"The Bihar plunge into the election was haphazard, it was like jumping into fire,'' says Asaduddin Owaisi, Hyderabad MP and president of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen (AIMIM). "But Uttar Pradesh has been a more organised affair.''
Owaisi has just got back to Delhi after spending the better part of the last two months campaigning in the heat and dust of UP. For someone who knows every nook and corner of Hyderabad like the back of his hand, UP is comparatively a geographical stranger. But contesting in 38 Assembly seats has been a good debut, he believes.
"I made life hell for secular parties. Congress leaders were cursing me because without any effort, I could mobilise up to 5,000 people for each one of my public meetings. What is important is that 90 percent of that crowd was youth in the age group of 18 to 25,'' says Owaisi.
Owaisi knows that is precisely the reason why he is branded an 'Amit Shah ka aadmi' who has made forays into Bihar and UP only to take away a part of the Muslim vote and thereby help the BJP in a closely-contested fight.
"Take the example of Amaravati or Solapur municipal corporation in Maharashtra. In both the cities, the BJP secured a majority in the 23 February election,'' points out Owaisi. "The Congress blames us for splitting the Muslim vote but the reality is that the Hindu vote of the Congress has moved over to the BJP.''
Owaisi on many occasions has also pointed out that his party never contested in Odisha, Jammu and Kashmir, Delhi, Haryana where too the Congress suffered humiliating losses. "This is a feudal mindset,'' he points out. What he means is that the Congress bosses think that the AIMIM is just a Hyderabad party that should not dare spread its wings beyond the city.
"If I do not try now in the prime of my life, when will I,'' asks the 47-year-old politician, happy with the response that he has managed to generate. He refers to his campaigning in Firozabad and claims the crowds of 25,000 to 30,000 made Samajwadi Party's Ramgopal Yadav so nervous that he was seen moving around in the town that he considers his political bastion, for two days after Owaisi's meetings. "The people were saying Ramgopal Yadav was brought to the road by Owaisi,'' chuckles the Hyderabad MP.
Disgruntled leaders in the SP have reportedly opened channels of communication with the MIM leadership in UP. The party may or may not win a seat in the fiercely contested elections but Owaisi believes the foray into the electoral maidan has opened up opportunities for his party, for him to tap them in 2019 and beyond. The real fight, he believes, is two years from now and a decent vote share could see Owaisi as part of a rainbow coalition during the Lok Sabha polls in India's largest state.
Contrary to the Lutyens media making the UP battle a BJP vs SP-Congress affair, Owaisi believes it will be a mistake to write off Mayawati. The BSP has given tickets to 100-odd Muslim candidates and in a state divided on caste and community lines, the Dalit + Muslim + non-Yadav vote combo, Owaisi reasons, will be a potent force.
Owaisi says UP is more a BJP vs BSP battle. He bases this on the anti-incumbency against sitting SP MLAs and the dissident factor in the form of Shivpal Yadav, Owaisi does not think too much of the SP-Congress chances. "Over 40 of the seats given to the Congress have a significant Dalit presence. I doubt if the Congress can really match up to the BSP in those seats,'' he says.
The MIM leader also feels Akhilesh Yadav is overplaying the development card. "Whether we like it or not, in a polarised election, caste, religion, money power, muscle power, all play a part,'' he says. During his travels, Owaisi says he also found considerable respect for Mulayam Singh Yadav in the rural areas. How that plays out in the context of the bitter family feud that preceded the elections, is anyone's guess.
As far as the BJP is concerned, Owaisi reckons Prime Minister Narendra Modi's extended focus on Varanasi and the presence of 20-odd central ministers gave away the party's nervousness.
Like all pollsters, Owaisi of course adds a caveat that he could go horribly wrong because he is still in the process of discovering UP, that he admits can be a politician's graveyard.
Updated Date: Mar 08, 2017 18:36 PM