After an impressive show in last year’s civic body polls in Godhra, a communally-sensitive town in Gujarat, the Asaduddin Owaisi-led AIMIM is now trying to build upon those gains in this Assembly seat in the upcoming state elections, banking on the minority base and division of votes of other candidates.
The All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) had won seven seats in the Godhra Municipal Council (GMC) polls last year and even tied up with independents to keep the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), its ideological foe, out of power.
Independent candidate Sanjay Soni became the chairman of the GMC with the support of the AIMIM in February 2021, but severed ties with it in November that year after getting the support of the BJP which has 18 members in the 44-member house.
In the upcoming Assembly polls, the AIMIM is making efforts to cement its position further, and aims to win the Godhra seat, currently held by the BJP.
Godhra town in Panchmahal district in eastern Gujarat has had a chequered history of communal riots since Independence. The gruesome incident of 2002, in which 59 'karsevaks' were killed, propelled Godhra's name at the national level.
The Godhra train burning incident, which occurred on 27 February 2002, triggered State-wide communal riots in which 1,044 people were killed. Giving details, the Central government had informed the Rajya Sabha in May 2005 that 254 Hindus and 790 Muslims were killed in the post-Godhra riots.
Godhra is one of the 14 seats which the AIMIM is contesting in the next month's elections to the 182-member Assembly. Last week, AIMIM chief Owaisi addressed a large gathering to campaign for party candidate Hasan Shabbir Kachba, a 33-year old imam.
The BJP has fielded its sitting MLA C K Raulji from the seat, which goes to polls on December 5. Against him are Congress' Rashmitaben Chauhan and new entrant Aam Aadmi Party's (AAP) Rajeshbhai Patel.
The other 13 seats which the AIMIM, a Hyderabad-headquartered party, is contesting in Gujarat this time are Mandvi, Bhuj, Vadgam, Sidhdhapur, Vejalpur, Bapunagar, Dariyapur, Jamalpur Khadiya, Danilimbda, Khambhadiya, Mangrol, Surat East and Limbayat, according to Sabir Kabliwala, the party's state unit president.
The party had not fielded any candidate from Godhra in the 2017 polls. AIMIM councillors allege that development always eluded the Muslim-dominated area, which lies in the west part of the city. The residents have to grapple with issues like pothole-riddled roads, sanitation and water shortage.
There are no banks, ATMs, playgrounds on this side of the town which has an estimated population of over a lakh, said Ishaq Bokda, a supporter of the AIMIM, ruing lack of amenities in the area.
"Earlier, the development took place only in 50 per cent of the area. It has always been on the other side (the rest of the city populated by the Hindu and other communities),” said Faisal Suleja, GMC councillor from ward number seven.
But that is changing, said Ishaq M Ghanchibhai, the party councillor from ward number six. "Our area never got funds for development, but this time we (the AIMIM) have fought and ensured that grants are equal," he said.
Ghanchibhai added that the party got two overhead water tanks for this part of the city after it bagged seven seats. The Godhra assembly segment has around 2,79,000 voters, of whom 72,000 are Muslims which is being wooed by the party, Ghanchibhai said.
“If each candidate (of major parties like BJP and Congress) gets around 60,000 and if we get 72,000 votes en bloc, then victory is possible,” he said. But Sofia Anwar Jamal, a five-time independent candidate from ward number nine, discards the claim.
Jamal, a member of the BJP who contests as an independent in the Muslim-dominated area, said the AIMIM will divide votes which will eventually help the saffron party. With the rise of the AIMIM, Jamal alleged that she was being targeted for supporting the BJP even when her house was targeted. She also rued not getting enough backing from the party.
In an interview to PTI last week, Owaisi denied AIMIM's role is that of a "vote katua" (vote-cutter) party and blamed the Congress for the BJP's long run in power in Gujarat.