On 18 April, ten out of Maharashtra’s 48 Lok Sabha constituencies will vote in the second phase of the ongoing Lok Sabha elections. These polls mark the electoral debut of the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi, or VBA—an alliance of Dalits, Muslims and other marginalised groups—which is contesting all 48 seats in the state. The alliance is spearheaded by Prakash Ambedkar, the president of the Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh, and joined by Asaduddin Owaisi, the leader of the Hyderabad-based All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, or AIMIM. Ambedkar, who is the grandson of BR Ambedkar, is contesting from two constituencies—Akola and Solapur—both of which will vote on Thursday.
An untested political alliance, which has nevertheless drawn huge crowds at its campaign rallies, the VBA may upend the caste arithmetic of the big four in the state—the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Shiv Sena, the Nationalist Congress Party and the Indian National Congress. Dalits and Muslims together account for almost twenty five percent of the state’s population. The VBA also reflects Owaisi’s attempts to bring together the Muslim and the Dalit vote. Many analysts see this as Owaisi’s attempt to expand his and AIMIM’s appeal beyond their stronghold of Hyderabad and to a wider base of the electorate. The only time that AIMIM won an election outside of Hyderabad was in the 2014 state assembly elections in Maharashtra, when it bagged two seats.
In the following extract from “The Seeker,” The Caravan’s September 2016 cover story, Neyaz Farooquee traces Owaisi’s history of courting Dalit voters, his attempts to create alliances with other Bahujan parties and extend the presence of AIMIM to other states with significant Muslim and Dalit populations.