Asaduddin Owaisi has been trying to recreate a narrative in Uttar Pradesh that has worked to his advantage in Hyderabad for a long time. The marginalization of Muslims in the state and the unfulfilled promises of political parties are his main political planks.
While this narrative has helped his party immensely in the old Hyderabad area for the last several decades and to some extent in Maharashtra for the last few years, there is no certainty that it will work in UP.
The way he and his political party flopped in the Bihar assembly elections despite the high-pitched campaign and the massive rallies he organized across the state is something his supporters need to remind themselves of.
For the last several years, especially after a good showing by his Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) in the Maharashtra assembly elections, Owaisi has been harboring national dreams. He believes he can emerge as the leader of Muslims across the country.
But his dreams came crashing down in Bihar when the party not only failed to open its account, but also found itself completely marginalised even in Seemanchal where Muslims make up a large chunk of the population. (In fact, in many constituencies in Seemanchal, the Muslims' ratio was well beyond fifty percent.)
Owaisi looked crestfallen immediately after the Bihar debacle. Not only did he not fail to win a seat, but he also failed to dent the vote banks of Lalu Yadav and his alliance partner Nitish Kumar. Owaisi was expecting this vote bank to fall into his lap after his fiery speeches against Lalu and Nitish. One thing that must be kept in mind is that Lalu was his main target, Nitish his next target, while Prime Minister Narendra Modi was only occasionally criticized by the Hyderabadi politician who always dons his skullcap.
Ahead of the month-long election next month in UP - the state with 200 million people and where 20 percent of the population is Muslim - Owaisi is now trying to create his own narrative here. While launching his electoral campaign from Muzaffarnagar where the memories of the last riots haunt many, he was at his offensive best.
Asaduddin Owaisi has used his oratorical skills during the rallies with aplomb hoping the Muslims in the state will fall for his emotional blackmailing. "Kisi maai ke lal me dum hai jo mujhe Uttar Pradesh me aane se rokey. UP kisi ke baap ka nahi hai (No one has the courage the stop me from coming to Uttar Pradesh. UP is not anyone's property)," Owaisi said at a poll meet in Western UP.
In his speeches, he talks at length about how secular parties in the state have 'ditched' the community despite making Himalayan promises. He talks about how the Samajwadi Party promised 18 percent reservation for the Muslim community and never delivered despite the community solidly backing them and helping them win a huge majority in the state.
A copy of the Samajwadi Party's poll manifesto may not be something that the Yadavs may remember right now. But Owaisi keeps a copy with him to remind his voters how the SP and the BSP in the past 'fooled' the Muslims to win the elections.
While speaking at a poll meet recently, Owaisi also talked about how Muslims have been at the receiving end during communal riots in the state under the Samajwadi Party government in UP. "Shamli me loota jata hai…. Dadri me Musalmano ko mar diya…. Muzaffarnagar me maaon behno ki izzat looti gayi. magar inhone kya kia?… Paanch lakh le lo…. pandrah lakh le lo…. Musalmano ke khoon ki keemat bas itni hai?… Hume khud ki keemat pehchanani hai… Aap sab ab apni party ko vote dijiye (People were robbed in Shamli… Muslims were killed in Dadri… Mothers and sisters were raped in Muzaffarnagar. But what did these people do?… They said take Rs 5 lakh, Rs 15 lakh… Is that the value of Muslims?… We will have to know our value… Please vote for your party this time)."
Owaisi has announced candidates for many seats in the first and the second phase of polling in UP and most of his candidates are in constituencies where Muslims make up a majority of the population. Most of these constituencies are concentrated in Western UP and his supporters believe that Muslims will support him.
Last year, his party had won four gram panchayat seats in the UP panchayat polls. MIM candidates won one gram panchayat each in Muzaffarnagar and Azamgarh and two panchayats in Balrampur district of UP. His party believes that some support will come from the Scheduled Castes too who are being lured by the Owaisi in the state. Two winners in the gram panchayat from the party belong to Scheduled Castes.
Nonetheless, despite all his efforts in UP, Owaisi's dreams might remain unfulfilled. There are several reasons for it. Muslims in the state have never warmed up to the idea of an exclusive Muslim political party. There have been many efforts in the past, but without success. While they may love his speeches, the love ends here. The community doesn't believe in segregation in politics and thus will stick to mainstream political parties and not be fooled by people like Owaisi.
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Syed Ubaidur Rahman is a New Delhi based writer and commentator. He has written several books on Muslims and Islam in India including Understanding Muslim Leadership in India.