularism. Hardline fundamentalism is not our path. We will tell the community what the Congress has achieved since the Sachar panel report,” he said.