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Owaisi’s call for Muslim share in Indian politics is gaining momentum

IndiaOwaisi’s call for Muslim share in Indian politics is gaining momentum

The efforts of Muslim parties, especially the All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen, are gaining greater momentum for Muslim share in Indian politics recently. With the alliance of the Congress party with the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) in Kerala, All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) in Assam, and now with the Indian Secular Front (ISF) in West Bengal, the presence of Muslim parties on the political scene is finally being acknowledged as an important contender. The tables have turned now when other political parties are moving forward to ally with them, breaking traditional mindsets of the unattainability of Muslim political leadership.

History of Muslim share in Indian politics

The political representation of Muslims in India has always been poor. An objective assessment makes it evident that the political parties did not make any serious headway in the political arena. Muslim leadership was rarely given enough space to emerge with impact and political representation was always marginalized. That is why the problems of Indian Muslims today seem to be growing rather than getting resolved. Their identity crisis, economic and social backwardness, and inadequate representation in politics have always been the talk of the town.

Former President of India, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam said, “The bird is powered by its own life and by its motivation.” Somewhere, Muslim leaders were not motivated enough to rise up to build strong political leadership.

For the past one or two decades, some Muslim leaders have instead of relying on “secular parties”, started talking about Muslim share in Indian politics or “Muslim leadership” based on these issues. India’s secular parties are always accused of turning a blind eye to the educational, economic, and social problems of Muslims. And today, due to the growing influence of Hindutva politics, secular parties are blamed for avoiding Muslims even more and downsizing the political representation of Muslims. As a result, All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen, All India United Democratic Front, Peace Party of India and Indian Union Muslim League, Indian Secular Front, etc. have emerged and some reemerged.

AIMIM building up in West Bengal Assembly Polls

Asaduddin Owaisi, President of AIMIM (The All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen), Member of Parliament Lok Sabha (Hyderabad Constituency) Barrister-at-Law has been campaigning and addressing public rallies where he is emphatically voicing his opinions and concerns on West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, and the Muslim share in Indian politics.

He has also been expressing his thoughts in various interviews on the Congress, Left, and BJP saying that he finds no difference between the Congress and the BJP, where one declares their intents more openly while the other works stealthily and silently. He stated that while Mamata Banerjee and the Congress call him the B team of BJP, if it was ever proven, he would give Mamata Banerjee and her family 99% of the money and keep 1% for himself!

This year in the 2021 elections, AIMIM is campaigning from six seats in West Bengal, including Murshidabad where Mr. Owaisi campaigned for 2 to 3 days. Earlier, AIMIM did not get permission to campaign facing tough resistance to get there, but finally, with sheer determination, he did!

On the tough tussle to reach to a plateau in Bengal to contest in the six seats, he expressed that nothing upset him and he was used to all kinds of hurdles. He stoically announced his two candidates from the Uttar Dinajpur, and the Malda districts saying it was the fruit of their hard work and “Inshallah they will elect us through their love, faith in our governance. Inshallah. We will be working hard.”

He expressed anguished that in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Bengal comes third in the list of dishonorable distinctions for Muslim children who do not attend a school or they are school dropouts. He quoted statistics of 30 % of households in the districts of Murshidabad and Malda who work somewhere out of their places, of which, 50% of Muslim women roll bidis as a livelihood.

While the Bharatiya Janata Party has been working to establish a stronghold in Bengal by its number of Lok Sabha and Assembly seats, he expressed that AIMIM holds Mamta Bannerjee directly responsible for this surge of BJP in Bengal as she only strengthened BJP with her politics. He accused her of giving BJP big ground where now18 BJP won 18 of 42 Lok Sabha seats in Mamata’s citadel.”

Monopoly over Muslim votes

It’s a well-established fact that, first, the Left parties had had a monopoly on minority votes over the years, and then TMC in 2011, 2016 got votes from Muslims and other minorities but none of these parties did anything for the development of the minority communities. Mr. Owaisi says, “I don’t even have to say anything on this. The recent data of Mamata Banerjee’s work in Bengal development mirrors that she did not develop in her 10-year rule in Bengal. The majority of Muslims do not have jobs, a great percentage in jail, 16% of children are not in school simply because they did not have the financial means to afford schooling.

When AITMC offered a place for 40 Muslims as candidates for this election, Mr. Owaisi brushed it aside saying that these candidates were really voiceless and just puppets. Citing an example he mentioned the during the election manifesto when a minority minister was asked why no Muslim requirements were highlighted, the minority minister looked stunned and responded that he had no idea why they were not! Mr. Owaisi felt it was a clear indication that none of these representatives had any real power or authority.

He criticized Mamata Banerjee’s appeal to Muslims directly to keep their votes united appealing to them not to split the votes while she never told Hindus not to split their vote and asked why she never asks her “gotra” to vote for her. He accused her of “crass behavior, opportunism, hypocrisy, and communal behavior.” With disgust, he said that there was never a Muslim vote bank in India even though politicians expounded on it, and concluded that there was only the majority that has a vote bank that works for them, and this is how the work is going on.

Mr. Owasi said once, “Politicians should never say I’m a Muslim please vote for me. Instead, we should aspire for a more Muslim representation in our democracy. In the whole of South India, there are only 4 Muslim MPs. Is this secularism?”

Modi and Mamata – Two Sides of the Same Coin?

Mr. Owai takes jibe on both Mamta Banerjee and Mr. Modi saying that they were two sides of the same coin with PM Modi saying he is a Hindu nationalist and Mamata Banerjee saying she is a Hindu Brahmin and said humorously and here “we are stuck in the middle.” He also said that the politics of these parties in Bengal were exclusive or inclusive politics, revealing polarization and exposing who is catering to the majority votes. This is especially revealed with both parties fighting for a better legacy as a Hindu.

Some of the concerning events in Parliament was when the NRC CAA Bill was being passed, 8 TMC MPs were absent; they did not vote and walked out. During the Triple Talaq Act, once again, they walked out. “When they walk out, it seems they are supporting the government, this is their “match-fixing,” Mr. Owaisi drew in conclusion.

 BJP’s B-Team

Asaduddin Owaisi kept challenging Mamata Banerjee to explain what she did for Muslims over her ten-year reign over West Bengal asking her to show her report card. He specially asked her to show how many schools she has opened; how many hospitals did she make; how many water lines she constructed in Muslim areas. He questioned why 80% of rural Bengali Muslims are below the poverty line, why 38% of rural Muslims receive a low 2500 salary.

When being asked by a reporter why Mr. Owaisi was accused of directly or indirectly benefiting BJP during elections, he replied, “I am only contesting in 6 seats, what kind of match-fixing can I do? These parties shared power with BJP. On April 30, 2002, the motion went against Narendra Modi but they did not oppose it.”

He also shared how Mamata Banerjee acted in a very unparliamentarily way with the deputy speaker of the Akali Dal by throwing the papers down making a sharp declaration that, “Infiltration has come from Bangladesh,” revealing that in reality, her heart was not for the minorities, according to him.

From Hyderabad to West Bengal

Speaking on Mamata Banerjee’s taunting him for traveling from Hyderabad to West Bengal for the elections, insinuating that he from the south would know nothing of Bengal, Mr. Owaisi explained that the city of Hyderabad, which Mamata Banerjee was unaware of, has a history of good old connections with Bengal. He shared particularly about Ahmad Hasan Safrani who lived there had a great friendship with Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. He said that they both were in Germany and worked together. By this, he was augmenting a deeper connection between Hyderabad and Bengal, which Mamata Banerjee was trying to negate.

The AIMIM supremo also recalls a Nandigram incident, which he says that regrettably Mamata Banerjee conveniently forgets about. The Nandigram story occurred during the UPA government era when 40 Muslim MPs had decided to visit the disturbed Nandigram. There was a call from the PMO warning all the MPs not to go because the Left (communists) were enraged about something and violence was spilling out on the streets.

Recalling the incident, Mr. Owaisi said, “No one went to visit, but I went with Abdul Wahab, MP from Rajya Sabha from the Muslim League. And you know who came with us? Suvendu! When we were going on the motorcycle, the Left (activists) were throwing bombs (stones) towards us. When I got back, I got a call from Mamata Banerjee thanking me profusely saying, ‘Thank you Owaisi sahib for going to Nandigram, only you and Abdul came, nobody came.’ And now I became B-team? Well let it be, I got used to such talks. It doesn’t make any difference anymore.”

 Failed bid to ally with ISF

As in Bihar Assembly elections winning five assembly seats under the leadership of three times MLA Mr. Akhtarul Iman, the AIMIM went on a search for a Bengali-speaking candidate for its bid to build inroads into the West Bengal politics. For this, he had met with Furfura Sharif spiritual leader Mr. Abbas Siddiqui who was already trying to launch a Muslim-led party to work for his community’s upliftment.  After a series of speculations, Mr. Siddiqui finally allied his party with Congress and the Left.

Asaduddin Owasi, however, expressed that he does not regret this failed bid. He says with benevolence, “In my life, I don’t regret anything, everything happens for good. Yes, I am thankful to Peerzada Abbas Siddiqui, and Furfura Sharif, for being able to meet me and for giving me that respect, but it’s fine if he has taken a decision to go with the Congress and the Left.

He further expressed that in his opinion the Congress and Left were a spent force primarily responsible for the destruction of the Muslim community as far their education, social, and all policies went, doing nothing much for the Muslim community.

“Though Left had managed to keep BJP out of West Bengal’s political scenario, they too are equally responsible for the apathy of Muslim community in the state. The poor Muslims, then, headed towards Mamata Banerjee for a change but she also did the same. What’s even worst is that she did everything to grow fascist forces in the state.”

Tafheemur Rahman

AIMIM leader of Bihar and one of the key election strategists behind party’s Seemanchal victory, Mr. Tafheemur Rahman, actively working for education in Kishanganj, Bihar, considers Mamta Bannerjee as the culprit for allowing the surge of BJP in the state. Talking to the Hams Live News correspondent he said, “Though Left had managed to keep BJP out of West Bengal’s political scenario, they too are equally responsible for the apathy of Muslim community in the state. The poor Muslims, then, headed towards Mamata Banerjee for a change but she also did the same. What’s even worst is that she did everything to grow fascist forces in the state.”

 AIMIM’s Seemanchal Victory

The success of the Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen in Simanchal in the northeastern part of Bihar is due to the demographics there with a population of about 1 crore with a sociopolitical significance owing to the large proportion of Muslims in its population. These are Muslim-majority areas that have long been neglected by the ruling parties. The backwardness and underdevelopment of these areas reveal the reality of their condition. Therefore, any political party that tries to take the issues of this area seriously will succeed in these areas.

“As the secular parties did not care much for the development of Seemanchal, AIMIM was given the mandate in five seats aspiring for a change. In addition, mature leaders like Mr. Akhtarul Iman have played a key role in raising political awareness in the area. He is well aware of the issues.”

Dr. Sajjad Alam Rizvi

Dr. Sajjad Alam Rizvi, Associate Professor of History at the Presidency University says, “As the secular parties did not care much for the development of this area, AIMIM was given the mandate in five seats aspiring for a change. In addition, mature leaders like Mr. Akhtarul Iman have played a key role in raising political awareness in the area. He is well aware of the issues.”

“It is now necessary for winning Muslim parties to try to address Muslim issues with good planning. Instead of being just a tool in politics, claim to participate in politics on the basis of citizenship. Also, try to awaken political consciousness based on the education of Muslims. For this, there should be a think tank of Muslim intellectuals. And try to determine the course of action according to the circumstances,” Dr. Rizvi added.

Counter views and counter polarisation

There are also counter views from a section of Muslim academia as expressed by the Ex-JNUSU Gen. Secretary (SFI-AISF) Dr. Shamshad Ahmad Khan (Ex-research follow ICWA, New Delhi), “Rather than Owaisi’s call for Muslims greater representation in Parliament or assemblies, it is the first past post the system which is compelling Congress or other regional parties to forge an alliance with Muslim led parties. These parties have learnt that despite BJP’s increased vote share, it does not want to go to the polls without smaller allies. Take the example of UP where it allied with Apna Dal or in Jharkhand where it allied with AJSU and in Bihar where it allied with HAM and VIP. If BJP increases its vote share by two to three percent by offering few seats to them and as has been noticed especially in assembly elections where victory margins have been thousands to five hundred votes, these alliance matter a lot.”

“Rather than Owaisi’s call for Muslims greater representation in Parliament or assemblies, it is the first past post the system which is compelling Congress or other regional parties to forge an alliance with Muslim led parties…”

Dr. Shamshad Ahmad Khan

“Moreover, the Muslim parties either in Assam or Bengal are concentrated in few pockets. In the past, these regions have sent Muslims to parliament or assembly. So forming a Muslim party is not likely to increase the representation much. It is just changing the political hat these Muslim representative has done or doing,” he added.

A senior professor of Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, also does not favor the MIM style of polarized Muslim politics. With the condition of anonymity, he not only expresses fear of the counter polarization but also considers such identity politics as one of the key factors for the strength of BJP in national politics.

Congress is responsible for bringing Modi to power?

As the seventh phase of polling in the West Bengal Assembly is going on, party observer for West Bengal Assembly elections Mr. Akhtarul Iman believes that his candidates will get a mandate in their respective constituencies. Though, he acknowledges that the party is in an introductory phase in the state, which is making all its effort to make inroads to the state politics. Speaking to the Hams Live Urdu correspondent Mr. Iman said, “We aimed at performing well in this election and our candidates are making a good effort, though our activities were somehow affected by the Covid pandemic. However, we got to come across the situation of minorities very closely during the campaign where they don’t dare to think of fighting election even in areas where as much as 70 percent of the population is constituted by them.”

After intensified efforts working on various elections – ranging from Lok Sabha to Bihar assembly polls to Hyderabad and Gujarat local elections, AIMIM seems to be all set for Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections. The party has also contested five years back, is politically active on the ground, and will be sharing their list of candidates for the upcoming Assembly elections, which they consider as their main battleground ahead of them.

“…we got to come across the situation of minorities very closely during the campaign where they don’t dare to think of fighting election even in areas where as much as 70 percent of the population is constituted by them.”

Akhtarul Iman

A famous quote by Asaduddin Owaisi reveals his inclusive heart in the political arena when he said, “Radicalization of any community is a cause of concern. The evil ideology of ISIS is a threat to mankind and not only to India. We have democracy and we should seek our rights through the democratic mechanism. I don’t believe in euphemisms such as a wonderland as propagated by ISIS.”

“The majority of Hindus are secular but they get carried away by a leader who speaks well. I also blame the Congress because they failed to put up a formidable opposition. Congress was responsible for bringing Modi to power.”

“It is the weak executive which does not know how to govern that has allowed the judiciary to legislate.”

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