"The MIM has bowled to the BJP a well-flighted delivery that we have hit for a sixer.'' This was the reaction of a BJP leader from Andhra Pradesh, who spoke on condition that he would not be named, describing the face-off between the two parties.
"Yes, there is a lot of anger and anguish over the kind of language Akbaruddin Owaisi used against our Gods and Goddesses but there is also the realisation that there is a tremendous opportunity that we should exploit politically,'' he explained.
Believe it or not, the thinking is on the same lines in the political enemy camp. The MIM admits it is on the back foot after Owaisi's arrest but now its leaders and cadre are determined to fight it out, both legally and on the streets and polarise Muslim public opinion in its favour, even outside Hyderabad's Old city area.
"The BJP wants to get Majlis disqualified, we will give them a fitting reply,'' thundered Asaduddin Owaisi, Hyderabad MP at a public meeting in Tandur on Saturday.
The message that is percolating down to the MIM cadre and through them, the Muslim population, is that the rule book has been thrown at their `Sher-e-Deccan' as Akbaruddin Owaisi is referred to by his followers, while "Hindu hatemongers'' like Praveen Togadia, Raj Thackeray and Narendra Modi have been treated with kid gloves. The intention is clear. Tell the Muslims that they are not treated on par and that they must rally behind the MIM to ensure they count.
This game of one-upmanship between the BJP and the MIM is being viewed with concern by other parties, notably the Congress and the Telangana Rashtra Samiti. The TRS smells a plot in the manner in which MIM has upped the ante with the hate speeches in Nizamabad and Adilabad.
The MIM, which is opposed to the formation of a separate Telangana state, unless it is clubbed with two districts of Rayalaseema to form Rayala Telangana, has all along argued that a separate Telangana state will be a communal hotspot with the BJP likely to pursue an aggressive divisive agenda to gain politically. The TRS alleges that raising the communal pitch is a YSR Congress conspiracy, outsourced to the MIM, to sabotage the chances of forming a Telangana state when the Centre's decision is round the corner.
The BJP is shifting gears fast to maximise the gains made since 28 December, when its lawyer filed a case against Owaisi's hate speech in a Hyderabad court. The gameplan is to replicate the campaign strategy employed in the Mahbubnagar assembly by-election last year throughout Telangana. In that bypoll, the BJP ran a very communal campaign, polarising the pro-Telangana vote on religious lines (TRS had fielded a Muslim candidate) and won the election.
BJP strategists admit that the TRS will be a winner when it comes to getting votes on the Telangana sentiment. But the saffron party could stand to gain if the arithmetic is altered to Telangana plus Hindutva sentiment. With this strategy, the BJP is trying to hurt two parties at the same time.
The first is the TRS, which would look at an ebullient BJP with a degree of concern. Because the hurt over the Owaisi rhetoric has united every Hindu voter who would see in the BJP both a pro-Hindu and a pro-Telangana party. In many constituencies in Telangana with a sizeable Muslim voter base, polarisation of the Hindu vote could benefit the BJP.
The second is the YSR Congress, that the BJP hopes, would now hesitate to get into a pre-poll alliance with the MIM, lest it loses the votes from the majority community. It also expects that Reddy community leaders, who might have otherwise moved to Jagan's camp en bloc, may find it difficult to justify being seen in Owaisi's company.
Pro-BJP activists have also translated the offensive portions of the Owaisi hate speech at Nirmal into Telugu and plan to distribute pamphlets in every household in Telangana, to tell the people "how Hindu Gods and Goddesses were insulted by a Muslim leader'' to incite passions among the uninformed. Clearly the Urdu to Telugu translation desk of the BJP works more efficiently than that of the Andhra Pradesh police.
Ironically, it is the ruling Congress that is the biggest loser politically, despite the government finally biting the bullet on Owaisi and arresting him on Tuesday evening. By not acting for several days, it came across as an outfit trying to save its former ally. The arrest when it happened was seen as a reluctant move and gave the impression that the party caved in under extreme pressure from the BJP and civil society.