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SEEMA MUSTAFA | 6 JANUARY, 2015

WHY THE OWAISI BROTHERS CAN ONLY HELP THE BJP

The Owaisi brothers


NEW DELHI: Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) president Asaduddin Owaisi has suddenly been catapulted centre stage after spending several years limited to his Lok Sabha constituency Hyderabad and occasional forays on Indian television. It is perhaps not a coincidence that his and his brother Akbaruddin’s political rise coincides with that of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the national level.

Is it that they are saying what the Muslims want to hear and have emerged as these brave warriors taking on the Hindu right wing groups? Or is that they are being supported by the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh for rhetoric that can only polarise and consolidate respective vote banks?

These questions have been raised ever since the MIM rise mid-last year and noticed in Maharashtra first where the two brothers addressed large public meetings and actually emerged triumphant from the recent Assembly elections with a couple of seats in the state. The MIM won Aurangabad Central and Byculla seat in Mumbai defeating Shiv Sena and BJP nominees respectively.

The two brothers dared what most political parties were hesitant to do at the time, and confronted PM Modi directly. The speeches were bold and brave, and led to considerable debate amongst journalists at the time as to why the response to the MIM leaders from the Shiv Sena and the BJP was not as sharp as expected. And how, when the smallest Facebook post unleashed the most virulent of right wing attacks, the campaign by the Owaisi brothers barely attracted a murmur from the political parties they were ostensibly taking on.

Nationalist Congress party chief Sharad Pawar said as much, and was strongly criticised by Asaduddin Owaisi. After Maharashtra the MIM has decided to build a base in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, two states with a significant Muslim population that is currently backing the local regional parties against the BJP. MIM presence through an aggressive Owaisi campaign could divide the Muslim vote to the advantage of the BJP in these two states.

However, while the questions of a MIM-BJP understanding do not have confirmed answers organisations like the MIM will clearly only help the BJP consolidate its vote bank.MIM speaks on a strictly Muslim platform, directing its comments for right wing minority consumption. And presents itself as a counter within a religious and not secular political paradigm, very much in the manner in which the BJP and its affiliates work.

The RSS announced the ghar wapsi program that earned it considerable flak from both within and outside the country. It was roundly criticised by all communities until now with Owaisi’s remarks stating that all Indians are Muslims and hence ghar wapsi can only be in that direction. These remarks have made the headlines, and let the RSS off the hook with Owaisi’s subsequent ‘clarification’ keeping the discourse well within the realm of religion and not the Indian constitution, “this is my belief. Remember, Islam denounces the use of force. Unlike Sangh Parivar outfits, which say that India will be 100 per cent Hindu by 2021 or Muslims are not nationalists and are stolen property, I am not threatening, coercing or offering people money."

Owaisi’s language is strong and direct, and hence is finding a new audience amongst sections of the Muslims, currently fearful and in some parts actively terrorised. It derives its legitimacy entirely from the religion and as his brother Akbaruddin said in one of his public meetings , “for those who say what one man in Parliament can do, remember Allah is also one.” Theirs is a clever mix of the Constitution, the law and an open appeal to the Muslims as a Muslim vote.

Speaking of the BJP Akbaruddin said at a meeting, “whenever they open their mouths they spew venom against Muslims---this BJP that was nothing before now is here in majority...what else has the BJP done?” My question to those who voted for Modi is ...is he a historian, socialist, economist, he could not even speak Mahatma Gandhi’s name, he killed the poor Muslims in Gujarat, that is how he came to power.” There is nothing that is not said by the Owaisi brothers, both powerful orators, both bold and courageous, but both addressing just the Muslims and slowly but gradually creating a platform based on religiosity.

This is dangerous politics that will weaken secularism as it joins the efforts of the right wing Hindutva brigade in legitimising the mix of religion and politics in both communities. Besides, the sharp rhetoric being used by both right wing groups feeds into the other, and sharpens the responses and the subsequent polarisation that is not healthy for a secular democracy. The creation of a Muslim fundamentalist platform can only be disastrous at this stage, and interestingly several Muslims have started questioning the intent and the politics of the MIM. In fact the question: are the Owaisi’s working with the BJP, is now being asked by Muslim intellectuals with a senior academic insisting that the rise of the MIM along with the rise of the BJP must not be dismissed as a coincidence.

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