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Why we are likely to hear more Owaisi-type hate speeches

The Akbaruddin Owaisi “hate speech” of 24 December 2012 is not what everyone thinks it is. Despite the incendiary nature of the speech, the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) leader’s poison tongue should be seen for what it is: an attempt to cock a snook at so-called secular parties. Muslims are keen to move away from the umbrella provided by these parties. Parties such as the Congress and Samajwadi are thus being put on notice.

While Owaisi will get his brief time in jail, it is unlikely to achieve anything more than increase his attraction to his Muslim constituency. And the real message is here.

For some time now Muslims have been the only constituency treated as a vote-bank without their own direct share of power (except in Kerala and Kashmir). Every caste, every group and every community has had the advantage of being represented by one of their own in India’s raucous democracy, but Muslims have had to seek compromise under secular umbrellas – often under the Congress and various regional parties in the states.

Owaisi’s rabble-rousing speech should thus be seen as another attempt to separate the Muslim vote bank from secular parties – and this trend can only accelerate over the coming years.

Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) MLA Akbaruddin Owaisi, who is facing multiple cases for his alleged " hate speech", arrives for his medical examinations at Gandhi Hospital in Secundrabad. PTI

Owaisi’s MIM, currently confined to Hyderabad, has recently been trying to extend its constituency to nearby areas of the old Hyderabad state, where Muslims had a larger share of political voice. Last year, MIM forayed into neighbouring Maharashtra, where the party suddenly increased its tally in the Nanded Municipal Corporation to 11 seats from just one.

However, MIM is only one of several Muslim outfits seeking a larger Muslim vote base at the regional or national level.

At the national level, the Welfare Party of India — started two years ago — is said to have the blessings of the Jamait e-Islami-e-Hind (JIH), though the latter denies it. The party is yet to make its mark electorally, but it is busy opening chapters in various states. Its Maharashtra chapter is to start this April. The Jamait is to Muslims like what the RSS is to Hindus.

In the Jangipur Lok Sabha byelection last October, where Pranab Mukherjee’s son Abhijit (now infamous for his “dented, painted” quote) came close to losing the election as the Welfare Party managed to take away a chunk of Muslim votes that the Congress normally takes for granted.

Nor are MIM and Welfare the only Muslim parties. In almost every state with a significant Muslim population, there are Muslim parties sprouting to claim the vote.

Even though the Indian Union Muslim League (the oldest of the pure Muslim parties) has been around since independence, its presence has been restricted to Kerala. The rash of new Muslim parties emerging elsewhere is a sign that Muslims are regional in their outlook the way the caste-based and other parties are.

Thus we have the MIM in Andhra, the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) in Assam, the Peace Part of India In Uttar Pradesh, the National Conference and PDP in Kashmir, and the Social Democratic Party of India in Bengal. In Tamil Nadu, we have the Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam, and so on.

It is in this broader context that we must assess the Owaisi “hate speech.” It may be about hate, but it is also about staking out a claim to representing Muslims in India.

What is clear is that there is no single Muslim pan-India party that can claim to speak on behalf of all Muslims, and this is unlikely to happen since there is as much diversity among Muslim populations in various states as there is among castes and communities.

Just as Mayawati has been able to make only a limited dent among Dalits outside Uttar Pradesh, Muslim parties will have their work cut out in trying to become pan-India parties.

But as they fight for their own votes to establish primacy in their own regions, India’s fledgling Muslim parties could get shriller in order to tell Muslims that they can do represent them better than the rest.

Owaisi’s hate speech is unlikely to be the last as Muslim parties compete to establish some degree of ascendency over the rest. The Congress has to be most scared of this development.