How Asaduddin Owaisi is emerging as the rising star of Muslim politics in India
The party targets only areas dominated by Muslims. Of late, Muslims are, increasingly, getting elected from constituencies with a substantial Muslim population, which, an analyst said, was not the case before.
By Gulam Jeelani
In 1960, the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) tasted its first electoral victory in the Hyderabad municipal corporation elections.
Six decades later, led by its president Asaduddin Owaisi, the Hyderabad-based political party has found an electoral foothold in states like Maharashtra, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, and, more recently, in Bihar, where it won five of the 20 seats it contested in the Assembly polls.
Not that there are no other Muslim-centric political parties in India. But none of them have even tried to reach out to the electorate outside their states, like the AIMIM did, and successfully so.
What is the reason behind the successful expansion of AIMIM? The particular environment that exists in the country, according to Adnan Farooqui, assistant professor of political science at Jamia Millia Islamia, referring to the rise of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), post 2014.
Will take call on extending support to Mahagathbandhan once final results are declared: Owaisi
“As a consequence, AIMIM has emerged as an acceptable political choice for, at least a section, of the electorate, Muslims,” Farooqui told Moneycontrol.
Of late, Muslims are, increasingly, getting elected from constituencies with a substantial Muslim population, which, Farooqui said, was not the case before.
“If you look at the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections, bulk of the Muslim candidates were elected from the constituencies with above 40 per cent Muslim population. This is where AIMIM comes into the picture. It has targeted just the Muslim-dominated seats,” he said.
Over the past few years, Owaisi is seen as a leader of Muslims, though he says he is not. His poll plank is playing up what many call a growing resentment against the ‘secular’ parties — the Congress, the RJD, the SP, the NCP — that have enjoyed the Muslim community’s backing over the years but failed to uplift the community. He calls the BJP and the Congress two faces of the same coin.
“One destroys equal opportunities by smiling (Congress), and the other comes with a more aggressive face (BJP),” the 51-year-old MP from Hyderabad said in a recent interview to a TV channel.
In Bihar, where the Nitish Kumar-led NDA has retained power, the five seats that the AIMIM won from the Muslim-dominated Seemanchal region of state — Baisi, Amnour, Bahadurganj, Kochadhaman and Jokihat — have a Muslim population ranging between 50- 70 percent of the electorate. In the 2015 assembly polls, the AIMIM could not win any of the six seats it contested.
“It is actually the rise of the Hindutva rhetoric, coupled with the failure of the secular forces, that has led to the increasing popularity of Owaisi, particularly among youth as he often touches a chord with them,” said Mohammad Reyaz, Head of the Mass Communication Department at Kolkata-based Aliah University.
Dressed in a sherwani with a skullcap on his head, Asaduddin comes across as a perfect image of a practicing Muslim, who often uses religious references. His command over Urdu and English, with a degree in law from abroad, adds to the ideal portrayal of an aspiring Muslim mass leader. Yogendra Yadav, national president of Swaraj India, said in a recent article on The Print that since Owaisi, who makes for good TV “is articulate, witty and does not pull his punches, his party is an easy target for those who distribute certificates of patriotism.”
Prof Afroz Alam, head of the department of political science at Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad, told Moneycontrol: “AIMIM, like any other party, identifies constituencies where the winnability is more than other seats. Unlike other parties, it chose young aspirational leaders who worked on the ground in Seemanchal and won,” he said.
Reyaz agreed. “Seemanchal was largely an aberration due to several local factors, most importantly being finding credible local leaders,” he said.
Slice of history
Founded in 1926 as Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) in the princely state of Hyderabad, Nawab Bahadur Yar Jung was elected as its president in 1938. The AIMIM, however, had a dubious past. A 2016 profile of Owaisi in the monthly magazine Caravan says: “In the approach to Independence, as religious polarisation increased across India, the MIM gravitated ever more towards Muslim supremacism, and towards asserting itself in politics.”
Qasim Razvi, who first headed the MIM’s armed militia or Razakars, ended up leading the party in 1946. After the British left in 1947, the Nizam of Hyderabad, with the MIM’s support, defied the government’s plans to incorporate Hyderabad into its territory. The Razakars were crushed and Razvi imprisoned. The MIM’s headquarters, Dar -U-salam, was seized, and, later, turned into a fire station after the violence that witnessed 27,000- 40,000 deaths, as per a government estimate.
However, it was Abdul Wahed Owaisi, Asaduddin’s grandfather, who restructured MIM into AIMIM, swearing allegiance to the Indian republic, instead of Nizam after the party was banned in 1948 following the annexation of Hyderabad state.
AIMIM contested the polls to the Hyderabad municipal corporation in 1960 and won 19 seats, including one reserved for Dalits. In 1962, AIMIM won its maiden assembly poll when Salahuddin, father of Owaisi, was elected from Pathergatti seat in Hyderabad. Salahuddin became AIMIM president in 1975 after his father’s death and was elected to the Lok Sabha from Hyderabad in 1984.
He continued to win the seat till 2004 when Owaisi took over and has retained the seat since then. Salahuddin died in 2008. While his grandfather and father kept the party confined to the Muslim-dominated areas of Hyderabad as an interest group, Owaisi expanded the AIMIM base to other Muslim pockets in erstwhile Andhra Pradesh and other states.
After testing waters in some areas of Karnataka and Maharashtra (part of the old Hyderabad state), the AIMIM has today seven MLAs and two MLCs in Telangana and an MP and two MLAs in Maharashtra. In 2012, AIMIM entered Maharashtra state by winning 13 seats in the Nanded-Waghala city municipal council. In Karnataka, it won six seats in the 2013 local body elections. It also won 31 seats out of the 78 it contested in Uttar Pradesh local polls in 2017.
Vote-cutter B Team of BJP?
Post Bihar polls, the Congress blamed AIMIM for Mahagathbandhan’s loss by allegedly splitting the vote in Seemanchal. Owaisi has often been called BJP’s B team by many parties. The numbers dispute charges. Owaisi, in turn, accused the Congress of blaming their own failure on his party’s success. In a post-result interview to the Indian Express, he hinted that the community was disenchanted with the Congress and the RJD, part of the Mahagathbandhan that ended on the losing side in Bihar, for they did not talk about the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) or the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in the campaign.
“We contested 20 seats, won 5. MGB won 9 & NDA 6. On seats where NDA won, the victory margin was higher than our votes. The NDA would have won regardless of our candidate. In other words, MGB failed to defeat the NDA on these seats,” he said in a tweet.
Owaisi, the national president of AIMIM, has not many lieutenants, though. Syed Ahmed Pasha Quadri, MLA from Yakutpura, the trusted mentor and close friend of his father Salahuddin Owaisi, is the party’s general secretary. Owaisi’s brother, Akbaruddin Owaisi, the leader of AIMIM legislative party in Telangana Legislative Assembly, has been controversial over his statements. Other than these, AIMIM has presidents of state units in Maharashtra, West Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Karnataka and Uttrakhand. His second brother Burhanuddin Owaisi manages the Dar-U-Salam bank and edits the Urdu daily Etemaad.
After the Bihar breakthrough, all eyes would now be on next year’s assembly elections in West Bengal, another state like Bihar with a sizeable Muslim voters, where AIMIM plans to field candidates.
“Jo siyasyi safar ka aagaaz Fakhr-e-Millat aur unke sathiyon ne kiya tha, aur jisko taaqat Salar-e-Millat ne di hai, hum unhee ke raaste par aage bad rahe hain (We will continue the march ahead in the journey started by Fakhr-e-Millat (grandfather) and energised by Salar-e-Millat (father),” Owaisi said during a foundation stone-laying ceremony of a school building in Hyderabad on November 15, five days after the Bihar election results were announced.
Courtesy : money control