By Soroor Ahmed
When chief minister Mamata Banerjee has decided to oppose any Centre’s move to conduct NRC and when the Bharatiya Janata Party has made big inroads into Bengal the All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen has announced its plan to contest in all the 294 Assembly seats in the state in the summer of 2021.
The timing of the announcement––Nov 19––is questionable as election in Bengal is 18 months from now and neighbouring Jharkhand is going to poll from Nov 30. Asaduddin Owaisi’s outfit is contesting on some seats in this mineral rich state, where the ruling BJP is facing a stiff challenge from the formidable alliance of JMM, Congress and RJD.
Though Jharkhand has half the percentage of Muslim voters compared to Bengal there are some pockets of their population of the community––especially in the east.
Though the AIMIM has absolutely no base whatsoever in Jharkhand the party may be able to cut some Muslim votes in a handful of constituencies and thus give some breather to the BJP, which is fighting with its back to the wall.
In Bengal, where Muslims form just less than 30 per cent votes, the AIMIM would be in the position to cause a slightly bigger damage as the Mamata government will be facing a ten-year of anti-incumbency factor too.
But the big question is: from where will Owaisi bring so many candidates. Sometimes back his party announced that it will contest in all the 243 seats in Bihar in the next year’s poll.
The irony is that the AIMIM does not expand its base outside Hyderabad in Telangana, where there is organizational scope for it. In at least four districts of erstwhile Nizam state (besides Hyderabad) in Telangana there is palpable Muslim population. Instead Owaisi prefers to put up candidates in Muslim pockets in Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and is now planning to field his party’s nominees in Jharkhand and Bengal.
Curiously, in Telangana Owaisi does not talk about empowering Muslims when his party is in alliance with the ruling Telangana Rashtriya Samiti. It is a well-known fact that TRS is inclined towards the BJP and voted in its favour in Parliament recently, for example on the issue of Triple Talaq.Thus, it is obvious that AIMIM wants to target and weaken the secular parties in different states as therein he finds his voters.
As it is in the fitness of the things in the present era to attack former PMs Jawaharlal Nehru and Rajiv Gandhi for the present problems the Muslims and the country are facing, Owaisi too is toeing the same line. He would be more critical of Rajiv Gandhi so far as the Babri Masjid issue is concerned, but would not be as harsh on the BJP patriarch Lal Krishna Advani, who led the movement which culminated in the demolition of this mosque on December 6, 1992. Not only that he would be less critical on the then Congress PM Narasimha Rao, during whose reign Babri Masjid was brought down. Rao incidentally comes from his own state of undivided Andhra Pradesh.
If he has some personal grudge with Nehru-Gandhi family he should, by that logic, also mention the role of the first deputy PM-cum-home minister, Sardar Patel. The latter incidentally gets the credit of annexing the erstwhile Nizam state to India in 1948.
So far as the fielding of candidates is concerned, Owaisi has no magic wand to produce new breed of politicians who would serve the cause of Muslims in a better way.
He relies heavily on ‘borrowed’ players––the same lot who have in the past loyally served the secular parties. As they enjoy some political clout in their respective places they are a sort of asset for AIMIM.
Take the example of his blue-eyed boy in Bihar, Akhtar-ul-Iman. He started his career in RJD and was its MLA for nine long years between 2005 and 2014. Those were the years when RJD was out of power and was very weak. It had only 22 MLAs after 2010 Assembly poll.
However, sometimes before the 2014 Lok Sabha election 14 of the 22 RJD MLAs reportedly planned to desert Lalu Prasad’s outfit to join the then ruling Janata Dal United, which had by then snapped its ties with the BJP.
Lalu suddenly swung into action and managed to win back all these legislators––barring Akhtar.
However, Akhtar was soon rewarded by chief minister Nitish Kumar with the Lok Sabha ticket from Kishanganj. But this time he ditched Nitish and announced his withdrawal from the contest just four days from the polling day.
Addressing a Press conference he then announced that he is doing so in favour of the sitting Congress MP, Maulana Asrar-ul-Haq Qasmi to avoid split in ‘secular’ votes. He could have left the field silently, but by openly declaring his support he caused a counter-polarization among Hindu voters in several seats in the vicinity of Kishanganj––both in Bihar and Bengal.
His action left Nitish red faced as there was no time for the JDU to find a replacement for him.
Left in political wilderness because of his blunders he decided to jump on to the Owais bandwagon in August 2015. Two months later AIMIM contested Assembly election in over two dozen seats in north east Bihar which has substantial Muslim voters. Once in AIMIM Akhtar started finding all sorts of faults with secular parties like RJD, Congress and even JD(U) though they were contesting the Assembly poll in alliance.
Yet there is no denying the fact that Akhtar had his own band of supporters, which has nothing to do whether he goes to AIMIM or any other party. The death of the sitting Congress MP Maulana Asrar ul Haq last year further paved the way for his rise as he is considered as the tallest Surjapuri leader after the demise of the Maulana.
So if the AIMIM won the recent by-poll it is being considered as the victory of a sort for Akhtar and not the AIMIM. The winning MLA, Qamar ul Hoda is considered as a proxy of Akhtar.
As in Bihar, the AIMIM named Hubban Mallick as the state president in neighbouring Jharkhand. Like Akhtar, Hubban has deep roots in the Congress. His father Mannan Mallick is a former Congress minister.
However, Hubban chose to leave the Congress as it grew weak in Jharkhand. So like Akhtar he too started cursing all the Congress and secular leaders of the present and the past.
Efforts are on to hunt turncoats in Jharkhand, who can be put up as the candidates for AIMIM.
Take the case of M N Khan of Garhwa. Till recently he was an RJD leader and was expecting ticket of the party. But since the RJD is fighting the election in alliance with the bigger parties, the JMM and Congress, it has to leave this seat in favour of the JMM candidates.RJD leadership was left helpless as it has no other option.
But in AIMIM Khan got a party to throw his hat in the ring. Like the other turncoats he too started accusing secular parties of letting down the Muslims in the entire country.
As these leaders are from political background they have the potential to get some votes and ensure the defeat of the secular parties. They have done so in Maharashtra and to some extent in UP Assembly polls as well.
If the AIMIM really fields its candidates in all the 243 and 294 constituencies in Bihar and Bengal it may win a couple of seats. This would be largely because of the candidates’ own ‘secular’ past and not because of the utterances and policies of the Owaisi brothers.
Then the media would once again start cutting larger than life profile of these leaders.
Though he has been in Parliament for about last a quarter century and comes from a political family the media initially gave no space to him. Owaisi started getting publicity after 2013, especially after Narendra Modi became the PM candidate.
As Indian Union Muslim League and All India United Democratic Front––though having more MLAs than the AIMIM then––could not fit the bill, the media discovered in Owaisi and his brother Akbaruddin two rabble rousers.
As he is serving the purpose he is bound to get the media coverage even when the fact is that on the ground he has hardly any support base outside Hyderabad––that too he got in legacy.