The outcome of the recent assembly elections in Maharashtra is surely a sign of changing times. Against odds, the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen won three seats. The result meant that Owaisi brothers have finally succeeded in expanding the party’s base outside its stronghold in Andhra Pradesh.
Fighting elections in the name of religion is nothing new in India, neither is the exploitation of a persecution complex in minorities. What’s new is the emergence of a Muslim led and governed party. It reflects the level of dissatisfaction of the Muslim minority with mainstream political parties.
The support base of AIMIM may be widening but it has its own problem areas.
AIMIM claims on its website that it’s ‘a political party dedicated to protect and advance the rights of Muslims, dalits, BCs, minorities, and all other underprivileged communities in India’ and that ‘it strongly believes in the nation’s secular democracy.’ This is ironical since some of the speeches made by Akbaruddin Owaisi actually questioned the beliefs of the majority community. Advancing your rights does not mean infringing on somebody else’s. It’s supporters would argue that they are merely countering the strong propaganda of the right wing Hindu nationalists. This is where the trouble lies – hate begets hate!
As for AIMIM’s belief in secular ‘democracy’, the party has been led by the Owaisi family since 1958. Sadly most parties in India were led or controlled by strong political families.
The success of AIMIM is driven by multiple factors and one that relied on careful planning. The contrasting styles of Asaduddin Owaisi and Akbaruddin Owaisi has made the combination of substance and noise work wonders for the party. Asaduddin comes across as an intelligent, suave and seasoned politician who can argue well, backed by his law credentials. Akbaruddin, on the other hand, plays to the gallery. He strokes up passions to carry home his point. The elder brother is then left to do the firefighting. The two brothers are ably supported by their sibling Burhanuddin, who edits the Urdu daily ‘Etemad’ (Urdu for reliable). So whatever is left in translation, is communicated rather well by the newspaper to the community.
The formula seems to be working for AIMIM. The BJP, too, used it in good measure during the last Lok Sabha elections and reaped huge rewards. While Narendra Modi, the party’s prime candidate, promised good governance, the fringe elements kept flashing the Hindutva card whenever and wherever necessary.
On the face of it, there’s nothing wrong in a party working towards minority welfare in India. The problem is in keeping a balance when the power comes in big measure. This becomes all the more important as the events in Middle East have started to resonate with Indian Muslims. Our history too has shown, how the likes of Maulana Azad were brushed aside by separatist voices.
AAP earlier, and now AIMIM, are making the most of Muslim frustration with other parties. Perhaps it’s time for the BJP to reach out to Muslims and for the Congress and others to stop fear mongering in the name of secularism. Persisting in a Hindu Rashtra has its own perils. We saw the result of a similar experiment in 1947. The largest minority in India has numbers, which no party can ignore for long in the interest of the nation.
Indian Muslims have been exploited and marginalised for some time now. Their issues, like the rest of Indians, are the same. They need education, employment and equal representation in national affairs. This can only be achieved, if all parties see this as a national issue rather than a community issue.
At the moment AIMIM seems to be offering a strong voice to the Indian Muslims. How well it copes up with pressures from within the community is going to decide its fate on the national level.
(The article was first published by the Hindustan Times, Lucknow Edition.)