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Published in the 1-15 Nov 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

'Cycle' punctured in Maharashtra  polls

By M H Lakdawala

Mumbai: Samajwadi Party miserably failed to woo Muslim votes on which the party depended heavily. The party, which won two seats in the 1999 Maharashtra Assembly elections, could not win even a single seat though it had put up candidates in 95 constituencies compared to only six in the last Assembly elections. Rajya Sabha member and Maharashtra unit president Abu Asim Azmi, who contested from Bhiwandi in the neighboring Thane district, could not win. Azmi had claimed before the polls that his party would get more than 20 seats. 

Muslim votes in Maharastra went to the Congress-NCP combine. Even in Muslim pockets like Umerkhadi, Nagpada, Bandra, Kurla, Nehru Nagar, the seats have gone to the Congress-NCP combine. 

In the 1999 elections, Nawab Malik won on SP ticket from the Nehru Nagar constituency while Bashir Moosa Patel won from Umerkhadi. Because of the political inexperience, Abu Asim Azmi could not retain the Muslim politicians who had joined SP post-Babri Masjid demolition. Both Malik and Patel joined the NCP and both were rewarded with ministerships. Malik was made minister of state for housing while Patel was appointed chairman of the Khadi Udyog Committee. 

Even Yusuf Abhrani, who too left SP to join Congress, won from predominant Muslim constituency of Trombay. High profile SP candidate Maulana Athur Ali of Ulema Council won only 1500 votes.

Muslim voters rejected SP as it only spoke about atrocities on Muslims, ban on acts like POTA and MCOCA and custodial death of bomb blast accused Khwaja Yunus. Even in constituencies like Nasik, Jalgaon, Aurangabad, Malegaon and in Konkan regionm where the Muslim population is the deciding factor, the SP failed to make any headway. It's candidates were placed between 5-7th position.

After the debacle, Abu Asim Azmi resigned his post taking moral responsibility for the party's poor performance in the state elections. Instead of doing introspection, Azmi blamed the Muslim voters for the debacle. "The Muslim community did not vote for the party in the assembly elections even after it stood for their cause. The party failed to win any seat out of the 95 contested in the assembly elections and I accept the responsibility for the poor performance and have sent my resignation to the party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav," Azmi told MG. Azmi said he felt the party would not grow under his leadership and the responsibility should be handed over to someone else.

Azmi blaming the community for not voting is unjustified. If one has to survive and grow in politics one must learn from past mistakes. The SP debacle in Maharashtra is only a confirmation of what was obvious even earlier: he had failed to galvanise the party cadre. Rather, he succeeded in alienating it and failed to give the party clear direction. Azmi has been a poor communicator. He has failed to connect with people.

Most Muslim politicians think that the community is dependent on them for survival. In fact its the other way round. Muslim voters have learned a hard lesson from past experience. In the past the very leader they voted refused to accommodate community interests out of desire to be seen as "secular". Then there are others who ditch their home constituency and party for greener pasture.

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