Historically, Muslim political parties have not created waves in Uttar Pradesh elections. But Asaduddin Owaisi has given hope to the community whose new slogan is, ‘Pehle Bhai, Phir BJP Harayi, Uske Baad Sapai’ (Muslim is our first choice, second who defeats the BJP, and then the SP).
Apart from the Muslim Majlis that created ripples in the 1970s under Dr Abdul Jaleel Faridi, no other Muslim party has made much headway in the state. The Peace Party, floated by Dr Ayub, started with a bang but ended with a whimper.
Owaisi’s decision to spread the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM)’s footprints, starting from poll-bound Bihar, has raised hackles in the loosely-knit Janata Parivar comprising Mulayam Singh Yadav, Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar. The AIMIM in UP already has 7.5 lakh members and an organisational network in 44 districts ready for panchayat elections at the end of 2015.
In an article, senior journalist Saeed Naqvi, who hails from the state, wrote, “Owaisi pulls no punches and is more articulate than most political leaders and TV panellists. How this sole-spokesman phenomenon plays itself out has to be watched.”
Former BSP MP Iliyas Azmi called Owaisi a creation of the social media, whose craze “will fritter away once Muslims found a viable alternative against the mainstream parties -- Congress, SP and BSP -- that have failed the community”.
But many, like 32-year-old Muzammil Hasan from Agra, disagree. “I study law and teach English, and regularly interact with youth. Dejected with the old parties, they have found an alternative in Owaisi,” said Hasan, who joined the party after following Owaisi online.
The Janata Parivar is highly dependent on Muslim support to win the two crucial states accounting for 120 Lok Sabha seats. Having voted for the winning party against the BJP since the 1992 Babri Masjid demolition, Muslims now demand empowerment and quota in jobs – supported by political parties on paper but not in practice.
But fear of a division of their votes benefiting the BJP is not going to stop some Muslims from experimenting, especially in areas of western UP dominated by the community, where fault lines deepened after the Muzaffarnagar riots.
Owaisi’s frequent forays into UP is worrying the ruling Samajwadi Party for two reasons.
Politically, he can take away a chunk of its Muslim votes in a closely contested election. Administratively, Owaisi’s fiery speeches, if allowed to campaign in the state, could further polarise a divided society.
Others have also joined the fray. The RSS-backed Muslim Rashtriya Manch (MRM), which recently held its first meeting in Lucknow, is trying to dilute its anti-community image by holding conclaves to reach out to Muslims.
Elections in UP are often preceded by communal clashes. Gear up for tough days ahead.