Mumbai, April 14: How much challenge will the alliance between Dalit leader Prakash Ambedkars Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) and Assaddudin Owaisis All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) pose to the ruling BJP-Shiv Sena combine in the Lok Sabha elections in Maharashtra?
The alliance of the two parties representing Dalits and Muslims, respectively, being experimented with for the first time in Maharashtra, has declared that it will be contesting all the 48 Lok Sabha seats in the state. Lok Sabha Elections 2019: Prakash Ambedkar Jolts Congress, Set to Contest From Solapur.
While the party of Prakash Ambedkar, grandson of the architect of Indian Constitution B.R. Ambedkar, will be contesting 47 seats, AIMIM will be contesting on one seat.
Its impact on the opposition Congress-Nationalist Congress Party led 56-party conglomeration will also have to be watched out for.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party-Shiv Sena combine had won 41 seats and after four years of bickering, the two parties are again contesting jointly.
In some constituencies like Solapur, both the BJP-Sena and rival Congress-NCP view the VBA as a bigger challenge.
The Congress has fielded former union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde while the BJP has nominated Mahaswami Jaisiddheshwar Shivacharya.
Perhaps to dent the VBA challenge, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has held nearly half a dozen rallies in the state so far, targeting the Congress-NCP in an effort to wean away its voters to balance the potential damage of the VBA.
Congress-NCP leaders privately dub the VBA as the ‘Team B' of the BJP, "propped up" by the saffron allies to gobble up their Dalit-Muslim support base and ensure victory for its (BJP's) candidates.
Ambedkar lashed out against this, claiming his main target will be BJP-Sena as the Congress-NCP is now weak in the state.
Turning the screws on both the opposing alliances by targeting their perpetually-assumed support among Dalits and Muslims, the unprecedented VBA test could probably change the attitude of all the major mainstream parties vis-a-vis the two sections.
Historically, the major Dalit and Muslim groups/parties remained content, hanging onto the skirts of the other major political groupings - but not anymore, as the VBA offers a clear-cut option to both sections, inclusive of others like tribals, Dhangars, Kolis and several fringe or deprived sections.
The VBA demonstrated its prowess in February after Ambedkar and Owaisi addressed a mammoth public rally in Mumbai and before that in Aurangabad.
Ambedkar, 64, a three-time parliamentarian, including one term in the Rajya Sabha, has also decided to field VBA candidates in 47 Lok Sabha constituencies, leaving Aurangabad for the AIMIM, which has nominated its high-profile legislator Imtiyaz Jaleel, a TV journalist-turned politician.
Besides Solapur in Akola, won by Ambedkar twice in 1998 and 1999, the challenge will be against three-time BJP MP Sanjay S. Dhotre and the Congress' Hidayatullah B. Patel, who finished second in the 2009 and 2014 general elections.
Interestingly, last month, Shinde - who won from Solapur thrice in 1998, 1999 and 2009 - created a political stir by claiming he and his legislator daughter Praniti were lured by the BJP. It retorted that Shinde was making such claims as he sensed defeat in Solapur.
In the minority-dominated Aurangabad constituency, Jaleel will challenge the four-time MP and Shiv Sena stalwart Chandrakant Khaire and Congress' Subhash Zhambad, with a couple of rebels of Sena-BJP also in the fray.
After the BSP-SP alliance fielded Dalit and Muslim candidates in Maharashtra, political pundits predict a tough time for the BJP-Sena and Congress-NCP alliances.
Luckily for them, the BSP elephant barely impressed Maharashtra voters in the past, though the SP cycled its way through in Mumbai and surroundings with a legislator and some municipal corporators.