The All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen’s performance in the recently concluded assembly elections in Maharashtra signals a change in the political behaviour of Muslims, who traditionally shunned outfits primarily anchored in their community. Their preference had instead been for parties that commanded a heterogeneous social base, such as the Congress and regional entities. This collective, yet amorphous, strategy had been driven by a specific purpose—to deny the Bharatiya Janata Party an opportunity to capture power. The BJP has attempted to consolidate the Hindu vote by exploiting the majority community’s historical fear of a Muslim party—a legacy of the Partition and the Muslim League’s role in it.
In state assembly elections, however, a significant number of Muslims voted for the AIMIM. This enabled the party to expand the base it had acquired in Maharashtra in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, and make inroads into the Hindi heartland in assembly by-elections, held simultaneously with the Maharashtra elections, on 21 October. This could well be a harbinger of Muslims deserting the Congress and regional outfits—such as the Samajwadi Party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Nationalist Congress Party—which depend on the community’s support for their electoral heft.
This shift in the electoral preferences of Muslims is evident in Maharashtra, where the AIMIM won two seats, Dhule City and Malegaon Central, and came second in four out of the 44 seats it contested. The party polled 1.34 percent of the total votes cast in the state’s 288 constituencies. In 2014, the AIMIM had fielded candidates from 24 constituencies and won two seats, Aurangabad Central and Byculla, came second in three and polled 0.93 percent of the total votes cast.
The AIMIM’s performance in 2019 has to be analysed in the backdrop of the Congress-NCP and the BJP-Shiv Sena alliances—all four parties had fought the 2014 elections independently. It implies that in this year’s assembly elections, the AIMIM had to neutralise the pull of the Congress-NCP alliance on Muslims as well as cross a higher threshold of votes to notch victories, in what was essentially a bipolar contest.
In this context, the AIMIM’s performance was astonishing. It secured between 30,000 and 40,000 votes in four constituencies; between 40,000 and 50,000 in three; above 50,000 in two and above a lakh in one. In Dhule City, the AIMIM increased its tally from 3,775 votes in 2014 to 46,679 in 2019; in Malegaon Central, from 21,050 in 2014 to 1,17,242 in 2019. It could not retain Aurangabad Central, but polled 6,482 votes more than in 2014. Similarly, the Shiv Sena wrested Byculla from the AIMIM, yet the latter bagged 5,843 more votes here than it did in 2014.