New Delhi: The All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), the party led by Hyderabad parliamentarian Asaduddin Owaisi’s decision to contest the 2022 Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls on more than 100 seats, may damage the prospects of the Samajwadi Party (SP), the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and other parties which used to get sizeable Muslim votes in the past.

Sources privy to the poll preparations of the AIMIM told The Sunday Guardian that the party might contest roughly 100 Assembly seats with a special focus on western Uttar Pradesh which has a sizable Muslim population. The recent results of the Bihar Assembly elections, where the AIMIM got five seats, had forced parties to revise their strategy. The AIMIM had also brought to the forefront the issue of leadership and representation to Muslims in the politically crucial state of Uttar Pradesh which it claims has been under-represented by these well-established parties. Muslims constitute around 19% of the population in the state.

Out of the total 403 Assembly segments in Uttar Pradesh, about 140 seats are in western UP. As per the 2011 census, Muslims constitute 46% of the population in Moradabad, 51% of the population in Rampur, 44% in Bijnor, 435 in Saharanpur, 42% in Muzaffarnagar, 39% in Amroha and around 32-35% of the total population in Meerut, Azamgarh and Bareilly districts. A senior AIMIM leader who is working in Uttar Pradesh said: “Our focus is the districts of western Uttar Pradesh. The question of leadership is looming large among the Muslims of the state as since the last few decades, the so-called secular parties used the community as a vote bank. The SP never promoted leaders from the community and only used them to get votes. In view of the rising BJP in the state, there is a churning within the community to look for alternatives as they are fed up with the so-called secular parties which are basically caste parties like the SP, the BSP etc. We are sure that we will perform very well in the upcoming Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections.”

Experts believe that any success of the AIMIM or increase in its vote share will damage the Samajwadi Party, the principal opposition force, as Muslim-Yadav combination is what they are banking upon since long.  Lucknow based political analyst and former professor in Lucknow University, Ram Avtar Chouhan, said: “It is right that the Muslim community is not satisfied with the SP or the BSP or even the INC as they feel that despite voting for them since the last many decades, nothing substantive had happened for the community and in the upcoming election if 10% of the community votes shift towards the AIMIM, then the SP dream of winning the state will go for a tailspin. The history of the last three Assembly elections tell us that out of 403 seats in the state, in 60-70 seats, the winning margin remains below 10,000 votes—in that the AIMIM’s entry and its capability of vote share will emerge as a make or break for these parties.”

Unease over AIMIM’s decision is visible in the Samajwadi Party as its leaders argue that any division may only benefit the BJP in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections. The BJP claims that the AIMIM is an extended version of the Samajwadi Party. Senior Uttar Pradesh BJP leader Nitin Mittal said: “The AIMIM is an extremely communal party. Its aim is to divide the society. People of any community will never support them as they have seen how appeasement can harm the development of the state. During Samajwadi Party rule, we saw how criminals like Mukhtar Ansari used to disturb the peace and harmony of the state and the party used to help them. Now the people are not going to accept anything like that. So be it the AIMIM or the SP, they will not succeed in the elections.”