Five questions for Asaduddin Owaisi, BJP’s nemesis, crusader or fellow traveller?
What is his vision and his road map? What does he stand for? What is his game plan, are some questions that still have no clear answer
If there is one ‘opposition’ leader who receives almost reverential treatment on Indian TV channels, it is the redoubtable Asaduddin Owaisi. The MP from Hyderabad is asked questions that he likes to be asked, is seldom challenged and almost never interrupted and grilled the way other opposition leaders are roasted.
Curiously, his anti-BJP and anti-RSS rants go virtually unchallenged even as milder criticism of the ruling party has most TV anchors pouncing on critics from the Congress. Even when Owaisi repeats what Congress leaders have already said, he hogs the headlines. What’s the secret? Is it possible that the BJP is happy to let AIMIM and Owaisi grow?
Political commentators are quick to defend him against charges of dividing anti-BJP votes. Doesn’t he have the democratic and Constitutional right to contest elections like others? Rather than blaming him for fielding candidates, shouldn’t the Congress and the opposition do some introspection and ask why voters, especially Muslims, choose to vote for him and not for them? All valid questions.
Owaisi himself, whenever asked if his party is the B team of the BJP, bristles with righteous indignation. The Congress, he tells the media, wants him to hold Iftar parties, serve Biryani and organize Mushairas and behave like copybook, good Muslims. But he himself is a patriot, a leader of his community and nothing can stop him from expanding his party’s base or contest elections. So, after fielding candidates in Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Bihar Assembly elections, he is now all set to field candidates in West Bengal.
Hyderabad based AIMIM was founded by Asauddin Owaisi’s grandfather and his father has been an MP from one of the seats in Hyderabad for several terms. Owaisi himself, who has studied Law in London, is an MP since 2004 and was a MLA before that. Significantly, it was in 2014 that AIMIM made its first foray outside Telangana in the general election. It fielded 44 candidates from Maharashtra in 2019 and bagged two seats. It contested in Jharkhand Assembly election as well and while AIMIM did not win any seat, it was said to have been instrumental in the BJP bagging at least six seats in the 81-member House. BJP managed to win only 26 seats and was ousted from power. In the Bihar Assembly election this time, AIMIM fielded 20 candidates and bagged five seats in the Assembly.
There are those who believe that Owaisi wants his regional party to be recognized as a national party; and that is why he contests elections in other states, aiming to be recognized as a state party in at least three states first. It has just seven MLAs in the 119-member Telangana Assembly, two MLAs in Maharashtra and now five in Bihar. Muslim population of Telangana is estimated at 12.5% and in the last Assembly election, Owaisi asked his supporters to vote for the TRS outside Hyderabad. There is room for him to grow there.
However, it would be wrong, his critics say, to assess AIMIM’s role by just the number of seats it wins.
Its selection of constituencies, the votes it polls and the number of seats where it fails to poll enough votes to win but polls enough votes to ensure the victory of the BJP also need closer scrutiny. What is more, by polarizing votes on religious lines AIMIM indirectly helps BJP mobilise its core supporters in the adjoining constituencies also.
Despite several mob lynchings in Jharkhand, when the BJP was in power, Muslims in Bihar, West Bengal and Jharkhand are arguably better off than in BJP-ruled states like Haryana, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. Why is it that AIMIM did not contest in these states but concentrated on states where BJP wants to make a dent? Since the BJP no longer maintains even the façade of fielding Muslim candidates, which party benefits when AIMIM fields Muslim candidates in these states?
His choice of constituencies where he decides to field candidates also is not random. He does not field candidates in every constituency with sizeable Muslim votes. He especially avoids constituencies deemed to be safe by the BJP. Gaya in Bihar, despite a sizeable Muslim population, is a case in point. In almost all elections here, Muslim candidates have been the runners up, at least since 1980. But BJP always wins the seat. But of course, AIMIM does not put up a candidate here. Owaisi’s high decibel refusal to say, “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” again serves no purpose other than help polarise sentiments and appeal to a section of the Muslims.
He does not tire saying that other opposition parties had failed to stop BJP’s juggernaut and hence had no moral authority to lecture him on actually doing a good turn to the BJP. Muslims were tired of being used as a vote bank, he says echoing the BJP, and were looking for an alternative. But is he too using the community as a vote bank? Has he been able to stop the juggernaut ?
Mysteriously, Owaisi and AIMIM have also been spared attention by central agencies. And while a large number of activists are arrested under UAPA for criticising the Prime Minister, BJP chief ministers etc., Owaisi and company have been treated with kid gloves despite making more incendiary statements. What explains this? Even BJP rabble rousers do not seem bothered by him. Is it because he is less important to them or is it because he is far too important for them?
BJP is liberal in finding traitors and anti-nationals in opposition ranks at the drop of a hat. Even a criticism of farm laws invite the tag of a traitor from BJP leaders. But central agencies like Income Tax, ED and CBI have been noticeably kind to Owaisi and the many Trusts that his family runs in Hyderabad. Nor do his trenchant criticism of the government rile BJP leaders as much as other opposition leaders do.
There is sufficient ground to call AIMIM the B team of the BJP. His somewhat woolly ideas about the Third Front also seem to follow a script that the BJP keeps encouraging in order to marginalize the only formidable opposition it has.
Even ordinary Muslims worry about his motives. Is he trying to follow in the footsteps of MA Jinnah? If so, who will it eventually benefit?