Hyderabad: "The Nation wants to know" went Urdu in Tandur town, 130 km from Hyderabad, on Saturday night. Asaduddin Owaisi, Hyderabad MP and chief of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), taunted English television anchors at a public meeting, poking fun at their mulk pooch raha hai rhetoric.
"Television studios have become like courtrooms. Where the anchors ask questions, making it seem like the entire country wants to know the answer. But I will not reply there. I will say what I want before the people," said Owaisi, as the appreciative all-male gathering of about 5,000 cheered at the Idgah ground.
Owaisi is cheesed off with what he describes as the domination of Twitter by the 'saffron brigade'. "Eighty percent of people on Twitter are from the Sangh Parivar," he says. The feeling is that this clutch of vocal, vociferous, aggressive twitter handles are increasingly dictating the news rundown on the mainstream media, which is wrongly treating the chatter on Twitter as the voice of India.
It almost seemed as if the otherwise media-friendly Owaisi wanted to vent his spleen at different forms of media. During his hour-long speech, he mentioned YouTube, on which brother Akbaruddin Owaisi's hate speech went viral with over 80,000 hits, some 25 times. So much so that when the police officer indicated that the stipulated time for the meeting was over, he said in jest, "Ten minutes are still left on my YouTube."
Are the Owaisis feeling the heat? Their answer is obviously no but the widespread condemnation of Akbaruddin Owaisi's speech in Adilabad where he had challenged "100 crore Hindus to a duel with 25 crore Muslims" and sworn to vanquish them "if the police stayed away for fifteen minutes", has pushed the MIM on to the back foot. At the same meeting last month, Akbar had spoken of Hindu Gods and Goddesses in an offensive manner, comments that upset not only the Hindu community, but even the moderates among the Muslims.
The Tandur meeting was the first since Akbar was served notice by the Adilabad and Nizamabad police to appear before them next week. And if the utterances of elder brother Asaduddin Owaisi—the milder of the two—were any indication, the attempt was to mollify the Hindu community and reduce temperatures.
"We are not against Hindus. But we are against the BJP and Kiran Kumar Reddy," declared Asaduddin Owaisi, linking the BJP's new found aggression to what may possibly happen if a Telangana state were to be formed. MIM has opposed creation of Telangana state arguing that it will be a communal hotspot with the BJP likely to flex its muscles to make the minorities insecure.
Ever since it parted ways with the Congress, the MIM has looked to expand into newer areas and grow out of its base in the Old City of Hyderabad. The present controversy presents a challenge in how to ensure Akbar, who is one of MIM's star campaigners and orators, is not disqualified from fighting elections. The bigger issue is that its image has taken a beating at a time when Asaduddin Owaisi is emerging as a national Muslim leader. The party has now once again been branded as group of rabble-rousers who incite communal passions for the sake of votes.
The dilemma for the MIM is that it knows Akbar's semantics, though terribly over the top, work as well. In Tandur, as soon as Asaduddin Owaisi finished speaking, an MIM leader announced on the mike "Akbaruddin Owaisi saab ki Adilabad aur Nizamabad ki speech ki DVD bahar stall par mojood hai. Aap apne liye ek copy khareed le." (The DVD copies of the speeches by Akbaruddin Owaisi at Adilabad and Nizamabad are available on sale here, please buy a copy). The scramble that followed is a giveaway to the kind of hysterical adulation Akbar enjoys within his constituency. Ten-year-old Mehraj gushed in the crowd every Owaisi mentioned Akbar, "Hamare hero hai." (He is our hero)
What this episode will do is to help MIM polarise the Muslim vote more. If Akbar is arrested or he surrenders in court, he will achieve martyr status before a crowd that already fawns over him. It will also help the BJP make inroads into the Old City of Hyderabad, an area that has been virtually lost to them for a decade now. The only loser will be Hyderabad that could bear the brunt of the games politicians on both sides will play.