Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi’s Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) party surprised poll pundits by winning two seats in the recent Maharashtra elections, cornering 0.96% of votes in 24 assembly segments.
Although just a fraction, this share means MIM candidates managed to make quick inroads into the bases of bigger parties. A barrister by training from London’s Lincoln’s Inn, Owaisi’s anti-Hindutva stand helped build his image as a next-generation Muslim leader, but he is increasingly taking his fight to the bastions of the so-called secular parties .
Owaisi has shaped his politics around the credo of his father and former MP, the late Sultan Salahuddin Owaisi: that Indian Muslims are a neglected lot and therefore they must empower themselves.
Mercurial, strident and sometimes seen as divisive, a descriptor he rejects, Owaisi is poised to now launch his party from Delhi, UP and West Bengal. Excerpts from an interview:
You are clearly a rising Muslim political icon. Yet you don’t like being put into the ‘Muslim’ frame. Why?
It is very wrong to say that we are a Muslim-only party. Please look at the statistics. A vote share of 0.96% across 24 assembly seats in Maharashtra means a cross-section of the people voted us. This share works out to an average of 20,000 votes in these seats. We fielded five non-Muslims candidates, apart from one Dalit. How many Muslims did the BJP field?
Fine. But you’ve always had your ear to the Muslim ground. Where do Muslims stand in terms of political choices today?
There is a great churning. Wherever I go, Muslim youth say they want a political voice. Muslims need development with dignity. The so-called secular parties have utterly failed them. Muslims have to be rescued from being hostage of these parties. They are craving political representation.
What worked in Maharashtra?
The NCP and Congress could not stop the BJP from coming to power. The Congress has given nothing to minorities there. We took a clear stand against the NCP and Congress. Sharad Pawar has said the BJP helped me. For a senior politician like Pawar, it is a ridiculous thing to say. If that is the case, why did he break with the Congress? Why now? Pawar is worried that all his MLAs will dump him for the BJP.
And now you are poised to enter other states?
My aim is not votes…rather I want to strengthen my party. UP is India’s biggest state and we have set up good bases in 20-30 districts. Bengal is another state. We will contest from both UP and Bengal. For Delhi, we are yet to take a decision.
Your formula seems to be forging a Dalit-Muslim electoral unity?
We want to take everybody along. The larger perspective matters, not such a narrow one. Of course, Dalit and Muslims, who have similar issues, must come together. But it’s not easy task.
The MIM is often seen as a divisive, polarizing party?
In the recent Maharashtra polls, we campaigned in 24 seats. There was not a single case by Election Commission against us. When I was with the UPA, I was not thought to be communal. Is it my fault that the Congress could not stop the BJP from getting 272+ seats. Nobody wants to touch me now. I’m fine with it. They will soon have to deal with me as a relevant force in their states.
PM Modi has promised development for all, including Muslims. Some say Muslims will move closer to the BJP.
All hogwash. The PM and Sangh Parivar speak in different language. PM talks about a 10-year moratorium on riots. Why not for 100 years? Yet his party raises issues like love jihad to trigger riots. PM says he has increased grants for madrassas to Rs 200 crore. People like Sakshi Maharaj say madrassas are terror hubs. Need I say more?
Rumours have it that the BJP is exploring ways build a temple at Ayodhya.
There can be no talks on Babri Masjid. The Muslim personal law board has already committed itself to a judicial verdict. We won’t let any temple to be built and if brokers among Muslims are trying to explore ways to revive talks, they will not be tolerated.