Asaduddin Owaisi and his party, All India Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), have left almost everyone bemused with his impressive performance in the just concluded assembly elections in Bihar. He put up only 19 candidates and won five seats, some of them with huge margins.
There is no denying the fact that no one had actually seen this coming. In the last assembly election held in the year 2015, his party had come a cropper, with all its candidates failing to make their mark let alone winning any seat. Even its formidable looking state unit chief Akhtarul Islam had lost his seat. Though after three and half years later, there was a consolation win for the party when one of its candidates went on to win an assembly seat in a by-election, not many people took it seriously. However, it was certainly a big boost for the party that many claim is being run from Hyderabad in a clearly Hyderabadi style.
AIMIM not just caused the defeat of RJD led Grand Alliance candidates in Seemanchal, but also, according to some analysts, caused reverse polarization in different areas where it actually fought. But the larger truth is that the Grand Alliance floundered due to the fact that they refused to accommodate Sahni led VIP and Jitin Ram Manjhi led Hindustani Awam Morcha. The close result shows that the Tejashwi Yadav led alliance lost because it gave far too many seats to the Congress that has no organizational structure on the ground in much of Bihar and also because of its failure to accommodate these two politicians representing two important caste groups.
The AIMIM, that has its genesis in the pre-partition Hyderabad won five seats including Amour from where its state unit chief Akhtarul Iman won, Kochadhamam from where Muhammed Izhar Asfi won, Jokihat from where Shahnawaz Alam won, Baisi from where Syed Ruknuddin won and Bahadurgunj from where Azhar Nayeemi. All the victories came from Seemanchal where Muslims form majority of the population. Kishanganj has around 70 percent Muslim population, Araria has more than 45 percent Muslim population and in Katihar and Purnia the community makes around 40 percent and 30 percent of the population respectively. However, what is surprising is the fact that all the efforts of Owaisi and his soldiers to breach other seats outside Seemanchal where the Muslims have majority came a cropper and the party bite the dust without gaining many votes.
In constituencies outside Seemanchal, the party couldn’t attract Muslim votes the same way it attracted in Seemanchal. In Sherghati constituency Muslims voted for RJD’s Manju Agrawal who got 61000 votes and not for AIMIM’s Masroor Alam who couldn’t get more than 15000 votes. The same happened with a dozen other candidates from Owaisi’s outfit.
Many political analysts are wondering as to what is behind the impressive show of the AIMIM in Bihar and why people actually didn’t vote for Mahagathbandhan in constituencies from where the AIMIM candidates went on to register thumping victories. While there are many reasons for the good show of the Hyderabad based party, the fact that shouldn’t be ignored is that they have tried to create a narrative against secular political parties for ignoring Muslims. So while Asaduddin Owaisi camped for several weeks in a Kishanganj hotel, instead of targeting BJP and the Sangh Pariwar, all his cannons were directed against the Congress and the RJD.
While attacking the Congress sometimes ago, Owaisi said, “Congress has been wiped out from the political spectrum of the country...It can’t be revived even by a calcium injection…They’re going downwards now and no one can pick them up because they themselves aren’t ready to put up a fight”. However during Bihar election he has been attacking the Grand Old party for ignoring Muslims and letting them down on everything.
Muslims have got attracted to the AIMIM for other reasons too. The party claims to talk about Muslim issues. There is no denying that other political parties don’t really speak about Muslim issues or their grievances. Many Muslim issues of importance don’t even get cursory attention of the secular parties let alone taking action on many of them. The AIMIM has tried to use many such emotive issues to extend its reach among the Muslim community. One of such is CAA and NRC issue. The Hyderabad MP has repeatedly used CAA and NRC agitation to seek community’s support.
In an interview with the Indian Express, Asaduddin Owaisi said that the secular parties don’t really talk about important Muslim issues, even CAA and NRC that are extremely important for the community.
"In this whole election campaign, the gathbandhan political parties did not talk about CAA, NPR or NRC. There was complete silence. But why? No, no, if we talk about it will give BJP an advantage. So now what happened? The results are there in front of you. So you don’t talk about development of Seemanchal, the most backward area of our country. You say you give votes…don’t support Owiasi who is an outsider…He is B team, C team, you don’t talk about issues which pertain to people and you assume that whatever narrative you set will work everywhere. And people will blindly follow and vote for you. So, that is why. Then there’s a realisation that India is a diverse country, there is pluralism and that pluralism must be celebrated in a democracy. How can that happen…it can happen when each and every community or caste gets their equal representation?”
He also said that Muslims have been used as vote bank by different political parties over the years. “If you see the Muslim political representation in Bihar it is now only 18…18 MLAs have won (actually 19 Muslim MLAs have been elected). What does that speak about our participative form of democracy? You don’t have a Muslim voice, you don’t want to nurture a Muslim voice…you assume that we are only voting machines. And our only job is to vote for you and to uphold your form of secularism, which is completely farce. It does not even relate to what actually secularism is. That is why the disenchantment is there, that is why there is a great yearning and desire for a political leadership within these communities”.
There is no denying that the Muslim youth is getting attracted to Owaisi’s narrative in a large number. But there are people who believe that Owaisi’s brand of politics may not have many takers for Muslims in Bihar.
Naseem Akhtar who has studied functioning of Owaisi’s party in Hyderabad and elsewhere for a long time says AIMIM cannot survive in Bihar for much longer. “Muslims of Bihar cannot coexist with Owaisi for much longer. It is a family enterprise of Owaisi brothers. This family supremacy for Biharis may not be bearable and this will cause disenchantment among Bihari Muslims for him and his brand of politics”. He goes on to add that “a large number of Bihari Muslims live in Telangana including Hyderabad and these people are very opposed to Owaisi’s brand of politics. Muslims in Bihar may not be able to bear with the sort of divisive language that Asaduddin Owaisi and his brother Akbaruddin Owaisi use for a long time. They have lived in a Bihar that has remained relatively inclusive, despite all shortcomings for decades and they wouldn’t see Hyderabad politics being superimposed on their state.
However, right now, AIMIM and its supporters are basking in the glory of their hard earned victory in Bihar. Owaisi has said that he will contest in West Bengal. The fact that Seemanchal borders Muslim majority areas of Bengal has alarmed Trinamul Congress leaders in West Bengal who are apprehensive of Owaisi’s intent. While it is not sure as to how many Muslim votes Owaisi will get, what is clear is that his brand of politics has many takers among Muslims due to the fact that they have been given short shrift by mainstream political parties. Owaisi, despite his ability to do nothing for the community, may be able to get votes due to his rhetoric and the victim card that he plays so deftly.
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Syed is a New Delhi based author and commentator. His forthcoming book 'Ulema's Role in India's Freedom Movements with Focus on Reshmi Rumal Tehrik will be out in October