It is incredible watching the media celebrate the ostensible rise of All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) leader Asaduddin Owaisi.
Every third day he peers out from newspapers and TV channels, lambasting the secular parties for their failings and declaring his ambition of forging a social alliance between Muslims and Dalits.
This is an amazing turnaround for the man who, only months ago, was dismissed as a hothead prone to making provocative speeches. No doubt, the Maharashtra assembly election results have underscored Owaisi’s significance. His party won two seats, came second on three, and bagged 0.9 percent of the votes polled even though it contested in only 24 assembly constituencies.
The AIMIM’s isn’t the most astonishing debut performance in India’s electoral history, and pales in comparison to, say, the Aam Aadmi Party’s success of last year. Yet the media is making a beeline to Owaisi because of its perception about his capacity to destruct in the electoral arena.
The media knows the AIMIM can’t possibly ride the Muslim support to power. But it can split the Muslim support of some parties to the advantage of the BJP, which doesn’t depend on religious minorities for its electoral performance.
This is why the AIMIM’s decision to field candidates in Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal has produced a frisson, and though Owaisi hasn’t yet spoken about his plans in Delhi, do not be surprised if you discover that he has put Delhi in his crosshairs at the last minute.
A savvy politician such as Owaisi knows the Muslims tend to vote strategically, rallying behind a party perceived to be best placed to vanquish the BJP in a constituency. But their voting calculation also takes into account whether the party of their choice can be in the race to form a government.
The second factor more or less negates the argument for Muslims voting the AIMIM, unless they are implacably angry or alienated from the mainstream parties, as it seemed to have happened in Maharashtra.
It is to neutralise the second factor that Owaisi has taken to speaking about forging a social alliance between the Muslims, Dalits and sections of OBCs. In other words, he is raising the possibility of the AIMIM creating an electoral majority, however theoretical, to woo the Muslims.
The Dalit-Muslim alliances built by others, particularly Kanshi Ram and Mayawati, had varying successes. What distinguishes Owaisi’s experiment from that of the others is the issue of leadership. Though he hasn’t said it explicitly, it is assumed the contemplated social alliance will have a Muslim leading it.
In India’s existing political reality, you can’t but think Owaisi’s ambition springs from delusion.
For one, the quest of Dalits is to bestow power to one from their own community. A Dalit is not expected to lead the party which has always had as its head one of the Owaisis. Two, should Mayawati become weaker following the 2017 UP assembly elections, Dalit votes will get fragmented among an array of parties. A chunk of those will go to the BJP, which will seek to bring them under the overarching Hindu identity.
But then, delusion is written into the DNA of AIMIM, evident from its history. The party was founded in 1927 for providing a cultural and religious platform to the Muslims living in the principality of the Nizam of Hyderabad. Then known just as MIM, it expanded overnight under Bahadur Yar Jung, a charismatic personality whose speeches drew the masses.
Jung died prematurely in 1944 – some claim he was poisoned – and the MIM leadership passed to Qasim Razvi, who headed the Razakars, the dreaded Muslim militia which was constituted to oppose Hyderabad’s merger with India. The Razakars, as is well documented, triggered a wave of murderous attacks on Hindus, progressive Muslims and Communists, and engaged the Indian security forces in what is called the Police Action of 1948.
Undoubtedly, Razvi was delusional. In his book, October Coup – A Memoir of the Struggle for Hyderabad, Mohammad Hyder narrates his conversation with Razvi.
To Hyder’s question whether it was justified for the Muslims, who were just 20 per cent of the population, to rule over the Hindus, Razvi said, “The Nizams have ruled Hyderabad for over two hundred years in unbroken line... The system must have some good in it if it has lasted two hundred years. Do you agree?... We Muslims rule because we are more fit to rule... We rule and they [Hindus] own! It is a good arrangement and they know it!”
Hyder also quotes Razvi saying, “India is a geographic notion. Hyderabad is a political reality. Are we prepared to sacrifice the reality of Hyderabad for the idea of India?”
Hyder emerged from his conversations with Razvi with the impression that the Razakar leader believed the Muslims would once again become the rulers of India and the Nizam, the ruler in Delhi.
Following the success of the Police Action, Razvi was arrested – and was released in 1957 subject to the condition that he would migrate to Pakistan. Days before leaving India, Razvi and other MIM leaders met at the residence of a lawyer. In an article in the Deccan Chronicle, historian Mohammed Noorduddin Khan writes, “Abdul Wahed Owaisi (Asaduddin’s grandfather) wasn’t even associated with the Majlis at that time and was just there out of curiosity. He was the youngest among those present at that meeting.”
Khan says Razvi disclosed at the meeting that he was leaving for Pakistan and wondered whether “anyone was interested in taking over the reins of the Majlis. Everyone present there said that they were getting on in age and wanted someone younger to take over. It was then Abdul Wahed Owaisi stepped forward and said he was willing to head the organisation.” Nawab Mir Khader Ali Khan Abul-Ulai proposed Owaisi’s name and Razvi seconded it.
Abdul Wahed added AI, or All-India, to ‘MIM’, which from thereon has remained the family’s fiefdom. There is no denying that the Owaisis feel embarrassed about the party’s provenance and have tried to recast its history through selective omissions.
Yes, the AIMIM’s website traces its “roots” to the late 1920s. Yes, it speaks of Yar Jung and his role in shaping the party. But it completely glosses over the fact that the MIM spawned Razakars, the dubious role of Qasim Razvi in the tumultuous 1940s, and that he handed over the MIM to the Owaisis.
In contrast, the AIMIM says, “After almost a decade of inactivity, the Majlis was revived in 1958 by Maulwi Abdul Wahed Owaisi, a notable lawyer… who was earlier jailed for ten months for his courageous political activities in defending the rights of the people. (italics mine)”
This seems a political spin – Abdul Wahed was arrested under the Preventive Detention Act, 1950 and his “courageous political activities” included “rousing or attempting to rouse communal passions and creating or attempting to create panic, resentment or hatred in the minds of the Muslims against the State and the non-Muslims as disclosed by his speeches made by him in public meetings.”
Obviously, the state can misconstrue a courageous action as subversive and communal in nature. Nevertheless, the AIMIM’s reimagining of its past, in many ways, mirrors that of the RSS.
Like the AIMIM, the RSS has tried to underplay the chilling ideological formulation of its second sarsanghchalak, Guru Golwalkar, who had declared that the Muslims either had the option of being assimilated into the Hindu fold or accepting the status of second class citizen. Then again, it disowns the assassin of Mahatma Gandhi, Nathuram Godse, yet its own government felicitates his mentor, Vir Savarkar.
No wonder the rise of the BJP, or the Hindu Right, has also brought into prominence the AIMIM, which represents the Muslim Right. Like Siamese twins, they stalked the country before Independence, and they still continue to do now.
The Hindu Right and the Muslim Right gain from each other, electorally as well as ideologically. Their tactics too are similar. In 2007, the AIMIM cadres sought to assault Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasrin. In the same vein, the RSS mutants never tire of imposing their idea of morality on the society, often violently.
Obviously, nobody can deny Owaisi the right to propagate his ideas and contest elections. But for the Muslim community its sternest test comes now: Should it rally behind the man who’s known for his erudition and the savoury biryani and kababs he serves to journalists but who, in his public speeches, often begins to resemble the Mahant Avaidyanath of the Muslims?
His rise will only provide a fillip to the politics of identity, from which the Hindu Right and the Muslim orthodoxy will only stand to gain. For the Muslims there is perhaps a lesson to learn from the film Garam Hawa, which shows Balraj Sahni’s family members, one after another, leave for Pakistan, out of their sense of being discriminated against.
In the end, Sahni and his son, Farook Sheikh, too decide to leave India. On their way to the railway station they come across a protest march demanding jobs. Sheikh and, eventually, even Sahni join the march, rescinding their decision to migrate to Pakistan.
Might not the Muslims consider this last scene of Garam Hawa as an option? Indeed, their future depends on combining with those engaged with the politics of interest than following leaders stoking their insecurities.
Updated Date: Nov 24, 2014 14:43:22 IST