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MIM-Cong divorce: Owaisi is playing true to his constituency

Asaduddin Owaisi has informed Andhra Pradesh Governor ESL Narasimhan that his party, the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) no longer supports the Kiran Kumar Reddy government.

With that visit to Raj Bhavan on Saturday, the divorce between MIM and the Congress is complete. Not that his one-MP pullout disturbs the arithmetic of the Lok Sabha, but Owaisi for the record, has also excused himself as an UPA ally in New Delhi.

Having known Owaisi closely for the past decade and a half, I can say three things about him with certainty.

The Congress-MIM divorce heralds an interesting phase in Andhra politics: Reuters

One, he is one of the most astute and sharp political minds in India, with a tremendous ability to analyse a developing situation from different angles.

Two, he puts on a `frothing at the mouth' act on television because that is perhaps what his constituents would like to see - a vocal spokesperson of Muslim rights. His real-life persona is more sober, practical and level-headed.

And three, he is one of those rare politicians who has the ability to laugh at himself and his tribe and is brutally honest about the kind of things politicians like him end up doing.

Which is why I believe his decision to discard the Congress hand is not a move dictated merely by the fracas over the temple near the Charminar.

The temple near the historic monument has been a sore point with several hardline Muslims who have argued the temple shouldn't be there in the first place, for a long time now.

Owaisi obviously realised that the temple controversy presented itself as a good opportunity to paint Kiran Kumar Reddy as PV Narasimha Rao II, and the Charminar-temple standoff as another Babri Masjid-like situation.

He knew it would appeal to his core constituency which is so important for his party to keep other outfits eyeing the Muslim vote in the Hyderabad Old city area at bay.

The relationship between MIM and Congress flowered from 1998 when the late Y S Rajasekhara Reddy was at the helm of affairs. Owaisi has never hid his admiration for YSR.

Jaganmohan Reddy was Owaisi's junior at the Hyderabad Public School and the Hyderabad MP has maintained that Jagan is a rising star in Andhra politics.

Knowing Owaisi's friendship with Jagan, it would not be surprising if the latter has been kept in the loop on MIM's moves.

In sharp contrast is Owaisi's rapport with the Andhra Pradesh CM.

In private conversations, Owaisi has not hidden his disappointment with Kiran Kumar Reddy, blaming the chief minister's refusal to communicate and listen to others as a huge hurdle.

For the last two years, the Owaisi-Kiran relationship has read `It's complicated'. This week, Owaisi changed it to `Single'.

A month ago, when I asked Owaisi what prevents his party from stepping outside its comfort zone of the Old city area of Hyderabad, he indicated that he would now look to establish a presence all over Andhra Pradesh and even parts of Maharashtra that were part of the erstwhile Nizam's Hyderabad.

The fact that he tasted success in the local polls in Nanded in October seems to have shaped Owaisi's political moves.

Nationally, Owaisi's visits to riot-hit areas of Assam and his controversial "third wave of radicalisation" speech in Parliament have helped him emerge as one of the foremost Muslim political faces, equally articulate in English and Urdu.

Owaisi realises that the present state of flux in Andhra Pradesh presents him with the ideal opportunity to emerge stronger.

2014 would see him contesting from Muslim pockets in Telangana and Rayalaseema and it is almost certain that the MIM would enter into an alliance with Jagan's party as part of a caste-religion alliance to take on the Congress and the Telugu Desam.

But in his enthusiasm to change partners, Owaisi may end up giving a fillip to the Telangana movement.

Owaisi in principle is opposed to the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh. In its representation to the Srikrishna committee, the MIM spoke in favour of Rayala-Telangana instead of just Telangana, in case the state is divided.

He is opposed to Hyderabad being made a Union Territory, arguing the city will be at others mercy for its drinking water needs.

Now the Congress in order to save its government could be forced to listen to the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) whose support would obviously come at a price.

A pro-Telangana move by the Congress would not be to the liking of both Owaisi and Jagan. Owaisi's biggest fear vis-a-vis the creation of Telangana has been that it would only provide political space to the BJP and turn the state into a communal hotspot.

Whether the Congress can neutralise the Owaisi-Jagan jugalbandi with a Telangana masterstroke is an open-ended question.

But Owaisi’s withdrawal of support is unlikely to cause the fall of the Congress government as the TDP, the principal opposition party is not in favour of immediate elections.

But fast forward to the future, and you realise that this divorce does not open up the marriage market for Owaisi. At the national level, the MIM can hardly afford to go with the other suitor, the BJP and given a situation where the Congress emerges as the single largest party in 2014, Owaisi will have no other choice but to support it.

But before we get to see that tame ending, this soap opera from Hyderabad does promise some exciting viewing. Watch this space.

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