Karnataka Elections 2018 | MEP and Muslim Vote Bank: Will Nowhera Sheikh's New Party 'Slice the Chinese Melon?'
Muslim voters form a majority in 17 assembly segments, while constituting a sizeable portion in 28 others | (Photo Credits: Twitter/Nowhera-Sheikh)

"Far from being a vote bank, the Muslim voters are a Chinese Melon which gets sliced by every anti-BJP party," said late UP-based journalist Khadim Abbas. His claim, pollsters say, gets validated in all elections where the Muslim electorate are poised to play a crucial role. Karnataka, where over 14 percent of the population belongs to the minority community, is no different.

While the JD(S) and Congress are in a fight tooth and nail to prove their 'secular credentials', the duo are being challenged by a debutant force - the All India Mahila Empowerment Party (MEP).

Although the party has presented gender justice as its core agenda, its pro-Muslim approach could not be ruled out.

The party is being led by Nowhera Shaikh, the CEO of multinational gold trading firm Heera Group. The 45-year-old business magnate has fielded candidates from all the 222 constituencies which will go to polls on May 12.

'Not linked to BJP'

Nowhera Shaikh has been charged by the Congress of working on behest of the BJP, with the strategy to divide the Muslim votes. Retaliating to the charge, she said, "If my entry into the poll fray would cost you (Congress) the votes of Muslims, then this shows the weakness of your secular credentials."

Nowhera, while conceding that she has met several politicians from the BJP, including External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, said the interactions were not related to the Karnataka polls.

"My party was registered with the Election Commission in February 2014, even before Narendra Modi was elected to power. Those claiming that I'm working on behest of the BJP are making wild assumptions," she said at a rally.

Among its major promises, the MEP has vowed to implement 50 percent reservation for women in local civic bodies, if elected to power in the state.

Despite women empowerment being on the top agenda of the party, only 40 among its 222 candidates are female. The MEP, however, claims it had no other option as only 30 percent of the ticket applications it received were from female aspirants.

Which way will the Muslim voters swing?

Muslim voters form a majority in 17 assembly segments while constituting a sizeable portion in 28 others. Overall, the outcome of 45 seats would be determined in the way the community votes in the elections on Saturday.

Pollsters have ruled out any possibility of MEP's impact in the upcoming polls, despite Nowhera Sheikh's claim of 'having a significant base' in 150 seats.

Ahead of the polls, the minority community appeared to be divided between the JD(S) and Congress -- the two prime challengers to the BJP.

Since the Siddaramaiah-led Congress has been predicted by most of the opinion polls to land close to the halfway majority mark, the Muslim voters are likely to lend their weight behind the grand-old party.

The JD(S), meanwhile, pins hope in the support extended by the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen. Asaduddin Owaisi, the AIMIM chief, had backed out of the poll race and appealed the Muslim voters to rally behind the JD(S), by calling HD Deve Gowda a 'true secular leader'.

Despite Gowda's support, the JD(S) is being viewed with suspicion as the party had joined hands with the BJP in 2006 to form the government. "Why should we believe that they won't betray us again," says Bengaluru-based voter Sarfaraz Alam.