AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi spoke with an ex-BJP ally – Om Prakash Rajbhar of the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party – in Lucknow on Wednesday, in a meeting described as preparation for the 2022 Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls, in which the AIMIM will hope to make some gains after drawing a blank in the 2017 election.
There is renewed buzz around Mr Owaisi’s party after it won five seats in the recently-held Bihar Assembly election. The AIMIM also survived a vitriolic Hyderabad municipal election campaign – in which the BJP fielded UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and targeted Mr Owaisi directly.
The party, however, secured 44 of 150 seats – the same as it did in the previous election – and today Mr Owaisi took the opportunity to hit back in Yogi Adityanath’s home turf.
“The ward that Chief Minister Adityanath went to (to address an election rally), the BJP lost all three seats… Where Amit Shah went, the BJP lost the seat. I am not here to change names, I am here to win hearts,” Mr Owaisi said at a press conference.
Yogi Adityanath and Home Minister Amit Shah – the two big-name figures who campaigned for the BJP in Hyderabad – each held extravagant roadshows culminating in incendiary speeches targeting Mr Owaisi and the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS).
Yogi Adityanath addressed voters at Lal Darwaza in Hyderabad’s Old City (which is seen as a stronghold of Mr Owaisi and the AIMIM), and declared the BJP would change the city’s name to Bhagyanagar if it won the election.
“Some people were asking me if Hyderabad can be renamed as Bhagyanagar. I said – why not? I told them we renamed Faizabad as Ayodhya and Allahabad as Prayagraj after BJP came into power. Why can’t Hyderabad be renamed as Bhagyanagar?” he said as supporters cheered.
Boosted by its victory in an Assembly bypoll for the Dubbaka seat last month, the BJP targeted the Hyderabad election as a chance to carve out a space for itself in the southern state.
The party didn’t win the election but did put up a strong fight, winning 48 seats to the TRS’ 55. In the previous polls, the BJP had won just four seats to the TRS’ 99. The AIMIM won 44 each time.
Crucially, the BJP emerged with just 0.25 per cent less vote share than the TRS.
Mr Owaisi’s Lucknow visit comes a day after Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal announced the AAP will contest the 2022 UP election.
To a question on whether he would ally with Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party for that election, Mr Owaisi said it was unlikely at this stage.
The BSP, the AIMIM and Upendra Kushwaha’s RLSP formed an alliance for the Bihar election. The biggest beneficiary of that deal was Mr Owaisi, whose party cut into Congress-RJD votes in multiple constituencies.
“In Bihar we got a lot of success. Mr Rajbhar had a role there… we were part of the Grand Democratic Secular Alliance there. We have been emboldened by our success in Bihar and hope to further that success,” Mr Owaisi said in Lucknow.
The AIMIM has also said it will contest in Bengal elections (to be held next year). The five seats the party won in Bihar were in the Muslim-dominated Seemanchal region in Bihar, which borders Bengal.