In this Idea Exchange moderated by Zeeshan Shaikh of The Indian Express, MIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi...
In this Idea Exchange moderated by Zeeshan Shaikh of The Indian Express, MIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi talks about why the spread of his party is a sign of the strength of Indian democracy, the need for Muslim consolidation, and why he respects Modi as PM but can’t forgive him
Shubhangi Khapre: Many political parties say MIM is a danger to India’s social fabric. Can you talk about your politics?
In Maharashtra, there was no credible Muslim voice, so the Congress was getting the Muslim vote by default. But things have changed in the past 10 years. Muslims have started leaving the Congress. The mismanagement, corruption, and incarceration of Muslim youth in various terrorist cases have fuelled this disenchantment. I recently met the family of a boy who has spent eight years behind bars in the Ellora arms haul case. His brother is a doctor but he told me that he is now more a lawyer than a doctor. The representation of Muslims in jails is high while their political representation is low.
We have been working in Maharashtra for the past three-four years and we realised that parties like the Samajwadi Party have lost their credibility among Muslims. The Congress preys on Muslim fears and expects Muslims to vote for it irrespective of what it does for them. In the Lok Sabha elections, no Muslim candidate won from Maharashtra. A large section of the community feels that while we vote for secular parties, our candidates do not get their votes.
The MIM has been in active politics for 55 years. You may disagree with our politics but you cannot refute the Sachar Committee’s observation that the socio-economic condition of Muslims in Andhra Pradesh is the best in the country. You have to give credit to the MIM for that. We run educational, medical institutions yet we are branded anti-national.
I have a Muslim identity and I am proud of it. We only talk about empowerment of the community. What is wrong with that? Our success in the Maharashtra elections should have been touted as representative of the strength of Indian parliamentary democracy where a small minority party like ours has the space to oppose a bigger party like the BJP. Sadly, people have chosen to portray us as a danger to the nation.
Smita Nair: The MIM is known for its rabble-rousing speeches. Why do you two brothers portray such an angry image?
During the Maharashtra polls, we were given a 149 CrPC notice wherever we went for a public meeting. This notice was not given to any other party leader. My speeches were continuously recorded by the police as well as my opponents. If we had said anything inflammatory, why was it not reported to the Election Commission? We are not angry, we only try to reflect what the community is thinking.
Zeeshan Shaikh: Do
political parties fear
It is good if they fear it. For long, Muslim politicians and the community have been seen to be good only to hold iftaar parties, send a chadar to Ajmer or to cook biryani. Where is the Muslim leadership? They are all paying obeisance to their political masters. If this is the evaluation of a Muslim leader, I would never want to become one. I always tell Muslims that we are not coolies of secularism. For too long, we have been asked to carry the burden of secularism. It is not our cross to carry alone.
Kavitha Iyer: Does a Muslim voter see his backwardness vis-a-vis the average development of India or the average development of a Hindu? Is polarisation necessary to sustain Muslim identity politics?
Muslims have aspirations similar to others. They want their children to be educated, they want their share in government schemes, they don’t want to be unnecessarily picked up by the police. The community has a question: why is it being targeted and not getting its due? People tell us that roads in others’ constituencies are good, while those in theirs are abject. But we do not play on this sense of victimhood. As a party, we try to address issues the community faces.
Manasi Phadke: Does
India need religion-based parties like the BJP or MIM?
I am not asking for Shariah to be implemented in India. I am just saying that all the promised facilities be given within the four walls of the Constitution. I am not asking for votes in the name of Islam. We only want representation in the Assembly and in Parliament for the community. It is wrong to compare us with the BJP. If you want to know more about the BJP, you should read the theories floated by Deendayal Upadhyaya uploaded on the Gujarat BJP website. It says no two Muslims when they come together can do anything good, you cannot trust them.
Shubhangi Khapre: Do you feel pressure from hardliners when you speak about the need for the community to evolve?
We are too independent to be controlled by anyone. It is impossible for clerics to control me. I’d rather sit at home than be controlled by them. These so-called chaudharies do not represent the community. One of them would use the Jama Masjid while another would fill up some stadium with Muslims. They have all outlived their utility. Insha Allah, we’ll continue to do what we are doing.
Aamir Khan: What’s your view of Modi? Is he a threat to Muslims?
The Prime Minister says we practised plastic surgery and stem cell research thousands of years ago. If I had said the same, the media would have taken me to task. The PM needs to be more than an administrator. If that was the only quality required in a PM, you could very well appoint an IAS official to that post. The PM of India, which is the cradle of Buddhism, goes to Japan and offers the Gita to the Japanese PM. He should have given a Buddhist artefact. On the one hand the PM says India’s Muslims will never join ISIS while his MPs say something diametrically opposite. By doing this, Modi ensures his vote bank is happy. If Muslims feel threatened, it raises a question mark on the whole society. No one wants to talk about Modi’s record in Gujarat. No one wants to talk about Ishrat Jahan or Ehsan Jafri. Some journalists, just to sell a book, say he should not be judged as he was inexperienced at that time. Even if you omit all his grand statements, you need to evaluate what his party is saying. The RSS chief calls the country a Hindu nation, someone says the solution to the Babri Masjid will be found by 2019. It is not for me but for the nation to decide on him.
Zeeshan Shaikh: What is wrong in Modi giving the
Gita to the Japanese Prime Minister?
I am not saying that Modi should have presented the Quran, but if you are going to Japan, it made more sense to give a Buddhist artefact. We are not yet a Hindu nation, but if Mr Modi wants, with his brute majority, he can amend the Constitution and remove the word secular. When you go abroad, you are an Indian PM, not the PM of any religion.
India is secular because Modi has got only 31% vote. I do not agree with the present electoral system of first-past-the-post. It is a system which allows a party that has 31% of votes to win more than 50%of the seats.
Kavitha Iyer: Which states does the MIM plan to contest in next?
We will contest in Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. In UP, we have been working for a long time. The coming elections are not going to be easy for Mulayam Singh Yadav. They have allowed riots to happen. They have deliberately allowed Muslims and Dalits to face off against each other. They have not implemented schemes. Muslims voted for Mulayam but no Muslim put up by the SP won. Wherever secular parties are in power, they have not delivered on Muslim development. Mamata Banerjee has not delivered on her promises to Muslims. She is good at saying ‘Assalaam Alaikum’ and ‘Ameen’ in her speeches, but Muslims have gone beyond symbolism.
Anjali Lukose: What is your take on ‘love jihad’? Do you think the Muslim community needs to introspect too?
‘Love jihad’ is the RSS’s obnoxious idea. If two adults consent to live together, what can we do? I blame myself for the state of the community, we are to be blamed. We need to educate our girls. I always tell in my constituency that people should let their daughters study and not marry them off early. The community needs to set up more educational institutions.
Kavitha Iyer: There is a perception that clerics have a stranglehold over the community. What do you have to say about men like the Shahi Imam?
Islam gives no special status to clerics. They just do their job of leading prayers, and go home. But political parties have made them larger than life. If Shah Jahan knew that the post of the Shahi Imam would outlive his own dynasty, he would have happily given up his seat and become the Shahi Imam himself. What has the man done for the community apart from being the imam of the Jama Masjid, which is a waqf property? Has he sponsored a single girl’s education? He has done nothing constructive.
Shubhangi Khapre: In the past 50 years, where do you think Muslims have been let down?
Political representation of Muslims has never been taken seriously. It has only been token. Maulana Azad hai, bas maulana rahenge. After that there was no one. People blame Partition for the situation of Muslims but that happened over 60 years ago. What have you done since? Why are you giving Haj subsidies and funds for madrasa modernisation? Stop such funding. It is not a great loss to the community. Subsidise our girls’ education. Allow us to build more schools.
Zeeshan Shaikh:What is your stand on reservation for Muslims?
I am all for it. I have seen poor Muslims benefiting from reservation. Poor Muslim children who could have not got into colleges have become doctors, engineers. The community needs more access to education. When the UPA was in power, just before the 12th Five Year Plan was being worked on, I took a delegation of Muslim MPs seeking that pre- and post-matric minority scholarships be made demand-driven. A study was done and it was said that the scheme would cost R24,000 crore, which is half the price of a submarine. But that was not done. What stops the government? Muslims want to study but facilities are not being provided.
Don’t do anything for us. Humko machchi mat do; machchi pakadna sikha do. Hum toofan ka saamna
Smita Nair: How are you tackling radicalisation and the ISIS threat?
We have always said ISIS is un-Islamic. I tell young guys if they are so keen on doing jihad, they should do it against poverty, illiteracy. Do jihad the democratic way by joining the MIM and taking on right-wing organisations. Fight social evils here. We also need to engage in a cerebral debate with the youth. ISIS does its online propaganda quite well. Young, impressionable children get attracted to it. The community needs to not only condemn them but also help in giving the youth a proper direction in life.
Smita Nair: What do you think about how the trust vote was won by the BJP government in Maharashtra?
They should have asked for an actual division of votes and proved their majority. We would have voted against the government. The best thing about the trust vote was to see Prithviraj Chavan sitting on the steps of the Assembly. It was a picture that needed to be framed and kept for posterity. Jinko kal tak sab salaam karte the, aaj public ne unko zameen par bitha diya. This is real democracy.
Smita Nair: Would you shake hands with Narendra Modi?
He is the Prime Minister of the country and I respect him for that position. I, however, have the right to oppose him. If tomorrow, I am the CM and under my watch, 5,000 people die, of which one of them is your father or mother, will you shake hands with me? I will not forget Gujarat until all those guilty are punished. He is the PM and I respect him, but that does not mean that I have to pay obeisance to him.
Zeeshan Shaikh: Do you think it is difficult for a Muslim candidate to get votes outside the community?
It is difficult for Muslims to get elected. They are only getting elected from constituencies where Muslims make up over 30% of the voters. As a Muslim politician, you should stand in elections only if there are more than 30% Muslims in your constituency or it is better that you sit at home. A Muslim can vote for a member of the other community but he will not get their vote as they do not want a Muslim to win. I would like to see Zafar Sareshwala contest from Gujarat and win.
Transcribed by Zeeshan Shaikh