Mumbai Congress on a mission to reconnect with Muslims

SHAFAQNA – With the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) trying to make inroads in the state, and gradually succeeding, the Congress leadership in the state is worried. Almost everybody at the party’s state headquarters here is of the opinion that they cannot take the Congress’s traditional Muslim votebank for granted and “have to aggressively reach out to the minorities with a definite plan”. Making it apparent that they don’t want to wait for the 2019 elections, newly elected Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee (MPCC) president Ashok Chavan has convened a meeting of select leaders and representatives from the Muslim community on May 4.

The plan includes holding dialogues with Muslim leaders and organisations through lunch and dinner diplomacy to woo them back. Organising corner meetings in every assembly segment taking up their issues is also on the agenda. Former MPCC chief Manikrao Thakre said, “The first meeting is likely to take place in Bhiwandi. I admit there have been some mistakes made by our government. The issue of Muslim reservation should have been pursued earlier and not ahead of the 2014 elections. Yet, we would like to reassert that Congress is the only party that would work in their interest.”

Mohan Prakash, the All India Congress Committee (AICC) leader in charge of Maharashtra who is also scheduled to participate in the meeting, will try to gauge the reasons for Muslims’ anger against the Congress. Thakre believes, “The MIM’s success in Aurangabad was a surprise. The MIM has done well in those areas where the Congress leadership has failed or was weak.” The BJP-Shiv Sena government’s decision to ban beef is perceived as a readymade agenda that the Congress can now exploit to restore Muslim faith in the Congress.

The big question being debated in the party is how to counter the MIM in the civic elections coming up in 2017. And the larger concern is to retain its 10.6 per cent Muslim vote bank, which is critical in determining the fate of candidates in at least 35 out of the 288 assembly seats in Maharashtra.

Congress Member of Parliament in the Rajya Sabha Hussain Dalwai said, “We will initiate corrective steps to reach out to Muslims. Whether it is Sachar Committee recommendations or employment and education-related aspects, we have to aggressively revive the agenda.”

He added, “Muslims’ anger against the Congress also stems from its failure to keep promises made in the past. We failed to give Muslims representation in the state Legislative Council from Aurangabad, which was reflected in the civic polls as they switched to MIM. In the 2014 assembly elections, we could have fielded more Muslim candidates from seats where the community is dominant.”

The Congress is also grappling with the charge that Marathi Muslims confined to Konkan have been ignored and only those from Uttar Pradesh are appeased. Both AICC and MPCC leaders believe the party cannot afford to lose Muslim support at a time when it is struggling to regain its foothold in the state. Dalwai, however, said, “Muslims will be better off with a mainstream party. Fundamental parties will work against their well-being.”

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