What is Owaisi’s grudge against Rahul Gandhi?

It is not surprising that Asaduddin Owaisi tried to imitate the BJP trolls in knocking Rahul Gandhi. But such antics are going to do the barrister and his party more harm than good

What is Owaisi’s grudge against Rahul Gandhi?

Sujata Anandan

As the Rahul Gandhi-led Bharat Jodo Yatra approaches its culmination in a few days, the Congress leader has defied all myths about himself and silenced his critics, on either side of the political spectrum, in no uncertain terms. However, there are a few left with a sour taste in their mouths, not quite able to come to terms with the Yatra’s success.

As the Yatra traversed the country, barring the BJP IT cell which, as is its wont, tried to trick the gullible with typical misinformation and twisting of the facts— and this time found themselves swiftly challenged and contradicted—there were very few opposition leaders, even among those inimical to the Congress, who attempted to criticise the Yatra or Rahul Gandhi.

But there was once exception—Assaduddin Owaisi, the president of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen. The vicious manner in which he ridiculed Rahul Gandhi’s refusal to wear warm clothes in the chill of the winter was startling.

But that terrible Iowering of his usually dignified demeanour was not just a random act of criticism of a political rival. And ‘rival’ is the key word here even if people believe there’s no comparison between the Congress and the AIMIM. After all, Owaisi’s is largely a party restricted to Telangana and Andhra Pradesh where there are other political parties who rule the roost. But what’s not quite clearly visible yet to many people is that the Bharat Jodo Yatra has threatened Owaisi’s base more than it has the others’.

The story actually begins from Maharashtra where the AIMIM started its national march from, but is now finding the ground slipping from under its feet quite rapidly.

In 2014, the AIMIM did enormously well during both the Lok Sabha and the Vidhan Sabha elections, held six months apart, among the Muslim community of the state, even winning one and two seats respectively at the first strike.

Disenchanted with the Congress and rather frightened by the BJP’s blitzkrieg led by Narendra Modi, young Muslims in the state were charmed by the Owaisi brothers who campaigned vigorously in Aurangabad, Osmanabad, Mumbai and other Muslim-dominated areas of the state.

The AIMIM even gave tickets to Dalits and other deprived sections and the message implicit in that was that the AIMIM was attempting to paint on a wider canvas and replace the Congress at least in their imagination.

Owaisi clearly believed that that all these sections were so disappointed with the Congress that they would never vote that party again, and he gloated about it in an interview to this scribe (not for National Herald). “The only reason why they have still survived is because Muslims are still with them in some measure. But not very much longer,” he crowed. “You will find that by the next election, the Congress will be completely wiped out.”

Clearly, he had bought Modi’s rhetoric of a Congress-mukt Bharat. And perhaps that is where he erred quite grievously. One cannot then blame him for attempting to seek accommodation with the BJP (he was earlier a Congress ally).

Young Muslim boys wished to emulate the Owaisi brothers—they were impressed by their education and erudition, their simultaneous wearing of their religion on their sleeves (with all the outward symbols of Muslimhood) without quite being extremist, unabashed and unapologetic about their origins. Yet they spoke suave English, ran many secular educational institutions and were bested by none in their debates or dialogues.

Except for one fly in the ointment. That the younger Owaisi brother, Akbaruddin, had threatened to annihilate all Hindus within 15 minutes if police were removed, before Modi had come to power. And that was going to be a major problem with the saffron regime.

Has anyone wondered why the Modi government has not gone after Akbaruddin and even let his acquittal go unchallenged when other Muslim youth have been endlessly incarcerated for far less? Muslim youth believe they know the answer to that: Asaduddin has made an arrangement with the BJP to destroy the Congress’s vote among Muslims in return for his brother’s freedom.

The AIMIM was also not helped by the Maha Vikas Aghadi alliance in Maharashtra wherein Uddhav Thackeray proved an exemplary chief minister and stalled every attempt by his estranged cousin Raj Thackeray, amply supported by the BJP, to disturb peace and endanger the Muslim citizens’ lives. As the alliance endures, it is obvious the Muslim vote has swung back to the Congress. And this is true not just of Maharashtra but substantially in other states as well.

In fact, several Congressmen were of the view that the post-Babri situation was repeating itself. Muslims could not forgive the Congress after the P.V. Narasimha Rao government did little to save the mosque and had then decided to join hands with the Shiv Sena. When Sonia Gandhi entered the arena, the vote swung back to the party. In the Lok Sabha that year (1998), the Congress made a clean sweep of Maharashtra (the belief is Rahul’s BJY will have the same impact).

In 2002, while still in alliance with the BJP, Uddhav Thackeray had complained his party could not get a single vote from the areas that had voted for the Shiv Sena after Bal Thackeray had advocated that, instead of a temple, a secular monument like a school or a hospital should come up at the Babri site. Uddhav knew well why. “After Gujarat 2002, no one is willing to deal with us unless we break with the BJP.”

It took him nearly 20 years to accomplish that task but now the Muslims, the Dalits led by Prakash Ambedkar (who was earlier eyeing an alliance with AIMIM but is now complaining about the Congress delaying the formalisation of an alliance with his party), the Shiv Sena, the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party are all on the same page.

And while the BJP might not yet be worried, Owaisi’s slipping standing among his core voters must be a cause for concern for him.

Actually, Muslims have caught on to how he is working against their interests by helping the BJP. Owaisi might like to spend some time among Muslim voters in Mumbai, and Maharashtra, to understand how his antics vis-à-vis Rahul Gandhi have left them cold.

It is not surprising then that he tried to imitate BJP trolls in knocking the Congress leader. But it’s going to do the barrister and his party more harm than good.

(Views are personal)

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