Controversy never seems to leave Asaduddin Owaisi, the articulate leader of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM). Win or lose, the combative leader has a lot of explaining to do and a lot of clarifications to issue.
For instance, in the recent Assembly election in Bihar, the AIMIM won an unprecedented five seats Yet, Owaisi has been accused of splitting the secular vote to the disadvantage of the Mahagathbandhan headed by the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD). It has even been implied that the vote for Owaisi’s party enabled the National Democratic Alliance to form a government at the cost of the secular conglomeration.
In an interview to Frontline , Owaisi reeled out statistics to buttress his contention that he provides an alternative to the minority communities, adding that he is contesting elections as a right and that he is not there to merely bring up the numbers. Excerpts:
How do you look at the Bihar mandate? Moreso because for the first time, AIMIM has got five seats in the state.
We are quite happy that Allah has been merciful and that the people of Bihar in general, and Seemanchal in particular, have voted for our candidates. We are grateful to them. It increases our responsibility. But it also gives us confidence for other battles ahead.
Also read: COVER STORY | Asaduddin Owaisi's AIMIM emerges as a force to reckon with
But was it not on expected lines, considering the effort put in on the ground by the likes of Akhtarul Iman (the party’s Bihar face who won from Amour defeating Jaleel Mastan of the Congress) and others?
Yes, but one still has to convert that into votes. Sometimes the work gets wasted. Definitely Akhtarul Iman and his team, and our party observer from Hyderabad, Majid Hussain, have been working for the last five years. So, credit has to be given to them. Importantly, that work converted into votes. That is the most important aspect. They presented a clear choice before the voters.
While you have been successful in making your presence felt in pockets of Seemanchal, how come you have not met with much success elsewhere? For instance, in Kishanganj the party lost.
Yes, that is a fact. It is true. We will check and do some introspection, and definitely, there must have been some weakness of our own. Maybe we were not able to communicate well enough with the voters. We will have to find out and work on them.
Also read: COVER STORY | Left parties and AIMIM: Emerging forces in Bihar politics
Due to this success, the impression that goes to the common man is that the AIMIM is a political party of a certain section. More so when one realises the formidable presence of Muslims in the Seemanchal area.
No, that is not the case. There are many impressions. As long as we do our work with the right intention, it should not matter. If Imtiaz Jaleel can win from Aurangabad, anything is possible. Remember, other parties were not able to dislodge the Shiv Sena from there for the last 23 years. So, to me the impression does not matter. What really matters is how good we can do our work, organise, communicate, etc. These are the important things for me, not a fleeting impression.
For the first time we saw you have an alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in Bihar as part of the larger GDSF. So, is the way forward an alliance between Muslims and Dalits, like the way Lalu Prasad did with Muslims and Yadavs three decades ago?
To be honest, we had formed an alliance with the Samajwadi Janata Dal Democratic led by Devendra Yadav sahab. Before that, Mr Upendra Kushwaha of the Rashtriya Lok Samta Party had already formed an alliance with the BSP, [Om Prakash] Rajbhar and other two parties. Later on, we became part of that alliance. I am thankful to Mr Upendra Kushwaha for taking us along. So, that alliance was made exclusively for Bihar. I cannot say about what will happen in Uttar Pradesh. But definitely, we want to take everybody along. Let us see what happens. This particular alliance was for Bihar alone.
Also read: COVER STORY | Lessons from the Bihar Assembly election
Having tasted success in a northern State, I guess your next destination will be Uttar Pradesh.
Many people are forgetting that in the last Assembly elections in U.P. in 2017 we had contested from some seats. We did not win any seat there. We contested the zila parishad and panchayat elections and we could win some seats there. But again, our organisational weaknesses were there, which Mr Shaukat Ali, our leader there, is working on. Hopefully, by the time the U.P. election happens, we will be much better placed than we were in the last Assembly election.
Not just U.P., we could fight in West Bengal too.
One thing which you would have faced on many platforms is the constant accusation that the AIMIM plays into the hands of the BJP by splitting the secular parties’ votes.
People can have their opinions, but I can tell you with empirical facts that out of the 20 seats that the AIMIM contested in Bihar, it won five seats. Among these 20 seats, six were won by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA)—three by the BJP, two by the Janata Dal (United) and one by the Vikassheel Insaan Party (VIP). The Mahagathbandhan won nine seats: the Congress won four, the RJD three and the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) two. In none of the seats where the AIMIM lost and the NDA won did it get more votes than the margin of victory of the NDA candidates. Where is the question of the AIMIM eating into the so-called secular vote and enabling the NDA to win? It is all humbug. It is a myth circulated to hide their failures.
Also read: COVER STORY | The Congress: Weakest link in the Mahagathbandhan
But there is plenty of news floating around on social media about how AIMIM candidates enabled the NDA romp home.
People can say what they want. They are entitled to their opinions. I talk with empirical data. The Congress-backed media can say even more. But the question that needs to be asked is: if the Congress contested 70 seats and could win only 19 or 20 seats, what happened to the remaining 51 seats? Who won from there? Let them give their record. I can tell for a fact that we defeated two MLAs of the party. What happened to the other 49 seats? Who won from there? That responsibility has to be laid at the door of the Congress. We cannot be responsible for their defeat. The Congress should be asked that question, not us.
Also, I would like to ask: why is it that the whole focus of the media is on the AIMIM and the Muslim vote? What about the Yadav vote? Why did the RJD’s tallest Muslim leader of Bihar, Abdul Bari Siddiqui, lose? Why did he not get the Yadav vote? You know whom he lost to?
The BJP-JD(U) candidate Murari Mohan Jha...
Yes, Abdul Bari Siddiqui lost to the BJP’s candidate (Murari Mohan Jha). Why did the RJD Muslim-Yadav combination not work there? Why didn’t the Yadav vote get transferred to Abdul Bari Siddiqui? Why don’t they debate how did the Brahmin vote? How did the Bhumihars vote? How did the Thakurs vote? And what about the Vaisyas? How did the Pachpanwa vote?
Why is it only about the Muslims? Does the community not have the right to decide for itself? This shows the intellectual dishonesty of the so-called secular parties and people who assume that Muslims are some sort of bonded labourers for them, that it is their birthright that they should vote only for secularism and Congress and its allies. It is not the responsibility of Muslims to keep these parties afloat.
Also read: COVER STORY | Nitish Kumar, the winning loser
Your view is that the parties you talk of have let the community down as all the benchmarks of the economy point out. The Muslims are among the poorest in the country. There is great unemployment and small-scale industries preferred by the community are on a downswing. Even Seemanchal is extremely poor.
Exactly. Now there is an awakening among the Muslims that their vote is getting wasted because these people, the so-called secular parties, do not have the political wherewithal to stop the BJP. In the process, in the last many years the development issues of the community have not been addressed, the issues of leadership have not been addressed. Young leadership has not been nurtured or given an opportunity. That is why there is a great awakening among the Muslim minorities that we need a political platform, a political voice. Hopefully, we can provide that voice if we continue to work hard and honestly. Bihar is a good beginning.
I understand you often call the BJP and the Congress two sides of the same coin. But which is the party should the the minorities be wary of today-the BJP or the Congress? Or is it a lose-lose situation?
The party to be wary of today are both. There is no difference between the BJP and the Congress. I repeat: they are two sides of one coin. Yes, the BJP is in power since 2014. But how did the BJP get there in the first place? It is only because of the Congress’ intellectual bankruptcy. It is because of the party having no ideology and resorting to practising soft Hindutva.
It is also a fact that since the BJP has come to power, fascism has grown in this country. Voices of dissent are being curbed, unconstitutional laws are being made on the basis of religion to deny citizenship to Muslims. It is a fact. But what can Muslims do to counter this? We cannot just sit idle, cry and worry. We have to take the bull by its horns, become a political voice. So far, the community has been giving votes. Now it is time to take votes. Then only will things change. Then only will people realise that in a democracy, your voice will increase with greater representation in legislative bodies.
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