The Bihar elections results saw the emergence of All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (AIMIM), the Hyderabad old city-based regional party, into a key player in mobilising the Muslim voters. MIM has won five seats in Bihar, and many observers commented that it caused visible damage to the RJD and Congress lead 'Mahagathbandhan'. Congress leaders called Asaduddin Owaisi as 'vote cutter' of so-called secular parties and accused him as 'BJP agent'. But the fact is Owaisi ran a successful communal campaign in the Muslim dominant Seemanchal area in about 20 constituencies posing himself as the new messiah for Muslims. In 2015 Bihar Assembly elections the AIMIM contested five seats and the same Asaduddin Owaisi campaigned, but the party lost all the seats and lost deposit in 4. Since that time the communal politics of Owaisi got strengthened.
Buoyed by the victory in Bihar, Owaisi found huge potential for expanding his footprint, by contesting in the Muslim-dominant constituencies, into the entire north India where the religious divide is huge compared to the South. His earlier forage into Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh was successful to a certain extent. Now the victory in Bihar boosted the confidence of AIMIM party, and its leader Owaisi made his imminent entry into Bengal Assembly elections. The communal agenda of Owaisi in the north Indian states and his emergence as the face of Muslims has rattled Congress and other regional political parties. Many non-political Muslim thinkers, neutral political analysts and commentators are also worried for different reasons, including the backlash of Hindus. Those who know the havoc the All India Muslim League has caused to India through the demand of separate nation for Muslims and the loss of life during the Partition days are worried of the repetition of the partition events. The deep division between Hindus and Muslims of 1947 still remained in few areas even after seven decades. It is in this historical background that the rise of AIMIM as new Muslim League is worrying both Hindu and Muslim communities.
Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is threatened politically in the near future. With BJP throwing a challenge to her with an all-out war on the TMC, the Left and Congress sidelined, the 24% Muslim population vote becomes crucial. Mamata was cultivating the Muslim votes through the appeasement policies during her two-term rule and was so confident of their support in return. The entry of Owaisi's AIMIM and his provocative pro-Muslim speech is likely to polarise the voters on communal lines hurting the chances of Mamata. That's why Mamata is raising the secular pitch now.
Congress was made irrelevant in many states as they lost the appeal to Muslims because of their soft Hindutva policy by projecting Rahul Gandhi as a practicing Hindu. Mulayam Singh's Samajwadi Party garnered Muslim votes in Uttar Pradesh, and Mayawati'sBahujanSamaj Party took away SC/ST votes, thus decimating Congress in Uttar Pradesh. But a new threat in the form of Owaisi is looming large on both the regional parties in Uttar Pradesh.
The Congress, which is already labelled as 'weak link' in opposition unity, is more worried as Owaisi accuses that party of "using Muslims as vote banks and not doing anything for them". With this kind of attack, many regional parties across the country may shun away from alliance having Congress. It is speculated that Owaisi is also targeting Rajasthan where Congress is in power and whose stability is constantly threatened. By 2023 elections if Owaisi pitches for Muslim votes in Rajasthan, the Congress will find it difficult to retain the ten seats, where Muslims are large in number, held by it for so long.
This recognition of AIMIM factor by other parties is a music to the ears of Owaisi. But the negative message coming from Muslim intellectuals labelling him as another Jinnah is not taken kindly by AsaduddinOwaisi. His reaction that "do they expect me to sit at home, serve biryani and attend to mushairas in the old city of Hyderabad" is countered by Urdu poet from UP MunawarRana when he said that "that leaders like Owaisi have divided and destroyed Muslims" and he appealed that "Muslims should stop another Jinnah to flourish". He accused Owaisi of vested interest to save his Rs 15,000 crore worth property. The Urdu poet is said to have known Owaisi for the last 42 years, and he mince no words when he called younger Owaisi, the Akbaruddin, a goon.
The argument that 15 per cent of the Muslim population is deprived of their party while many Hindu castes have their parties may not go well with intellectuals as well as other politicians. A Muslim League mentality stuffed into the voters will have serious repercussions in India
Mohammed Ayoob, currently Professor emeritus of international studies at the Michigan state university of USA, has said "Owaisi's remedy for the Indian Muslims' predicament is worse than a disease. Owaisi's fiery speeches are not going to resolve community problems. The politics practiced by Owaisi will further alienate the Muslim community from society. He is considered as a false messiah who is bent upon igniting volatile Muslim mentality for his personal political expansion".
The argument that 15 per cent of the Muslim population is deprived of their party while many Hindu castes have their parties may not go well with intellectuals as well as other politicians. A Muslim league mentality stuffed into the voters will have serious repercussions in India. The 'pseudo-secularism' of Congress earlier lead to the consolidation of the Hindu vote under BJP, and now the outright pro-Muslim policies of Mamata Banerjee is again going to benefit BJP politically. This schism in society will lead to suspicion of another Muslim league like a party which may demand homeland for Muslims again sometime later. What is needed is building bridges between the two communities and not burning the existing relations. Owaisi should keep it in mind if the interests of Muslims are really in his mind.
(The writer is a retired professor and freelance contributor)