There is a new trend in parts of Maharashtra this poll season and the Owaisi brothers from Hyderabad--Asaduddin, a MP amd Akbaruddin, a MLA from Charminar in that city--are attracting attention among a large number of aspiring Muslim youth in Marathwada. The brothers have been camping in Maharashtra for weeks where they have put up 24 candidates in various constituencies across the state. They are being seen as the equivalent of Uddhav and Raj Thackeray respectively--the sober older brother and the more ferocious younger man--among their supporters and their rallies rival those of Narendra Modi in terms of the response, frenzy and enthusiasm they evoke. At the least, Muslim youth look upon them as role models to emulate: suave English-speaking, sophisticated individuals with good education and world knowledge and yet proud and unapologetic about their religious identity and their outward symbols.
The Owaisis own the MIM (Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen), a party set up by their grandfather to fight the exploitation of people under the Nizam , as the Nehru-Gandhis could never own the Congress. But now in an interview to the Hindustan Times, elder brother Asaduddin Owaisi, tells Sujata Anandan that they intend to take their party out of the confines of Telangana and from their debut in Maharashtra offer the MIM as a secular alternative in other parts of the country as well. Excerpts from an interview:
Q. The people at your rallies seem electrified and caught up in the kind of frenzy seen in recent times only at Narendra Modi's rallies. To what do you attribute this impact?
A. I am glad you asked that question because so far no one in the media has even thought to acknowledge the response we are getting. But I think we are offering the people some real solutions to real problems--social, political; and economc--and they realize it is not just token lip service as the other parties have been doing. They are able to judge and understand what we stand for.
Q. The Congress, however, accuses you of being a stooge of Narengra Modi at this election. They say you are here only to divide the Muslim vote to defeat the Congress.
A. What were the words they used the last time when I did not put up candidates during the Lok Sabha polls? Oh yes, they acciused me of 'sophisticated political sagacity'. And yet they lost so badly in Maharashtra winning only two and four seats (NCP),The fact is that the Congress and the NCP have lost support among all sections, including of dalits and OBCs (other backward classes). It is only the Muslims who voted for them the last time, so what do they think? That it is only the Congress which has an intellectual patent on secularism?
Q. But then doesn't that position of yours sit at odds with your brother's statements some months ago about police being withdrawn for an hour to teach Hindus a lesson? Wasn't that a rather communal position to take?
A. I do not know what my brother really said or did not say then but he has been to jail for that and the case is pending in the courts. But I want to ask if action can be taken against him, then why is a man like Pravin Togadia with the kind of incendiary statements he has made going scot free? In Maharashtra alone there are a dozen cases against him and no one bothers about it.
Q. So now you are offering an alternative to the Muslims against the Congress?
A. You haven't done your homework properly. We have put up not just Muslim candidates; we have supported dalits, OBCs, members of other communities as well. We will emerge as a secular alernative in this country.
Q. However, the Muslim vote is likely to be split between you and the Congress-NCP?
A, It is not as though we are contesting 150 seats. We have put up only 24 candidates. It is a good start.
Q. And how sure are you that the enthusiastic crowds at your rallies will convert to votes and seats or will you just be a spoiler for the Congress and NCP?
A. Now that is a good question. No one can be sure how the people will vote. I am not sure either, but I hope the people who came to our meetings were there with a purpose, that they will vote for us.
Q. And if you prove just a spoiler as the Congress charges?
A. No one can spoil the game for the Congress more than it has already done for itself by itself.
Q. And at the end of this election, you hope to emerge as the leader of the Muslim commmmuniyt across the country?
A. Oh no! The community does not need leaders. It needs servants who will do well by the people. It is a whole gamut of leaders, both religious and political, who have destroyed the community over the past years out of their own selfish interests, ane we need less of them. I do not want to be such a leader.
Q. A role model then?
A. You will have to ask my wife if I am a role model; she does not think so.