If this is the route the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) wishes to take to spread its wings beyond the Old city of Hyderabad, we might all have to run for cover. In a two-hour long speech in Adilabad district of Andhra Pradesh last week, Akbaruddin Owaisi who is the leader of the MIM legislature party in the Andhra Pradesh assembly, spewed venom like a wholesale dealer in the market would sell his wares. By the ton.
For those not familiar with the party, the MIM has its roots in the Old city area of Hyderabad and claims to be the spokesperson of the Muslims in the city, and Andhra Pradesh by extension. It has seven MLAs in the state assembly and one Lok Sabha MP, which is Akbar's brother Asaduddin Owaisi. Asaduddin and Akbaruddin's father, the late Sultan Salahuddin Owaisi represented Hyderabad in the Lok Sabha for six consecutive terms till 2004.
MIM had a cosy relationship with the Congress, especially during the time that Y S Rajasekhara Reddy held sway. His demise and Kiran Kumar Reddy's promotion to the CM's chair saw the relationship deteriorating so much so that now the Hyderabad brothers have vowed to finish Kiran's political innings.
In November, the MIM accused the CM of siding with the BJP and allowing work to take place at the Bhagyalakshmi temple abutting the Charminar. The party withdrew support to the Congress over the issue and its leaders have been touring the state ever since, taking Kiran Kumar Reddy to the cleaners, dubbing him a "Musalmanon ke dushman'' (enemy of the Muslims).
The MIM sees an opportunity for itself now in the run-up to 2014 to grow into a pan-Andhra Pradesh party, with footprints in the old Nizam dominion. It won 13 of the 25 seats it contested in the Nanded municipal corporation elections in October, helping it cross the border into Maharashtra. And the present round of Hindu bashing in extremely crass language is one of Owaisi's weapons to polarise the Muslim vote entirely in its favour and reach out to newer areas in districts outside Hyderabad.
Lawyers from the BJP have gone to court in protest against this outburst by Akbar in which he spoke derisively of Hindu Gods and Goddesses and the cow. What helps them is that cutting across religious lines, the verdict is that the discourse was inflammatory and in extremely bad taste. And that BJP leader Varun Gandhi was hauled up by the courts for a hate speech in 2009.
The MIM is batting on the backfoot dealing with this self-goal that Akbaruddin Owaisi has scored. Sources in the party describe Akbar's speech as a "honest mistake, not something deliberate'' and point that when good orators are in full flow and the crowds are enjoying the rhetoric, sometimes they get carried away. Considering how weak a defence that will sound in court, why not apologise and settle the issue? But publicly disowning the speech is not an option the MIM wants to exercise as it fears it will lead to whispers that there are differences within the party.
Critics of the MIM like corporator Amjedullah Khan of the Majlis Bachao Tehreek (MBT) says Akbar and the MIM are playing to a script. "See today no one is talking about underdevelopment in the Old city areas. People are only discussing whether Akbar will be arrested. People are talking about the communal tension over Bhagyalakshmi temple. All this will only help the MIM. I demand that the elders of the community should disown Akbar. If they condemn Praveen Togadia, they should condemn Akbar also because it is against the Holy Quran and the teachings of Prophet Mohammed to criticise another religion,'' says Khan.
The MIM denies that the speech is a part of Operation Polarisation. "Why would we want to antagonise the Hindu community. There is no threat to our core base. Akbar's speech is not the policy of the MIM. It is not a larger political gameplan. Development politics in our constituencies has given us political dividends and that is our policy. We will not go back to the politics of 1960s to 1990s,'' says a senior MIM leader.
Akbar who is out of the country is aware of the uproar his speech has created, especially on the social media. Lyricist Javed Akhtar tweeted : "Mr AU Owaisi, you are the worst enemy of Indian Muslims. your poisonous words and evil thoughts don't represent the Muslims of India.'' His son Farhan Akhtar asked "How can 2 girls be arrested in less than 24 hrs for a harmless FB post but Owaisi roams free after his blatantly communal rant?'' Columnist Minhaz Merchant tweeted : "Comparing Owaisi hate speech with Togadia's is like Pak saying "first condemn Samjhauta, then 26/11''. Dilatory tactic.''
Indeed, Akbar by virtue of being an MLA ought to have been more responsible with his tongue. To say "the 25 crore Muslims in India can take care of the 100 crore Hindus if the police stayed away for fifteen minutes'', does little to distinguish Akbar from a gully ka thug.
The criticism against the legislator is that this is not the first time he has violated the law. "He has made several such provocative speeches in the past. There are cases booked against him in several police stations but the police under successive governments have turned a blind eye,'' says Khan.
The worry is that the speech has gone viral on the net. And it is wrong to assume that it is only the youth and the illiterate or the semi-literate get attracted to such a divisive narrative. Mazher Hussain, Director of the Confederation of Voluntary Associations, which does commendable work in the Old city areas points out that even elders are drawn to oratory of this kind. "While the youth are in the forefront of covert violence, the covert context is provided by the elders,'' says Hussain.
While bigwigs of the Congress in the state have publicly kept mum and prefer that the courts decide on the matter, the police does not expect any political reluctance to act against Akbar.
In his speech, Akbar dares Kiran Kumar Reddy saying "Hum tujhko chain se bethne nahi denge'' (We will not let you remain in peace). The pity is that such verbal diarrhoea does not let the idea of India live in peace as well.