'Communal face of Kiran Kumar Reddy has been exposed'
Asaduddin Owaisi, the president of Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen and member of Lok Sabha from Hyderabad, has rattled the ruling government in Andhra Pradesh and at the Centre by ending his party's one-and-a-half decade alliance with the Congress.
While Asad has come out with a litany of grievances against Chief Minister N Kiran Kumar Reddy, including his government's alleged communal bias, many were surprised that the age-old issue of a temple near the Charminar Monument in Hyderabad finally ruptured the alliance
In a freewheeling interview to rediff.com's Mohammed Siddique, Owaisi explains what went wrong between the Congress and the MIM and lays out his future plans.
What is the real cause of this break-up? Many say work on a disputed temple at Charminar cannot be a convincing enough reason for almost bringing down a government.
You are right. The disputed temple and the brazen way this government has sided with the communal forces on this issue is not the only reason for our decision, though it has exposed the communal face of the Kiran Kumar Reddy regime and his administration.
Such major decisions cannot be taken on the spur of moment. It is a well thought out decision which we have taken keeping in view the incidents and developments of the last two years. In our letter to the President of India, informing our decision of withdrawing support from the Congress government in the state and the United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre, we have listed the series of communal riots which have rocked the state since 2010.
In these riots, not only did members of the Muslim community suffer huge losses of property and business, but they were also subjected to police harassment and torture. Hundreds of innocent Muslims were arrested.
The same thing has been happening on the issue of terrorism. Muslim youth continue to be picked up. We made several representations to the government but the chief minister never took it seriously. Instead of correcting his mistakes, he continued the same policy. All these factors compelled us to take this step. This is a cumulative effect.
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Image: Asaduddin Owaisi
'Charminar does not belong to Muslims or Hindus'
Many said that the disputed temple at Charminar was a ticking time bomb which could have exploded any time. The temple has been there for at least 40 years. Why did it take such a long time for you to take up this issue?
We have been taking up this issue and we have demanded effective measures for the protection of Charminar. It is the identity of Hyderabad and you will not find a monument like this anywhere. It is part of our national heritage.
I remember that in 1981 my late father and then MIM president Salahuddin Owaisi was arrested and kept in jail for several months because he raised this issue.
Recently Akbaruddin Owaisi (MIM floor leader in assembly) filed a RTI application about it and the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation replied that this was an illegal structure. They had not permitted its construction. I have noticed for the last 18 years that every year the temple's length and width is increasing. Wasn't it the responsibility of the government and the Archaeological Survey of India to stop it and protect the monument?
The act, which says that there cannot be any construction within 100 meters of any protected monument, has been flagrantly violated. Once again, on the intervening night of October 31 and November 1, they tried to expand it with a new tin shed under police protection.
We never took to the streets on this issue. We went to the high court as we believe in the law but despite the HC ordering that the status of October 30 night should be maintained, a shed was laid at the directions of the chief minister.
Apart from this temple, many other structures have come up in the close vicinity of the monument. Why do you think the administration has failed to stop such constructions?
The Charminar has been targeted continuously by Sangh Parivar forces because it was built by a Muslim king (Quli Qutub Shah). This is sheer communal thinking which fails to appreciate that Charminar is part of our heritage. It does not belong to Muslims or Hindus. It belongs to everybody. We have been raising our voice for its protection but you know even ASI has become the hand maiden of Sangh Parivar. The communal mindset is not ready to tolerate it and they want to damage this beautiful monument.
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Image: Security personnel deployed at Charminar in Hyderabad
'This has revived memories of Babri Masjid'
You have compared this issue with the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Why?
When ever the issue of a temple comes up, the Congress changes its attitude. What happened at Babri Masjid under (then prime minister) P V Narasimha Rao? Who got the locks of Babri Masjid opened, who was the prime minister when the shilanyas was performed?
The same thing is happening in the case of Charminar. They are trying to expand the temple to the entire monument. They are not ready to abide by the high court's orders. This has revived the memories of the Babri Masjid issue and we feel Kiran Kumar Reddy is the rightful successor of Narasimha Rao.
You have referred to the incidents since 2010, the riots and other atrocities. Why is this happening when any government worth its salt would not like any section of the society to get alienated?
This is nothing but the arrogance and haughtiness of the government. Not only have they given a free hand to communal forces, they have also allowed communal elements in the police force to target the minority community.
Despite various representations, the government has failed to check it. The chief minister never took up the issue of paying compensation to the people who lost their properties, shops and vehicles. It is clear that this is a communal government and it is pandering to the Sangh Parivar and strengthening the Bharatiya Janata Party
But what is the point of withdrawing support when you know the government is not going to fall?
We are not bothered about whether the government falls or not. If this leads to elections, we are ready; even if it doesn't fall, we will anyway have the (state assembly) polls in 2014. But our decision was not based on that.
We have taken this decision because we cannot support a government which is anti-secular and anti-people. It will be better for us if elections were not held immediately as we can concentrate on expanding and strengthening our party. We will take our campaign of exposing this government to the entire state. I have chalked out a plan to visit other parts of the state to create awareness among the masses so that whenever elections are held, the Congress does not get any minority and secular votes.
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Image: Members of the Muslim community pray at a shrine near Charminar
'At no cost will we accept Telangana without Hyderabad'
But other motives are also being attributed to your decision. Questions are being asked about whether this is a pressure tactic because the government did not accept your demand of allotting its land for your hospital.
The chief minister is making these selective leaks because he is not in a position to respond to the real issues we have raised. I agree that we had made a written representation to the state government that the lease of the hospital is ending and it should be allotted to us as we have been running a medical college for the last 25 years. We are already running two hospitals of 350 beds each where people get medical facilities at affordable prices. Is there any hospital where people can get dialysis for Rs 500?
Later, we changed our mind and again informed the government in writing that we don't want this hospital. But now the chief minister is distorting the facts and trying to link this issue to the hospital. No political party will withdraw support just because it did not get a hospital. It is a very petty issue for us. The chief minister is guilty of victimising Muslims and strengthening communal forces; he is now trying to defend himself in this manner.
Now that you are no more with the Congress, will your stand on the Telangana statehood issue change?
It is wrong to say we opposed Telangana because we were with the Congress. The fact is that ours is an individual policy and a principled stand. We were in favour of a united Andhra Pradesh. And we also told the Srikrishna Commission that if you want to grant a separate state of Telangana, then also make Rayalaseema a part of it. But at no cost will we accept Telangana without Hyderabad. There cannot be any compromise on it.
You had also argued that a separate Telangana state will not be in the interest of Muslims as communal forces will become strong in it?
The incidents of the last two years have corroborated this stance. Most of these riots took place in the Telangana region. Even today, I am firm in my belief that if Telangana is formed the only political party which will benefit from it will be the BJP.
The Telengana Rashtra Samiti has a one-point programme -- their demand for Telangana -- what will be their relevance after that? The Telugu Desam Party has become very weak. Then who will fill the vacuum caused by these parties? Only the BJP.
Secondly, if you look at other new states like Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, the political party that befitted from their creation was the BJP. We will also benefit as a party no doubt, but the atmosphere will always be tense.
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Image: The curfew-hit streets of Hyderabad
'The CM is intellectually dishonest'
You have accused Kiran Kumar Reddy of being communal. When do you think his attitude changed?
Ever since he became the CM, he never showed any seriousness towards Muslim issues. We have been advising and cautioning him to change his attitude but our pleas fell on deaf ears. He is intellectually dishonest.
You have always praised (late chief minister and Congress leader) YSR Reddy and hailed him as a messiah of Muslims. Do you think Muslims will prefer YSR Congress over Congress in the next elections?
YSR was very positive on Muslim issues and secularism. But we also cannot forget the Mecca Masjid blast in 2007 after which several innocent Muslim youth were arrested and tortured by the police. It was a huge loss for these youth.
But YSR accepted our demand and agreed to an inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation, which revealed the truth that the blast was carried out by right-wing forces. As far as Muslims are concerned, they can vote for any party. They will decide whom to support when the time comes. But one thing is certain, they will not vote for the Congress in the assembly and Parliament elections.
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Image: Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy
'Nobody listens to us'
Was your relationship with the Congress affected only by the incidents in Andhra Pradesh or was it impacted by incidents of communal riots like the ones in Assam?
When you take a decision, all these things you take into account. In Assam, four Muslims have been killed in the last two days. We have been crying hoarse about disarming the Bodos but nobody listens to us. The prime minister announces Rs 100 crore relief after the riots, but the entire amount goes to the Bodo Council when this council itself was responsible for violence against Muslims.
In Maharashtra's Maratwada region, every three months they pick up four Muslim youth on charges of terrorism. How long can this go on? What is happening in Andhra Pradesh is also important for us because we have our base here and we represent the people of this state. I have been elected to Parliament from here.
The MIM has won 11 seats in the Nanded Municipal Corporation in Maharashtra for the first time. You said that was possible because of the unity between Dalits and Muslims. Are you planning to replicate it in Andhra Pradesh?
We would like to repeat that in Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. We feel that the alliance of Muslims with Dalit and backward classes – as seen in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar -- should be replicated every where. Without such an alliance, neither of those weaker sections will get any educational, economic and political benefits, nor will Muslims get it. We are making our efforts in this direction.
In the assembly elections, what will be your attitude towards the TDP and the TRS?
These are all options before us as well as before those parties. We can hold talks with these as well as other parties like YSR Congress. But I am not worried about these parties.
My first concern is how to strengthen and expand my own party. In the last elections we won seven seats and inshallah (God willing) we will win an even bigger number of seats in the coming elections.
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Image: Security personnel deployed near Charminar