Hate-mongering politicians might be on an overdrive this election season, but one politician who had hit the headlines last year for his hate speech is keen to put the past behind.
In fact, Majlis-e-Itehadul Muslimeen (MIM) leader Akbaruddin Owaisi presents a contrasting picture — that of a person who is working hard for an image makeover; moving from being a rabble-rouser to a peacenik.
There are no more provocative and inflammatory speeches from Owaisi. Instead, the focus is on the agenda for development, good governance and inclusive politics.
Owaisi, 43, is seeking re-election from Chandrayangutta assembly segment of the Hyderabad Lok Sabha constituency in Andhra Pradesh. Since 1999, he has won thrice from Chandrayangutta which, for decades now, has been the nerve centre of Muslim politics in Hyderabad.
Known for his oratorical skills, the junior Owaisi — his elder brother is MIM president and sitting Lok Sabha MP from Hyderabad Asaduddin Owaisi — talks about education, scholarships, women empowerment, jobs, health and social welfare schemes, apart from the economic condition of Muslims.
His style of campaigning is visibly distinct, too.
Wearing dark sunglasses and driving a Harley-Davidson bike, the world’s most popular motorcycle, Akbaruddin is his party’s star campaigner. As he enters narrow lanes and bylanes of Hyderabad’s Old City areas, the response is overwhelming. Youngsters jostle with one another to shake hands with him, while women peep through windows to catch a glimpse.
“There is an instant connect with the youth. But he is equally popular among men and women,” says an MIM office bearer.
But he has had an eventful past. Akbaruddin survived an attempt on his life in May 2011. He was arrested in January 2013 for alleged provocative speeches at various places in Andhra Pradesh regarding the disputed Bhagyalakshmi shrine in the Charminar area of Hyderabad.
Akbaruddin’s party, which until now was largely seen as standard bearer for the Muslims, is attempting to broaden its social and political base in the ongoing elections.
Of the 35 assembly seats it is contesting in both Telangana and Seemandhra this time, the MIM has fielded four non-Muslim candidates, including Dalit poet Sharath Naliganti who has penned more than 70 songs during the past four years for the Telangana movement.
Nalganti, whose songs calling for unity among the Muslims and Dalits have gone viral on the social media, is pitted against Congress veteran V Hanumantha Rao and BJP’s G Kishan Reddy on the Amberpet assembly constituency. The party is in fight on 17 seats.
The MIM is also contesting five Lok Sabha seats and its chief Asaduddin Owaisi is the lone Muslim candidate. The move has caused unease in both the Congress and the Telangana Rashtra Samithi, both of which were eyeing the Muslim and Dalit votes in these constituencies.
The party is also planning to expand to other states, including Maharashtra, Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh.