Ahmedabad: The contest for the Muslim-dominated Jamalpur Khadia Assembly constituency in Ahmedabad city has become a three-cornered one with the entry of Asaduddin Owaisi-led AIMIM, a cause of worry especially for Congress as the AIMIM nominee is a former MLA of the Grand Old Party who had contested as an Independent in 2012 resulting in the victory for BJP from the seat.
The seat goes to polls along with 92 other Assembly segments in the second and final phase on December 5.
In the 2012 Assembly polls, former Congress MLA Sabir Kabliwala had contested as an Independent against Congress’ Samir Khan Sipai, slicing away a significant chunk of Muslim votes, which eventually paved the way for the victory of BJP candidate Bhusan Bhatt in the Jamalpur Khadia segment.
In the 2017 polls, Congress’ Imran Khedawala won by bagging 75,346 votes. BJP’s Bhatt stood second with 46,000 votes. Kabliwala didn’t contest the previous elections.
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Cut to 2022. Kabliwala is in the fray as the candidate of All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) and the BJP is watching with glee.
Congress candidate and sitting MLA Khedawala claimed the AIMIM and the AAP are “B-teams” of the BJP. He said voters are aware of how Kabliwala helped the BJP win the seat in 2012 and want to make sure not to repeat it this time.
Any significant shift in the votes of the dominant Chhipa Muslim community will prove detrimental to Congress’ prospects and hand the advantage to BJP. Both Khedawala (Congress) and Kabliwala (AIMIM) belong to the Chhipa Muslim community.
Even for AIMIM, which is keen to open an account in the Gujarat Assembly in its maiden elections, the battle is not easy as the party is battling a perception that its entry will split Muslim votes in favour of the BJP.
A majority of around 65 per cent of voters or 1,35,000 in Jamalpur Khadia belong to the Muslim community while Hindus account for 70,000. This is the constituency where AIMIM, which entered Gujarat politics through the 2021 local body polls, has trained a special focus.
Though the BJP has fielded Bhushan Bhatt again, Khedawala faces the challenge from Kabliwala, the Gujarat unit president of AIMIM.
However, Kabliwala will not find it easy as a section of voters from the Muslim community feels he is working at the behest of the BJP intending to defeat Congress.
“AIMIM is here to help the BJP. It is the B-team of BJP in the real sense of the term,” said Javed Qureshi, who contested the 2017 elections as a Bahujan Samaj Party candidate before joining AIMIM, only to quit it months later.
He said had the AIMIM been concerned about the well-being of Muslims it claims to represent, it should have raised issues of the community through its four councillors who were elected to the Ahmedabad civic body in 2021.
The AIMIM tasted success in the 2021 local body polls which encouraged the Hyderabad-based party to enter Gujarat politics by contesting 13 seats in the 2022 Assembly polls.
Kabliwala had played an important role in Bhatt’s victory in 2012 as he cornered 30,513 votes, which affected the winning prospects of Congress’ Samirkhan Sipai who was restricted to 41,727 votes. BJP’s Bhatt surged ahead by pocketing 48,058 votes.
“If there is a pressing issue that is affecting the members of the Muslim and Dalit communities in the constituency, it is the closure of around 750 textile units in the area that has rendered around 1.5 lakh workers jobless,” locals said.
In early February, a large number of textile units in the area shut down because of the high court’s direction on the issue of pollution, said Shamshad Pathan, a former state vice president of AIMIM and a vocal critic of Kabliwala.
“This is a big issue. I had urged Sabirbhai (Kabliwala) to not make it an issue of the government or high court but take to the streets so that the court is compelled to find a way out, but he did nothing,” Pathan claimed. He said the BJP has brought in new parties, including the AIMIM, in the constituency and also Independents to defeat Congress.
Kabliwala has faced allegations from his former colleagues in AIMIM who resigned recently accusing him of working with the BJP to defeat Congress.
He has denied the allegations.
“All these allegations are baseless. Our party (AIMIM) works to raise the stature of people who join us. We had helped these leaders (who had quit AIMIM) to occupy top posts. But we learnt they were working as the agents of Congress leaders. They are saying the AIMIM is the B-team of BJP out of fun without seriousness,” Kabliwala told PTI.
He said he was well-positioned to win the elections.
On the other side, Khedawala said, “Looking at the enthusiasm of the people from both Hindu and Muslim communities in my seat, I expect to exceed the lead of 2017. Kabliwala led to the defeat of Congress candidate on its traditional stronghold, making people realise not to repeat the mistake.” “Both the AIMIM and AAP are B teams of the BJP. They have fielded candidates to disturb the Congress. The fight remains between the Congress and BJP,” he claimed.
Workers of BJP, on the other hand, said they do not count either AIMIM or Congress as the challengers, and nor does the saffron party need to bank on AIMIM to defeat Congress.
“Though not an MLA, Bhatt has worked more for the people of the constituency in the last five years than the sitting MLA (Khedawala). His work speaks,” a BJP worker said.
Raj Kumar Mishra, who owns a popular tea stall near historical Astodia Darwaza, said Kabliwala faces opposition among a section of his community and “people have understood that he is part of the B-team of BJP”.
“Kabliwala had won as an Independent. However, he faces a tough challenge as an AIMIM candidate as he has to battle this perception among people,” he said.
Babubhai Thakor, a voter from the Hindu-dominated Raipur locality, said local people prefer to vote for BJP.
“In the last five years, I have never seen the sitting MLA Khedawala visiting here. For resolving civic issues, people rely on BJP councillors,” he said.
Vishal Solanki, a resident of Behrampura locality in the constituency, said despite Congress having a panel of four corporators in the area, only BJP leaders help in resolving the issues like cleaning gutters or paving roads.
“Congress leaders are never seen in the field,” he claimed.