In the lead-up to the Telangana Assembly election, a war of words has been raging between Congress leaders and Asaduddin Owaisi, president of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM). Owaisi has accused Telangana Congress chief Revanth Reddy of being an “RSS man”, while Reddy has labelled Owaisi’s organisation the BJP’s “B-Team”.
The AIMIM has seven MLAs in the 119-seat Telangana Assembly. It has fielded candidates in nine constituencies in the upcoming election. Despite not being in a formal coalition, the AIMIM continues to support the ruling Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS, formerly TRS). In an exclusive interview with Frontline, Owaisi discussed his reasons for backing the BRS, minority welfare development, the AIMIM’s work in the old city, and its priorities. Excerpts:
The AIMIM continues to support the ruling BRS, which fought for a separate Telangana State. You were initially opposed to the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh, arguing that smaller States would provide fertile ground for the BJP. Has your stance evolved?
The threat of communalism and fascism still looms over us. It remains a threat because the BJP is in power, and they have won the [Lok Sabha] election twice. In Telangana, Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao has played a significant role in keeping the State peaceful over the past nine and a half years. As a regional player emerged in the form of the BRS [then TRS], we have been able to control it [communalism]. But it’s still there and is not limited to the BJP. It is also prevalent in the Congress. Our view on smaller States remains the same.
You advocate for secularism and oppose communalism. However, the AIMIM has been accused of being the other side of the BJP or even the BJP’s “B-Team” [by the Congress].
The Congress is in an open alliance with Uddhav Thackeray’s Shiv Sena [in Maharashtra]. It has conveniently forgotten the Shiv Sena’s role in the pre-and post-Babri Masjid demolition and the communal riots. The Srikrishna Commission report documented [Shiv Sena founder] Bal Thackeray’s role [in these events]. Yet, we become communal because we oppose the Congress. That is why I say Rahul Gandhi suffers from political amnesia. I think he believes in the theory of [former US President] George Bush, that “either you are with us or against us”. It speaks volumes of their political arrogance and politics of entitlement.
What factors have contributed to the perception of relative peace in Telangana over the past nine-and-a-half years?
Firstly, a regional party holds power in Telangana, with goals and objectives that differ from those of the two national parties. Whenever either of the national parties, even if not in power, gains political influence, the demon of communalism becomes stronger.
Secondly, the people of Telangana have shown a lot of maturity in maintaining peace and harmony. Thirdly, the AIMIM deserves some credit for ensuring that fascist forces don’t find an opportunity to further their communal designs. To corroborate what I’m saying, when the Milad rally and Ganesh Chaturthi coincided on the same day [in October], Muslims voluntarily postponed their rally until two days after Ganesh Chaturthi. This sent a powerful message of unity and respect.
Fourthly, the administration, including the police department, has played a crucial role in effectively maintaining law and order. Overall, except for the two days of curfew in Bhainsa and the curfew imposed during the COVID pandemic, Telangana has enjoyed peace, progress, and prosperity.
You have praised the Telangana model of development. How has it helped change the lives of ordinary Muslims in Telangana over the past nine-and-a-half years?
I have had the opportunity to travel to several parts of India in connection with the AIMIM’s expansion. In States where the BJP is in power or is politically powerful, the feeling of uncertainty among Muslims is prevalent. This is not the situation in Telangana. People hold strong political views here. There is no threat to businesses here as no communal riots have happened. Muslim women and girls go about their day fearlessly. Hijab, halal, and so on are not seen as a threat. Muslim youth are not being harassed in the name of laws or accused of anti-national activity or extremism.
“In States where the BJP is in power or is politically powerful, the feeling of uncertainty among Muslims is prevalent. This is not the situation in Telangana.”Asaduddin OwaisiAIMIM party president
There is also a growing concern about increased profiling of Muslims, particularly in the context of the Chabutra Mission [of Telangana police, aiming to curb late-night loitering and public nuisance] and cordon-and-search operations. These actions have raised concerns about civil liberties. Does this profiling represent a concern for your party, and has it raised this issue with the BRS?
There is divided opinion about it among the people. Some localities would like it to continue, and others call it an invasion of privacy. Wherever most people in a locality say they don’t want it, we tell the police department not to do it. On other occasions, people have asked for it to ensure that untoward incidents don’t take place. There were many instances where we agreed that police should not interfere in what people do. Unfortunately, we were proven wrong. It is best to take it up based on what the people of a locality want.
Why has the AIMIM not expanded its electoral reach beyond Hyderabad to other constituencies with a sizeable Muslim population? There are around 45 such constituencies.
One view within the party was that we should expand and contest a few more seats. But a consensus evolved for only two additional seats: Rajendra Nagar and Jubilee Hills. We believe a third political player [BRS] is very much required. Hence, it was decided that the BJP and the Congress should be defeated. Otherwise, the politics of the 1990s will come back, which we don’t want to happen.
It is natural for senior leaders to have the political ambition to contest elections and become MLAs. It was a tough decision personally for me to convince them. But this was our decision, and, hopefully, we will be able to contest more seats in the future.
What are the prospects for increased representation of Muslim women in Indian politics? When might we see a female MLA candidate from the AIMIM party?
During the debate on the Women’s Reservation Bill in Parliament , we had asked for a quota for Muslim and OBC women. Let me remind you that the AIMIM fielded the late Humera Aziz from Secunderabad in the 2004 general election. We have a lot of women corporators and ex-corporators who are ready to take up greater responsibilities. The next step would be to have them contest the Assembly election and get them elected. Hopefully, we will be able to do that in the coming years.
The BRS government has spent nearly Rs.12,000 crore for minority welfare and development since 2014. How do you assess the effectiveness of this funding?
I will share the proportion of Muslim beneficiaries of the various schemes. Their share in the Kalyana Lakshmi and Shaadi Mubarak schemes was 21.23 per cent; minorities received nearly 47.26 per cent of the overseas scholarships; over 21 per cent of students enrolled in residential schools are Muslims; Aasara pensions (for vulnerable sections of society) are a bit lower (11.20 per cent); and the share of BPL cards is 13.88 per cent. The total budget spent on SC, ST, BC, and Minority Welfare was Rs.91,000 crore (since 2014). Of this, 13.18 per cent was the share of minorities. It shows that the schemes are reaching the minority population. Minorities in Telangana have realised that they can achieve this because of the political balance of power.
The thing that takes the community down is the lack of education of their kids. According to the Kundu Committee report, the primary reason for Muslim student dropouts is that the community doesn’t have financial wherewithal. No State ruled by the so-called secular parties is spending Rs.630 crore on Muslim education. This is not the case in Rajasthan, which has a similar percentage of Muslim population, but the budget was Rs.290 crore. Also, why did the Congress release a minority declaration for Telangana but not for Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, or Madhya Pradesh? It is because you have a strong political voice in the form of the AIMIM.
There are concerns regarding the underutilisation and uncertainty surrounding fund allocation for minority welfare initiatives. Some quarters have expressed the need for a dedicated sub-plan for minorities.
We are also worried about the release of funds. You are required to release funds every quarter to achieve the desired result. That is a bit lacking. I accept that more needs to be done to improve that. We have also been consistently demanding that a sub-plan should be there (to address the issue).
There is an allegation that the AIMIM is not developing the old city.
Please file an RTI and prove us wrong. Three years ago, we had a deluge in Hyderabad. Extensive nala widening work was undertaken in my parliamentary constituency. The Balkapur Nala diversion is ongoing at Rethibowli. We have 82 Basti Dawakhanas [hyperlocal health facilities]. Show me other parliamentary constituencies with similar works.
I got flak for my stand on Osmania General Hospital, with some saying I am against heritage. However, I am ready to support the government’s decision; whether it wants to demolish or construct a building, or keep it intact and build. Many poor people will benefit from improving the hospital. We will continue our work. That is why we win elections.
What are the AIMIM’s priorities for the next five years?
A road has to be constructed from Bapughat to Moosrarambagh along the Musi river because of the increasing traffic. Another priority is expediting Metro works and the IT tower project in Malakpet. Post-COVID, RTC buses aren’t plying to several localities, which is a problem for poor people. We will look into it. We also want to ensure that there are more 2BHK (double-bedroom flats for low-income families as part of Telangana’s social housing project) wherever government land is available. I apologise to the people of Bojagutta (where the 2BHK project is pending) who are living in squalid conditions. We will take it up. There are many more things we have to work for continuously.