Will the Opposition in Maharashtra form a united alliance against the BJP in 2019? On Saturday, the Congress again expressed unwillingness to join any formation that has the AIMIM in it.
Until AIMIM Aurangabad MLA Imtiaz Jaleel’s announcement last month, of a tie-up between Asaduddin Owaisi and Dalit leader Prakash Ambedkar, it was almost a given that the Congress-NCP combine would ally with the Ambedkar-led Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi, a front comprising all anti-BJP parties in the state as well as the two parties of the Left.
Jaleel’s announcement, met with skepticism by Ambedkar’s allies, took concrete shape on 2 October, when Owaisi and Ambedkar jointly addressed a mega rally in Aurangabad.
Till now, the Congress had cited the AIMIM’s "communal politics’’ as unacceptable. But on Saturday, an MPCC member pointed to Owaisi’s speech at the rally as the reason they couldn’t team up with this new alliance.
In his half-hour speech, the Hyderabad MP spent far more time lashing out at the Congress than at the ruling party in the state and the Centre. Significantly, he referred to the Congress as the "Nehru-Gandhi parivar’’, a phrase popularised by the BJP.
This was not Owaisi’s usual audience of Muslims. More than half the ground was packed with Ambedkar’s supporters. Billed as the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi’s Shetkari Adhiveshan (farmers’ meet), the crowd comprised OBCs, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, with a large number of women.
Accordingly, the fiery orator changed tack. Though he started as usual with the invocation recited at the start of every Muslim meet: "Bismillah al Rahman al Rahim’’, it was followed by "Namaskaar’’ and only then "Assalamualaikum."
Gone were the frequent references to Allah; the parallels drawn between heroic episodes of Islamic history and the atrocities heaped on Muslims in India today; the evocative cries of "Ai Musalmanon’’ and "Hum Musalman’’, all of which have always enabled Owaisi to drive his overwhelmingly Muslim male audience to a frenzy.
So how did the AIMIM chief address this new audience? Having always appealed primarily to Muslim identity, he used the same marker here. He simply used the name given by Ambedkar to his new front.
"Bahujan vanchit samaj ke zimmedaron (you in a position of responsibility among the bahujan vanchit community),’’ Owaisi exhorted his audience. "Aaj bahujan vanchit samaj ke log ek hokar…’’ (Today, the people of the bahujan vanchit samaj have united),” he said.
As if this was not enough, Owaisi thought it necessary to list all the castes gathered there, right at the start, and again during his speech, reading out their names from a slip of paper. Obviously, the names from Maharashtra were unfamiliar to the MP whose primary base has always been the old city of Hyderabad.
Muslim victimhood has always been the mainstay of Owaisi’s speeches. A litany of the major communal riots, with graphic descriptions of the brutalities Muslims were subjected to in them, are constants in his speeches. In Aurangabad, he omitted these but chose to recount instead the indignity that the Mahar caste was subjected to by the Peshwas in Maharashtra: the earthen pot that they had to carry round their necks to spit into, and the broom they had to tie round their waists. One wonders what the Mahars, proud Ambedkarites, felt about this narration in the 21st century, of a practice abandoned more than a century ago.
Normally, Owaisi projects himself as the messiah of Muslims. But his half-hour speech in Aurangabad was a paean to Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar. Owaisi said that Ambedkar, "by giving us the Constitution, gave us — the bahujan vanchit samaj — the status of human beings." But while praising Ambedkar, Owaisi made sure to run down the Congress, which he, using Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala’s words, mockingly referred to as the "janeu-dhari (sacred thread wearing) party’’, one which has "Brahmin blood in its DNA’’.
"Let me teach you the history these others won’t,’’ he told his audience, specifically asking young Muslims to pay attention. Citing instance after instance when the "Nehru-Gandhi parivar’’ had slighted Ambedkar, he informed the audience that it was with the help of the Muslims of Bengal — the Muslim League there — that Ambedkar had got a place in the Constituent Assembly. Later, in the 1952 general election, Nehru had campaigned the most against Ambedkar. Then came the punchline: "We (Muslims) lifted Babasaheb Ambedkar on our shoulders and put him in the Constituent Assembly; now we will put his grandson in the Lok Sabha.’’
This was a selective rendering of history. Jogendra Nath Mondal, who ensured that Ambedkar entered the Constituent Assembly, migrated to Pakistan, became a minister and later returned disillusioned. As for the 1952 election, Prakash Ambedkar had himself said in a TV interview that the person most opposed to Dr Ambedkar’s candidature was the CPI’s SA Dange.
But half-truths suited Owaisi’s twin goals well. Not only could he appeal to Muslim pride in having helped Ambedkar, he could also destroy the Congress’ reputation. "On the one side, you have Narendra Modi and on the other, the party that has Brahmin blood in its DNA. Where will you, vanchit bahujan samaj go?” he asked.
Calculated to wreck any chance of a Congress-Prakash Ambedkar alliance, the AIMIM chief’s speech has probably also put paid to the possibility of a broad united front in the state against the BJP in 2019.
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Updated Date: Oct 07, 2018 22:39:16 IST