By Syed Zubair Ahmad
I am writing this piece in response to noted journalist Shivam Vij’s article recently published in The Print.
Several points raised by Mr Shivam Vij deserved to viewed in true perspective albeit they may appear digestible to some. He could be right in stating that the “BJP aims to invisiblize Muslims”, but his assessment that the saffron party doesn’t want Assaduddin Owaisi simply too hard to digest, given the narrative and counter-narrative is being built and disseminated by the media. Precisely, one fundamental feeds the other.
The politics of Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, or MIM, is certainly not the wise response to divisive politics of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which has uncompromisingly been furthering the RSS agenda of marginalizing Muslims “to the point of making them invisible”. No doubt the ‘secular’ parties have hugely disappointed the Muslims, but Owaisi phenomenon is disastrous for secular democratic polity of the country. It has only bolstered the allegations levelled against the Hyderabadi politician that he is “in cahoots with BJP”. In fact, the BJP wants more and more dissemination of Owaisi’s image to strengthen its majoritarian vote banks. Precisely, a visible Owaisi makes it even more easier for the BJP to make Muslims invisible.
The rise of BJP is chiefly contributed to the Ram Mandir movement during which former diplomat Syed Shahabuddin, who became MP from Muslim-concentrated Kishanganj constituency in 1991, had become a rallying point for the saffron party to consolidate Hindu votes. The formation of Babri Masjid Action Committee at district level across the country fueled the fire, triggering counter polarization in late 1990s. The BJP flourished from becoming a viable opposition to undefeatable ruling party in 2014. Now it has found a rallying point in Asaduddin Owaisi to hold on power and grow.
Remember the exaggerated coverage given to Owaisi during the 2014 parliamentary elections by television channels singing paeans to then BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi. His younger brother Akbaruddin Owaisi’s provocative remarks in 2013 when he stated that “if police is removed for 15 minutes, we (Muslims) will finish 100 crore Hindus”. This immensely helped the BJP/RSS workers who showed the clips of the divisive speech all across. The rightwing campaigners even distributed its CDs in millions. Even today Owaisi gets undue media coverage as if he is the sole representative of the Muslim community. Modi picked opposition leader while he was chief minister in Gujarat; he picked Owaisi at the Centre to hold on to power. He has been a blue eyed boy for TV channels who is heard aggressively speaking for Muslims.
Forget about Muslim issues, Owaisi is needed whenever Modi govt faces trouble. When the entire nation stood in bank queues lamenting Modi for demonetization, Owaisi chose to communalize demonetization by stating that automated teller machines (ATMs) ran short of banknotes in Muslim-concentrated localities. This is how Owaisi turns a common issue into a communal one to the benefit of BJP.
It is wrong to believe that BJP is allergic to bearded mullahs. Rather it wants the image of bearded mullahs with skull caps on TV screens – the phenomenon has been visible ever since Modi came to power in 2014. Notably, the Muslim Rashtriya Manch, an RSS affiliate, has mostly bearded mullahs.
Shivam Vij’s argument that the BJP could have won state elections in Rajasthan, Delhi, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh by given some tickets to Muslims totally goes against the ideology of the saffron party as it runs the risk of losing majoritarian votes. It didn’t give any ticket to a Muslim in Bihar which has 17% Muslim population, but the outcome was in its favour. For the first time there is no Muslim in government in Bihar. There will be some Muslim representatives in Parliament and assemblies, mainly from Assam and Kashmir, but there presence will matter little.
In fact, BJP needs an Owaisi-like opposition to instill fear psychosis among Hindus. That’s why RSS leaders always say that ‘ there will be no Hindutva without Muslims’. Simply, they will be left irrelevant without having any polarizing figure.
In February a journalist friend of mine in Mumbai, a non-Muslim, confided to me that Owaisi’s speeches, gesture and posture had the “potential ingredients to polarize the people along communal lines”. She said that she was inadvertently added to a WhatsApp group, which dominantly had members from RSS and other right wing groups, where people mostly discussed Owaisi. She added that once a group member sought to know about the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), another one replied that since Owaisi tore up the copy of the Bill, it would definitely be a pro-Hindu.
Owaisi’s credential stands exposed when he and his party members deliberately made divisive speeches with a sole purpose to communalize anti-CAA sit-ins. Notably, the government pitted all its machineries –media included – to defame and communalize the sit-in protests going on all across the country, MIM’s former legislator from Maharashtra Waris Pathan made stated that “15 crore Muslims can dominate over 100 crore Hindus” (15 crore hain lekin 100 crore pe bhari hain) in presence of Owaisi on February 16.
Interestingly, more than 200 sit-ins were held to protest citizenship matrix across the country but not a single in Owaisi’s own turf, Hyderabad.