How sad it is today that Uddhav and Raj Thackeray are on opposite sides of the fence. Else they could have been such a perfect foil to the Owaisi brothers, Asaduddin and Akbaruddin, of the All India Majlis-e-Itehad-e-Muslimeen (AIMIM) who have been playing good cop and bad cop with the country for far too long now.
When the AIMIM put up 24 candidates during the assembly elections in Maharashtra last year, hardly anyone took notice of what the Owaisi brothers were up to. They did have some non-Muslim candidates in the fray, but they were mostly in the business to cut the minority vote from under the Congress’ feet. When I had spoken to Asaduddin during the campaign, he had told me flatly that the Congress did not have a patent on secularism and added the only community that had stood by the party during parliamentary elections had been the Muslims.
Not surprising, then, that there is a growing feeling among large sections of the polity that the Owaisi brothers are now selectively targeting the Muslim vote – in Maharashtra (where they have two Muslim MLAs) and soon in Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Bihar, all states where the BJP is trying hard to capture the government at the next elections. They may even facilitate a BJP victory in these states if the Maharashtra example is anything to go by.
During the assembly elections, I was horrified to hear Akbaruddin mock Indian gods and goddesses much as the Muslim evangelist Dr Zakir Naik has been known to do in the past. I did not report Akabaruddin’s outrageous comments (though local papers in Marathwada did) for reasons of communal sensitivity, but I did ask the older brother how he could call his party secular when his own younger brother was so outrightly (and outrageously) communal. He had no answers then, as he does not have even now, except to counter with the example of VHP leader Pravin Togadia getting away with his own communal statements and to ask why a different yardstick was being used for his brother.
But now, the Owaisi brothers have a perfect foil in the Shiv Sena and its lesser leaders. When Bal Thackeray was alive, it was Abu Asim Azmi of the Samajwadi Party who was the other side of the communal coin, constantly sparring with Thackeray. Now, it is the Owaisi brothers who think they own Hyderabad, much as the Sena thinks Mumbai is their personal fiefdom.
Once, when on Twitter, I had claimed I was ‘half-Hyderabadi’ because my uncle and aunt had lived there for decades and I had spent a lot of my growing up time holidaying in Hyderabad (I still do), one MIM supporter had shot back, “Only Muslims can be Hyderabadis. Not Hindus.”
I reeled with a sense of déjà vu – that was like Thackeray flatly telling me once when I claimed I was half-Maharashtrian by virtue of my upbringing and residence in this state, “Mumbai belongs only to Maharashtrians and you are a south Indian.”
Now, much as Raj Thackeray dares Muslims and north Indians to put a foot in this city, Akbaruddin challenges the Shiv Sena to step into Hyderabad and face the consequences. One may be forgiven for thinking they come from the same school of thought and feed on each others’ hate speeches.
So when Sanjay Raut calls for the disenfranchisement of Muslims – an idea floated by Thackeray in 1999 when Muslims voted to bring in the Congress back again in Maharashtra – it is grist to the Owaisi mill and tailor-made to net the Muslim vote in large measure, wherever they are headed for elections next (they have had a robust challenger to the Congress and the Shiv Sena in the recent byelection to Bandra East).
I wonder if the Sena and the AIMIM know that Thackeray was the first person ever in India to lose his voting rights and that to contest elections for hate speeches he had made during a 1987 byelection to Vile Parle. It made no difference to him, but it ruined the career of his candidate Dr Ramesh Prabhoo, who was similarly disenfranchised.
The Owaisi brothers and Raut need some gentle reminding.