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Do the Owaisi brothers have a pan-India potential?

The two successes of the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) of Hyderabad in assembly elections in Maharashtra may not affect government formation in Mumbai but reverberations will be felt in the nation’s politics for a long time.

Victories in Aurangabad and Byculla were awesome, for a first time entrant. Equally impressive was the fact that the MIM felt emboldened to field 24 candidates. Of these, three came second and seven stood third. In the last election, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Shiv Sena had won seven of these seats. The MIM entry in the contest demolished the Congress and the BJP and Shiv Sena picked up 14 seats.


Asaduddin Owaisi. PIC/AFP 

The Congress taunt is: Look, you helped the BJP-Shiv Sena. That this calculated risk was taken by Muslims shows how irredeemably low the Congress has sunk in the community’s esteem. Time was when the BJP, under Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s leadership, would have been embraced by a community desperate to discard the Congress habit.

But the Narendra Modi establishment has been indifferent to the Muslims. It does not wish to come in the way of party president Amit Shah’s tactic of polarising votes by targeting them. This method of building Hindu nationalism will remain in play so long as voters are required to be polarised in elections from state to state. The minorities are determined not to vote for the Congress or Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and are increasingly averse to the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) also. The BJP is equally resolute in building Hindu nationalism by targeting them. So, which way must the Muslims turn? There is nothing on the horizon which can threaten the BJP by an infusion of the Muslim vote. But the Muslim can be targeted for greater Hindu consolidation.

At their wit’s end, Muslims are unlikely to make grand strategies for future. They will stand still and acquiesce in the politics of the ghetto. In this mood, the bold rhetoric of the Owaisi brothers will captivate them.

Over the past decade the national mood has been determined by whatever choices the 24X7 channels make for highlighting on their prime time shows. These choices differ vastly from the fare available to the Urdu newspaper readership. Asaduddin Owaisi and Akbaruddin Owaisi are frontpage material for this audience, of course. But even though the mainstream media ignored them, their lethal speeches have been carried extensively on the social media. Two parallel tectonic plates are moving. They may clash.

One of the factors behind the Samajwadi Party’s rout in the 2014 Lok Sabha election were a barrage of deadly speeches by Asaduddin Owaisi carried on the social media after he was stopped from addressing a rally in Azamgarh on Feb 1, 2014. The MIM had taken the Akhilesh Yadav government to task for a spate of communal riots in Uttar Pradesh during the build up to the general election. He accused the SP as equal partners with the BJP in profiting from communal politics. While the BJP sought Hindu consolidation, said Owaisi, the SP tacitly encouraged an atmosphere of insecurity so that the Muslim voters turn to SP for protection. Returning from the Dhule riots, 150 km from Aurangabad in January 2013, I was surprised to hear Akbaruddin Owaisi’s speeches being played by young men on their mobile phones at a wayside tea stall. Owaisi brothers, it seemed, were like pop stars among
Muslim youth.

The substance of Akbaruddin Owaisi’s speeches do cross red lines and are intemperate. Asaduddin is more composed. But together the two brothers represent an explosive style of oratory which went out of fashion since the days of the Parsi theatre.

In a mixed crowd their combative style could lead to violence. But they maintain their infectious tempo from behind the fortification of their Hyderabad ghetto. The social networks carry their oratory far and wide. And now, encouraged by the market, the Owaisis are planning to open offices in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal. Who knows, the potential for a dangerous politics may be developing, with the MIM orators knitting together hopeless Muslim ghettos, rather like a series of Bantustans, ensuring Muslim exclusion and, for that reason, explosive.

A senior commentator on political and diplomatic affairs, Saeed Naqvi can be reached at saeednaqvi@hotmail.com. The views expressed are personal.

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