AIMIM president Asaduddin Owaisi asserts that his party is contesting Bihar polls because of the ‘pathetic’ conditions of Muslims in the state, questions PM Modi’s ‘twisted view’ of Islam and his comment on shlokas and secularism in Ireland, and warns the Congress against practising ‘soft Hindutva’
Why Asaduddin Owaisi
Asaduddin Owaisi is a three- time MP from Hyderabad who recently announced that his party, the AIMIM, will field candidates in the Seemanchal region of Bihar for the coming Assembly elections. This is his second foray outside Andhra Pradesh. Last year, AIMIM had won two seats in the Maharashtra Assembly elections.
ABANTIKA GHOSH: Even before you decided to contest in Bihar, there was a lot of talk that your entry would benefit the BJP. Was that one of the considerations?
This is a completely wrong argument and wrong allegation against me, because even though I didn’t contest
in Delhi, the Congress was wiped out. I didn’t contest in Jharkhand, J&K, Haryana, still the Congress lost. So it is a completely wrong argument and wasn’t weighing us down.
ABANTIKA GHOSH: What factors made you contest in Bihar?
We first took a decision that we will contest in Seemanchal because the Purnea region in Bihar is the most backward region and the empirical data is very clear. So we thought that we should focus on the upliftment of Seemanchal.
MANEESH CHHIBBER: Many say your entry into Bihar is a vote division tactic. What is your response?
My response to them is that I have this NSSO (National Sample Survey Organisation) data and it cannot lie. You can attach many reasons to my contesting or not contesting elections in Bihar, but this data shows that the economic index, education index, health index are pathetic as far as Muslims and Dalits are concerned. And if you look at the four districts of Seemanchal, they fare much worse on these counts. Compare Seemanchal with the district of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, his district is way ahead.
Secondly, there is an argument that if we contest we will benefit the BJP. Of the 24 seats in Seemanchal, 13 the BJP has already won, five MLAs are from the JD(U).
MANEESH CHHIBBER: Do you think Nitish is secular?
If you see his political journey, when the Bhagalpur riots (1989) happened, Jagannath Mishra (former Congress leader and Bihar CM, now with the JD-U) quoted Nitish Kumar’s speech in the Lok Sabha, in which Nitish said that it was the Ansaris and the Sultans who were responsible for the riots. When Godhra happened (2002), he was the railway minister and he contested the 2009 elections with the BJP. So as far I am concerned, I don’t see the difference between Narendra Modi, Advani, the RSS or the BJP.
Going back to the Bhagalpur riots, in 2005 Nitish came into power (in Bihar), and it took him 10 years to bring out a commission report (the Justice N N Singh Inquiry Commission report was tabled in the Bihar Assembly in August 2015). And what does the commission report say? No one knows. So secularism… Maybe I am the only communal politician in India, everyone else is secular.
HARISH DAMODARAN: But you supported the UPA government during the nuclear deal debate in 2006. What has changed since then?
I continue to say on record that Manmohan Singh was the only prime minister who did something positive for the upliftment of the Muslim community. His first tenure was great, but during his second tenure he completely forgot what he had started in 2004-09. The Sachar Committee was formed (in 2005), the report came out, the minority affairs ministry was formed, all that was good. But when it came to 2009-14, they completely forgot everything.
LIZ MATHEW: Your brother Akbaruddin Owaisi is infamous for his hate speeches. So what does your party stand for, your voice or your brother’s voice?
It is not about my voice or his voice, but we have to represent what the Constitution says. He is facing cases, but if Varun Gandhi can get justice, so can my MLA. It (is not that) we are just a party for Muslims. Yes, we want empowerment for the Muslims, but we want them for the other weaker sections too, like the Dalits.
MANOG CG: You never made a real attempt to grow beyond Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh. Then why the hurry to go to Maharashtra or Bihar?
Even now there is so much hue and cry (about the AIMIM contesting in Bihar and Maharashtra), imagine what would have happened had we gone 10 years ago. But yes, we feel that organisationally we are strong in Telangana and Andhra, so now we can go ahead in other states. Everyone has a dream to expand, it is natural.
MANEESH CHHIBBER: Since this government has come to power, Vice- President Hamid Ansari has been questioned over various issues. Do you think he is being singled out because he is a Muslim?
Definitely, going by the tweets of Ram Madhav, general secretary of the BJP who comes from the RSS, and the controversy over him (Hamid Ansari) not saluting the national flag. So yes, deliberately there is an attempt to project him in a certain way. Hamid Ansari is a scholar who has represented India in various capacities, it is wrong to portray him like this.
MANEESH CHHIBBER: Do you think the minorities are facing a threat in the country under the present government?
As per the Constitution, you cannot threaten anyone, there should be the rule of law. But in the last 15 months, the statements emanating from the ruling party and the latest statement of the Culture Minister (Mahesh Sharma) that ‘Kalam despite being a Muslim was nationalist’, speak volumes about the mindset of the government. Even the PM’s statement, when he was welcomed by shlokas (in Ireland), that had this been in India it would have become an issue of secularism… how is reciting shlokas a secular issue? Meat ban is a secular issue, not giving reservation to backward communities in Maharashtra despite the Bombay High court saying so is a secular issue, saying Quran and Bible are not the aatma of this nation is a secular issue. When the PM said in Parliament that we got this power after barah sau saal ki gulami (slavery of 1,200 years), that is a secular issue.
AJAY SHANKAR: What do you have to say about the increasing influence of the Islamic State (IS) in India?
All this is thanks to America because they left Iraq in a mess, they started something in Syria and could not deliver. So now you have this evil, draconian force over there. Their (IS) social media campaign is very good for attracting impressionable minds.
But I don’t think the problem in India is very huge. The problem is bigger in western countries such as the US, Australia, France. People from these countries have gone in thousands to join the IS. But the Muslim community will have to state their exact position — that what the ISIS is doing is wrong. ISIS is a threat, and it is there for everyone to realise it.
SHALINI LANGER: Since the Congress wipeout, there is a perception in the party that maybe their pro-minority image hurt the party. Do you think the Congress has hurt the cause of secularism or benefited it in any way?
Good luck to them if they practise soft Hindutva, nothing will be left.
I don’t know if they are supporting minorities. If you go to Maharashtra, in terms of representation in jails, there are higher number of Muslims over there. Earlier you had the Congress-NCP rule, and the Rahman Committee report (on the condition of Muslims in Maharashtra) came out which showed that close to 90% Muslims were in BPL (below poverty line) segment. So on ground nothing has happened and it was one of the reasons for us to enter the state in 2012.
I feel that there needs to be an ideological difference with the BJP. Now, if you want to become as popular as Mr Modi, good luck to you, because then whatever remnants of difference (in ideology) are there, these will be wiped out. I am sure with what Digvijaya Singh is doing, he is taking them down a path of complete destruction. He has been CM for 10 years and he tweeted a morphed photograph of me and Mohan Bhagwat (the RSS chief), saying that these two personalities are destroying the social fabric of this nation. I replied to Digvijaya Singh saying that when the first idol was installed in Babri Masjid, who was the PM and who was the CM, didn’t that threaten the social fabric? When the locks of Babri Masjid were opened, who was the PM and who was the CM? When the Bhagalpur riots happened, which party was in power? When the Hashimpura riots happened, who was in power? When his own son got married, he proudly poses with PM Modi. So I don’t understand this.
For me PM Modi, both politically and privately, is away. I don’t differentiate between my political life and private life. This is what the Congress party is doing and if they don’t control it, it will become malignant.
RAJ KAMAL JHA: In every state there are regional forces that are strongly defined as representing the Muslim interest. So what is different about your politics of representation — what do you tell the Muslim voter and what do you tell the Hindu voter?
I try to explain to them the kind of injustice that has happened under the rule of other parties. Recently, newspapers carried a commission’s (Justice Vishnu Sahay Commission) report on Muzaffarnagar (the riots). Now, that report says that the ruling party itself was involved (in the riots) that uprooted 50,000 Muslim families, completely destroying their way of life. Despite being in power, despite having 60-odd Muslim MLAs, no one in the Samajwadi Party could stop it. For the first time in India’s history you do not have a Muslim MP from Uttar Pradesh, but you have five members from one Yadav family, from one party being elected. In Bihar, you had 15 years of Lalu rule but nothing has changed on the ground, or in Nitish rule, where you have just 42% literacy. So these are the real issues and these political parties are not understanding that these are issues which the Muslim youth wants addressed. Sweet talk, wearing a skull cap or not wearing one, sending a chaadar to Ajmer, hosting an Iftar party, they don’t work now.
ABANTIKA GHOSH: We carried stories from Bihar which showed that incidents of riots are going up there. Do you fear something similar to Muzaffarnagar happening in Bihar?
The report in The Indian Express clearly shows the kind of governance that the ruling party is practising. How can you allow so many incidents to happen? Of course, there are forces which want to polarise, and the RSS and the Sangh Parivar have mastered this art of having a localised conflict and then controlling it then and there. So it doesn’t spread everywhere, but the polarisation effect stays.
SHAILAJA BAJPAI: What do you think about the renaming of roads in Delhi, especially Aurangzeb Road, and what is your own view of Aurangzeb?
You want to become a member of the UN Security Council and you want to change the name of a road. Good luck to Mr Modi. Why don’t you change Khalil Gibran’s (Lebanese-American artist, poet, and writer) name in the US and name it after some yogi?
History has to be read in a dispassionate way. You might disagree with Aurangzeb, I might agree with him. But why view it from a religious prism? Aurangzeb had Hindu generals, Aurangzeb had Muslim generals. But to say that he was good, he was bad, god knows where we are heading. Theory of Relativity was also found somewhere else (after all), now yogic farming will happen.
ASHUTOSH BHARDWAJ: You said that even after 69 years, secular and nationalistic credentials of Muslims are questioned. How much blame for this should go to the Muslim community and its leaders?
There is no Muslim leadership. Where is our leadership? At the time of Independence we (Muslims) said, hum aapke hawale hain, kariye hamara accha (we are dependent on you, look after our welfare). Where is the Muslim leadership, how can you blame the Muslims? Yes, you can blame Muslim leaders for not doing any introspection. Because after being deceived for 10-15 years, we should have realised that these people cannot do their work.
ASHUTOSH BHARDWAJ: Aren’t you playing victim then?
Parties who are in power are not doing justice, how can I play a victim? I am asking, ‘Where is my share in development?’. How is it that five Yadavs become MPs from one party, how is it that the upper caste representation has never gone down in Parliament, why is it that my (Muslim) representation has not gone beyond 7%? So these are the questions that the parties in power must answer.
UDIT MISRA: Why is the Muslim voice not articulated well at the national level?
The Muslims have to take some responsibility for not being able to articulate the real issues. But the other fact is that the political parties don’t allow Muslims from their own party to speak . After every speech of mine in Parliament, the other Muslim MPs come to me to say bahut achcha bole aap, hum nahi bol sakte (You spoke very well, we can’t speak like this). I ask them why? They say that party naraaz ho jayegi (the party will get angry).
HARISH DAMODARAN: Do you think Dalits and Muslims are natural allies? Do you see yourself aligning with a party like the BSP?
I definitely see a future where Muslims and Dalits should come together socially and politically. It is the need of the hour. As far as their problems and issues are concerned, it is very similar to Muslims. That is why my great dream is, that Muslims and Dalits come together. As for an alliance with the BSP, it is too early to answer that question.
UDIT MISRA: Since you are seen as a Muslim leader, how do you reach out to the Hindu electorate? They might have suspicions.
If you come to my office, you will see that, if there are 200 people there, at least 70 are non-Muslims. Maybe we have to do more to clear any misunderstanding. But let me reiterate that I am not anti-Hindu, I am anti-RSS, I am anti-Hindutva forces and I take pride in that. But I am not anti-Hindu at all.
SEEMA CHISHTI: What do you think about the sectoral view of Islam that the security agencies take? And what about the phrase jihadi terror?
The Prime Minister unfortunately has a very twisted understanding of Islam. He speaks about ‘Sufi Islam (on his radio programme Mann Ki Baat in August 2015)’. Islam itself is peace, he could have asked someone working in his office to explain to him. It is a very clever way of dividing the Muslim community, saying that the Sufis are good and the non-Sufis are bad. This statement damaged him more.
When the PM speaks as a rockstar at the Dubai stadium, saying there is no good Taliban, bad Taliban, so is Aseemanand good or bad? Is Sadhvi Pragya good or bad or is Colonel Purohit good or bad (all 2006 Malegaon blasts accused)? Why isn’t this government appealing against the bail given to the accused in the Mecca Masjid blast (2007)?
Jihadi terrorism is a very subjective term and used very conveniently by the security agencies. If I say something, I become a jihadi; if I contest, I am helping them.
ANANT GOENKA: In a hypothetical scenario, if there were to be a situation somewhere in the near future that we have reservation not on religion, community, or caste lines, but on income, would you support it?
In a realistic scenario, that can never happen because the Constitution does not allow it. You have the Kesavananda Bharati case (that outlined the Basic Structure doctrine of the Constitution), you have various Supreme Court constitutional judgments, this will never happen. This is a trial, what is happening in Gujarat, it is a trial, these are all laboratories of Hindutva and they are testing the waters. Can you amend the Constitution? No. If you put it under the 9th schedule, the Supreme Court still has the right to judicial review.
First of all, let us wait and see what happens to the NJAC (National Judicial Appointments Commission). That will bring more things in perspective.
ABANTIKA GHOSH: In Bihar, you are fighting elections in a state which is culturally very different from yours.
This has changed everything (points to his phone). A person in Bihar might not know how to work on a computer, but he definitely knows how to use a smart phone. So the boundaries are not there anymore. But yes, a particular area has a different challenge and that is what we politicians need to understand.