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Congress refuses alliance with NCP in BMC elections 
Sena-BJP chances to retain power brighten up
By MH Lakdwala, Mumbai

The desperate race to garner Muslim votes for the February 2002 elections to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has began in Mumbai.Congress, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Samajwadi Party, and Muslim League all are going out of way to woo Muslim voters from city. Charges and counter charges have began to be exchanged as all politicians try to prove that they are the true representatives of the Muslim community’s interest. 

Recently, while speaking at a public function NCP's Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal tried to woo Muslims by praising the community unlike his previous acerbic remarks against the community. He said linguistic and religious minorities had rendered yeoman's service to Mumbai in several fields, but they have by and large stayed away from politics. ``I appeal to them to join mainstream politics and take their rightful place in society,'' he added. 

But Muslim voters are piqued at the decision of Congress of not having any alliance with the NCP which only strengthens the Shiv Sena BJP alliance. The Mumbai Regional Congress Committee (MRCC) had resolved not to have any truck with the NCP. 

Subsequently, NCP leader and deputy chief minister Chhagan Bhujbal put forward a proposal to the Congress for unitedly opposing the Sena-BJP alliance. President of MRCC Murli Deora said that he would discuss the offer with his party colleagues and take an ``appropriate decision.'' 

However, Congress MP from Mumbai North-West Sunil Dutt and former MP Gurudas Kamat vehemently opposed any understanding with the NCP, since its leaders have been highly critical of Congress president Sonia Gandhi.

However, a section of the Congress still feels that the party has committed a ``tactical blunder'' by not joining hands with the NCP. ``In civic polls, every vote counts. By not having a seat-sharing arrangement with the NCP, we have ensured a division of anti-saffron votes. The NCP may not have widespread presence in Mumbai, but if it puts up its nominees for all the seats, then they are certain to eat into our votes. This will definitely help the Sena-BJP combine,'' a senior Congress leader said. Significantly, the state intelligence branch had also made a similar assessment. That is the reason why Mr Bhujbal had sought a tie-up with the Congress. Chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh was also veering towards this point of view. 

The faction-ridden Congress is planning seat adjustments with the Samajwadi Party (SP), which claims to have a good base among the city's Muslims. But political observers say that the NCP has managed to woo several SP Muslim activists, including minister of state Nawab Malik, to its side. In fact, the SP is extremely angry with the NCP for trying to dislodge it from the Muslim-dominated areas. SP is against any tie up with the NCP.

But SP spokesperson Majeed Memon said, ``The NCP is living in fool's paradise if it thinks that it has weakened our party by encouraging defections. The BMC elections will decisively prove that the Muslims are still with us. Mr Bhujbal was not even willing to give compensation to the victims of the Malegaon riots and still he expects Muslims to vote for his party.'' 

The Muslim League, with no electoral presence worth the name in Maharashtra politics, has decided to nominate ten TADA detenus facing trial for alleged involvement in the March 12, 1993 serial blasts in the city, for the BMC election.

The party justified the decision saying as Muslims they were victimised despite being innocent.

The Muslim League wants to put up such TADA detenus - six on bail and four in custody - for the polls. ``Why not? How different is their case from the other illustrious people occupying political posts despite their involvement in, for instance, the Babri Masjid demolition?'' said Mohammad Farooq Azam, president of the Muslim League's Mumbai unit. Those under detention ``have already wasted eight years in jail without being convicted and their lives and families have been destroyed. Those on bail, live fearing attacks from the pro- Hindu Chota Rajan gang". Said Azam.

Given the long-standing grievance that innocent Muslims were made ``sacrificial goats'' in the blasts case trial by a callous police force, this platform may pay dividends in some predominantly Muslim pockets. 

With a budget of over Rs 4,300 crore, the BMC is one of the biggest civic bodies in India. Muslims who constitute about 18 % of the voters are in the position to tilt the balance on either side. But unfortunately due to the decision of Congress not to have any tie up with NCP the chances of Sena-BJP regaining power in the BMC have brightened due to the division of secular votes in general and Muslim votes in particular.

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