Interview: Asaduddin Owaisi

Asaduddin Owaisi: Muslims are looking at alternatives

Print edition : November 22, 2019

Asaduddin Owaisi, AIMIM President. Photo: PTI

Interview with Asaduddin Owaisi, president, AIMIM.

The All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) has emerged as the surprise winner in the byelection to the Kishanganj Assembly seat in Bihar, a seat that had been held by the Congress party since 1967. With a view to expanding its base in other parts of India, it is planning to contest all the seats in the forthcoming Jharkhand Assembly election. Asaduddin Owaisi, AIMIM president, says the time is right for his party to look at the larger picture because the so-called secular parties, especially the Congress, have betrayed Muslims in the name of secularism. “Muslims across the country are realising that the secular parties have only used them as vote banks and taken them for a ride in the name of secularism. They have failed to talk about issues concerning us. The Congress believes in the politics of entitlement. It feels that Muslims, Dalits and other minorities would vote for it by default as they have no other option. Akhir kab tak ye log bewakoof banayenge hum logon ko [How long will they make fools of us]? There is gradually a realisation among people at the ground level.” Excerpts from an interview:

Kishanganj was a Congress seat that had fallen vacant after the sitting MLA, Javed Mohammad, contested and won the recent Lok Sabha election. What explains your party’s victory there?

We have been working in that area for the last five years. In the 2015 Assembly election too, we fielded candidates in six Seemanchal seats, but we could not win any. If we had not fielded our candidate in the last Lok Sabha election, the Janata Dal (United) would have won that seat. Our candidate secured an impressive three lakh votes. Though the Congress won this seat, and this was the only seat they won in Bihar, by a margin of 50,000 votes, it was because we managed to get some votes which might have gone to the JD(U). The JD(U) would have won the Kishanganj Lok Sabha seat by a huge margin because the Congress has no votes there.

The Congress party has lost the people’s trust. People are gradually realising that they are being taken for a ride by the Congress and other so-called secular parties. The JD(U), for example, which claims to be a secular party, has switched sides so many times that people no longer know what it stands for.

During Nitish Kumar’s rule, there have been so many communal disturbances and riots, but he has not taken any action. His secular credentials are suspect. During the Gujarat riots, he was a Minister in the Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP]-led National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre. In 2015, he fought the election as part of an alliance with the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress, and then joined hands with the BJP. Our people feel betrayed and are looking at alternatives now. But I give full credit to our Bihar team led by Akhtarul Islam and Aftab, who slogged day and night. I did not address even a single meeting there, but they managed it on their own because we have won the people’s trust.

But you have often been accused of splitting the opposition votes, helping the BJP win in the process?

This is a canard being spread by a section of the intelligentsia. We did not contest in Haryana; then why did the Congress not win enough seats to defeat the BJP? Nobody accuses Yogendra Yadav of splitting the votes though he contested the election in Haryana. We contested only 44 seats in Maharashtra. Why did the Congress not win a majority of the remaining 244 seats?

The fact of the matter is that the Congress has lost the trust of the Muslim community. Whatever seats it has won has come to it by default because they did not even campaign properly. In Maharashtra, the Nationalist Congress Party did all the legwork, they slogged, while the Congress party’s campaign was extremely lacklustre, ambiguous on crucial issues and remained distanced from real issues on the ground. They never even once mentioned the PMC Bank scandal. They sounded confused on Kashmir. They have simply lost it.

In Haryana, they won only because of [Bhupinder Singh] Hooda. It is his personal victory, not of the Congress’. The Congress has lost its vote base.

The accusation that we split the votes is evidence of a mindset which wants to see Muslims only as a chattel, a vote-giving machine, without expecting anything in return. Neither the Congress nor the other so-called secular parties and the intelligentsia actually want Muslims’ empowerment. If I lead a party that splits the votes, what was the opposition’s grand alliance doing in Begusarai during the Lok Sabha election? They facilitated the victory of that hard-line Hindutva leader [Giriraj Singh] over that boy [Kanhaiya Kumar] by splitting the anti-BJP votes.

Calling me a B or C team of this or that party has become the favourite pastime of a huge section of the media. It only displays extreme hatred for real Muslim empowerment. The fact is the Muslim community is fed up with those paying only lip service [to their welfare]; they want effective voices that can stand up for their rights. What explains the fact that not a single Muslim has won even one Lok Sabha seat in Gujarat in the last 30 years? Why is there no introspection in the Congress party as to why it is not getting Muslim votes? I am getting phone calls from so many prominent Congress leaders in Gujarat inviting me there.

So is Gujarat your next destination? Are you looking at expanding your party at the all-India level? Your party is already active in Jharkhand too.

I am not saying that I will head towards Gujarat next. I am only trying to make a point that Muslims across India are looking to us now. My focus would be on Maharashtra, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh for the time being. We contested 44 seats in Maharashtra and won two, but I was expecting a better performance.

Yes, Jharkhand is definitely on the cards. Recently, I went there for a public meeting and was extremely surprised that thousands turned up for the meeting and remained glued through the meeting despite pouring rain. Yes, we will contest all the seats in Jharkhand. We may contest all the seats in Bihar as well in the forthcoming Assembly election.

Since your social base consists of mainly of those who used to vote for the Congress party earlier, have you been approached by anybody in the Congress party for a possible tie-up?

The Congress is a big party; we are small people. They cannot stoop to talk to people like us. No, I am not talking to anyone in the Congress party though I was steadfastly with them since 1998 to 2012. Frankly speaking, it is because of the Congress party that Modi government has returned to power. They [Congress] are no match for Modi, but they will never accept it or learn from their mistakes. Yeh kabhi nahi sudharenge [they will never improve]. The Congress party believes in the politics of entitlement. They actually believe that Muslims, Dalits and minorities will vote for them by default when they are too fed up with the BJP, and they actually get the votes by default only, as it happened in Maharashtra and Haryana.

Looking at your expansion plans, what is your take on alliances with other like-minded parties?

I am open to the idea of alliances, provided it is beneficial to both sides. I will join hands with anyone who will help me achieve my aim of getting Muslims empowered.