The arrest of five Muslim youth from Old city of Hyderabad in connection with a terror plot has jolted the city and the community in particular – more so, since they are being accused of being part of an Islamic State terror module. Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi has now offered to extend legal aid to the five arrested youth. In an exclusive interview to T S Sudhir, Owaisi bristles at the 'attempt' to ''demonise the entire Muslim community''.
Q. The attack in Bangladesh late on Friday shows that Islamic State's terror network is at our doorstep, and that it has most likely made use of local help. Just last week, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in Hyderabad busted an alleged terror module. Isn't that reason enough to be really worried?
Owaisi: Why only Bangladesh? Why not Istanbul, Paris, Brussels? Islamic State terror is happening everywhere. Why focus only on Bangladesh?
Q. Because it is closer to home, and yet the NIA is getting more brickbats than kudos, especially from the Muslim community, which is accusing it of targeting Muslims. We can hardly shut our eyes to the problem at hand, can we?
Owaisi: If the credibility of the NIA is so low, the NIA has to take the blame for it. After all, it allowed Swami Aseemanand to walk free by not appealing against his bail in the Mecca Masjid case. How it behaved in connection with Sadhvi Pragya is well known, so much so that the court had to pass strictures against it. Also remember, 70 youth were picked after the Mecca Masjid blast in 2007, put in jail, tortured in custody, and then they were all acquitted by the court.
Q. Let us talk about the Islamic State. It is a real threat? And you know it too well because you have been threatened by its operatives on Twitter.
Owaisi: Yes they did and I gave it back to them in my own style. They called me a non-Muslim in their videos. I have always spoken out against the Islamic State. It is not enough to crush them militarily, they need to be crushed ideologically as well.
Q. So it is obvious that when five youth are arrested from the Old city area of Hyderabad and accused of being part of an Islamic State terror module, there will be anxiety about their footprints spreading in the city.
Owaisi: For the last two years, I have been saying that the social media campaign of the Islamic State is very strong. The way they campaign, I was certain some impressionable minds will get carried away.
Q. And do you think that they have?
Owaisi: Please note that some 300 to 400 people, who have joined the Islamic State, are from US, Europe. It is our responsibility to defeat their ideology. I am saying this as an Indian. It is a problem, yes. But, it is not a monster. Take it on.
Q. And how do you do that?
Owaisi: The Islamic State targeted Muslims initially. When they blasted the Prophet's companion's grave, it was very hurtful. All I am saying is that do not demonise the entire community. It is not spreading to every galli in the Old city. The society at large hates the Islamic State and its ideology. Who will allow such lumpen elements? It is the parents of those 14 youth who went to the police in 2014, when they found out that the youth had left home to go to Syria to try and join the Islamic State.
Q. So you are saying that while talking of Islamic State, the entire Muslim community is being tarred with the same brush?
Owaisi: That is exactly what the Islamic State wants. The entire Old city does not constitute of only Muslims, it includes non-Muslims as well. Did we have any communal riots after the Mecca Masjid in May 2007 or Lumbini Park or Gokul Chat blast in August 2007? IS does not want the grey zone to exist. And we are helping them by creating suspicion about Muslims.
Q. That includes mischievous plants about plans to put meat in a temple near the Charminar?
Owaisi: The remand report makes no mention of any plan to throw any meat into a temple. So where did it come from? It is laughable to imagine that terror organisations are buying meat for this purpose. Nonsense.
Q. Did all this convince you to offer legal help to the five youth, who have been arrested?
Owaisi: I am not saying release the boys. I am asking the NIA that will you be able to prove their guilt in court. Why should heavens fall if I offer them legal aid. The parents of the boys came and met me. They insisted they were innocent, and that there is no connection to the Islamic State. One of them said the Rs 15 lakh found in one of the houses, belongs to him and not to the man arrested. When Subramanian Swamy can appear for Asaram Bapu, no one raises a hue and cry. In any case, under our legal system, remember that the court will give them a lawyer. After all, even Ajmal Kasab was also given one. That is the greatness of our legal system.
Q. But you do realise that Asaduddin Owaisi will be demonised for helping five people who the premier investigation agency of the country says are alleged terrorists.
Owaisi: I don't care. I did not do any wrong. The court will decide. If they are able to convince the court of their innocence, so be it.
Q. There is a feeling that the victimhood narrative is playing out again, with the feeling being reinforced that Muslims are always arrested by the investigating agencies.
Owaisi: It has happened after so many instances of miscarriage of justice. I want them to be positive. We do not need negative thinking. If you think like a victim, you cannot fight for your rights.
Q. Is there apprehension that 2016 could be a repeat of 2007, when all those youth arrested were acquitted in the Mecca Masjid case?
Owaisi: Remember Mecca Masjid, Akshardham. Miscarriage of justice has happened in the past and the NIA's credibility is low.
Q. Is there fear that Hyderabad has emerged as a recruitment centre for the Islamic State?
Owaisi: Let us not use such words like recruitment centre. Nothing will happen. We have a strong commitment to stay together. Crushing terrorism is not the responsibility of one community. Hyderabadis and Indians will tackle them.
Q. Given the fact that some of those arrested are educated – have software engineering training – there is fear that an educated Muslim will find it difficult to get jobs. That he will be viewed with suspicion. Does that worry you?
Owaisi: That is for the media to answer. Don't generalise and give the impression that all educated Muslims are under suspicion. He is trying to work hard. Any terrorist would want a community to be demonised, isolated. Let us not do that.
Q. Would you ask for this case to be heard in a fast track court?
Owaisi: There is no need for a fast track court since it will be heard by the NIA court. File the charge-sheet quickly. Miscarriage of justice should never happen. Officers who are investigating should be held responsible, if charges are not proven in court. That is because the accused get convicted in people's eyes the moment they are arrested, the damage is irreparable. Zindagi kharab ho jaati hai.