Do the Owaisi brothers have a pan India potential?


“Maen na kehta tha ki mut dair o haram ki raah chul?
Ab yeh jhagra hashr tak Seikh o Barahman mein raha.”

(Did I not warn you, not to tread the path of the mosque and the mandir? Now this conflict between the Brahmin and the Sheikh will continue till Judgement Day.) — Mir Taqi Mir (1723-1810)

The two successes of Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen of Hyderabad in recent elections in Maharashtra may not affect government formation in Mumbai but reverberations will be felt in the nation’s politics for a long time.

Victories in Aurangabad and Byculla were awesome, ofcourse, for a first time entrant. Equally impressive was the fact that the MIM felt emboldened to field twenty four candidates. Of these, three came second and seven impressive thirds. In the last election, BJP and Shiv Sena had won seven seats. The MIM entry in the contest demolished the Congress totally and the BJP and Shiv Sena picked up 14 seats.

The Congress taunt is: look, you helped the BJP-Shiv Sena. That this calculated risk was taken by muslims, shows how irredeemably low the Congress has sunk in the community’s esteem. Time was when the BJP, under Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s leadership, would have been embraced by a community desperate to discard the Congress habit. But the Narendra Modi establishment has been indifferent to the muslims. It does not wish to come in the way of party president Amit Shah’s tactic of polarizing votes by targeting them. This method of building Hindu nationalism will remain in play so long as voters are required to be polarized in elections from state to state. Even as unlikely a state for communal politics as Tamil Nadu has not been spared the effort. An obscure terrorist module has been located even in this state to fuel the polarizing game.

The minorities are determined not to vote for the Congress, the NCP and are increasingly averse to the Samajwadi party and the Bahujan Samaj Party also. The BJP is equally resolute in building Hindu nationalism by targeting them. So, which way must the Muslims turn? There is nothing on the horizon which can threaten the BJP by an infusion of the Muslim vote. But the Muslim can be targeted for greater Hindu consolidation.

At their wit’s end, Muslims are unlikely to dream up grand strategies for the future. In a daze, they will stand still and acquiesce in the politics of the ghetto. In this mood, the bold rhetoric of the Owaisi brothers will captivate them.

Over the past decade the national mood has been determined by whatever choices the 24X7 channels make for highlighting on their prime time shows. These choices differ vastly from the fare available to the Urdu newspaper readership. Asaduddin Owaisi and Akbaruddin Owaisi are frontpage material for this audience, ofcourse. But even though the mainstream media ignored them, their lethal speeches have been carried extensively on the social media. Two parallel tectonic plates are moving. They may clash.

One of the factors behind the Samajwadi Party’s rout in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections were a barrage of deadly speeches by Asaduddin Owaisi carried on the social media after he was stopped from addressing a rally in Azamgarh on 1 February, 2014. The MIM had taken the Akhilesh Yadav government to task for a spate of communal riots in UP during the build up to the Parliamentary elections. He accused the SP as equal partners with the BJP in profiting from communal politics. While the BJP sought Hindu consolidation, said Owaisi, the SP tacitly encouraged an atmosphere of insecurity so that the Muslim voters turn to SP for protection.

Returning from the Dhule riots, 150 kms from Aurangabad in January 2013, I was surprised to hear Akbaruddin Owaisi’s speeches being played by young men on their mobile phones at a wayside tea stall. Owaisi brothers, it seemed, were like pop stars among Muslim youth.

The substance of Akbaruddin Owaisi’s speeches do cross red lines and are intemperate. Asaduddin is more composed. But together the two brothers represent an explosive style of oratory which went out of fashion since the days of the Parsee theatre.

In a mixed crowd their combative style could lead to violence. But they maintain their infectious tempo from behind the fortification of their Hyderabad ghetto. The social networks carry their oratory far and wide.

And now, encouraged by the market, the Owaisis are planning to open offices in UP, Bihar and West Bengal. Who knows, the potential for a dangerous politics may be developing, with the MIM orators knitting together hopeless Muslim ghettos, rather like a series of Bantustans, ensuring Muslim exclusion and, for that reason, explosive.

(Saeed Naqvi is a senior Indian journalist, television commentator, interviewer, and a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. Mr. Naqvi is also a mentor and a guest blogger with Canary Trap)

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