'Why isn't the BJP ready to give reservations to Muslims despite the high court telling it to do so?'
'A K Antony said the Congress lost the 2014 election because of Muslim appeasement. Antony should have gone to the jails of Maharashtra and found out how many Muslims were arrested during Congress rule. I don't know what kind of appeasement this is.'
'We reposed faith in so-called great secular leaders and they deceived us.'
Asaduddin Owaisi, the Lok Sabha member from Hyderabad, speaks to Syed Firdaus Ashraf/Rediff.com
Asaduddin Owaisi is one of the most vociferous critics of the Narendra Modi government.
Whether it is the Gujarat riots of 2002, the alleged encounters of Muslim youth, reservations for the Muslim community in jobs and education, communal tensions, the beef ban, the state of madrasas, the articulate Bar-at-Law from Lincoln's Inn is positioning himself as the spokesperson for the Muslim community.
Owaisi's party, the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, sent ructions among Maharashtra's political parties when it came second in the Aurangabad municipal elections in April, winning from 25 wards and dislodging the Congress Party. Five of the winning MIM candidates were non-Muslims.
Long considered a Hyderabad-centric party, the MIM won two seats in last year's Maharashtra assembly election, a sign of its growing influence among the state's Muslims.
MIM President Owaisi tells Syed Firdaus Ashraf/Rediff.com how Indian Muslims have been let down by leaders in who they reposed faith.
Do you see any difference in the treatment of Muslims by the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) and now by the NDA (National Democratic Alliance)?
Targeting of Muslim youth under terror cases happened more during UPA rule. Now the cases are being deliberately loosened under NDA rule.
Some Muslim leaders have met Prime Minister Modi. Do you think he is trying to bridge the gap between the Muslim community and his BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party)?
Anyone can meet the prime minister. In the 2014 election where the NDA came to power, not a single Muslim was elected from the BJP. The same happened in Jharkhand and in Haryana (assembly elections).
These so-called big (Muslim) leaders couldn't tell the prime minister to his face that Muslims were living in a miserable condition in BJP-ruled Ballabgarh in Haryana, which is just 30 kilometres from 7, Race Course Road (the prime minister's residence).
Why couldn't they talk about this? Why was Rs 900 crore (Rs 9 billion) slashed from the budget of the ministry of minority affairs? Why couldn't they tell the prime minister to improve the level of education of minorities?
Scholarship should be demand-driven. Why isn't the BJP ready to give reservations to Muslims despite the high court telling it to do so? These are the tough questions which have to be put forward to the government.
Unfortunately, the delegation which met the prime minister did not talk about all these things.
Don't you feel the urge to raise such issues with the prime minister?
No! Are you a representative of the prime minister? I have raised all these points in Parliament. Parliament is the biggest panchayat of the land and the prime minister is the Leader of the House. We have brought these issues to the government's notice. It is on record, you can check.
After so many years of Independence, why has the Muslim community failed to produce a leader of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad's stature?
You are right. Azad was a Muslim leader and Muslims had faith in other leaders (too).
It is the responsibility of the Muslim community and it is high time they introspect about the question that you have just posed. After 60 years if the Muslims realise it, I feel that will be a great development.
The Muslim community was either deceived or they blindly followed other parties.
The people in whom we reposed our confidence have not lived up to our expectations, our education standards have not increased, enough employment opportunities have not been created.
So, yes, the responsibility lies with the community, but more responsibility lies with these different political parties who have not delivered to the Muslim community.
Do you think the Muslim dependence on religion and clergy is to blame for their plight?
No, Muslims are not dependent as far as religion is concerned. There is no concept of a dharma guru in Islam. Religion does not stop them for asking for a fair share. In fact, Islam is a religion which encourages Muslims to have a just society and work for development.
I don't feel this is relevant. The point is that we have reposed faith in different so-called great secular leaders and they have deceived us.
Is that the reason you are gaining popularity among young Muslims? They feel that rather than being dependent on secular parties it is better to choose your party?
I will be more than happy if my party gains strength and we have more numbers everywhere. But at the end of the day, it is the people who decide in a democracy. We have to work hard. We are raising some important social, political and educational issues.
Is the Congress shying away from Muslims because it fears that it is being branded a pro-Muslim party by the BJP?
After the Congress defeat in 2014, A K Antony said one of the causes (of the debacle, where the Congress won only 44 seats in the Lok Sabha) was the appeasement of minorities.
Antony should have asked: How is it that in the last two Parliament elections, not a single Muslim was elected in Maharashtra? The last one to be elected was Abdul Rahman Antulay from Kulaba in 2004.
In 2009 and 2014, not a single Muslim was elected from Maharashtra. Antony should have gone to the jails of Maharashtra and found out how many Muslims were arrested during the 15-year Congress rule.
How many were released? How many were exonerated after spending years and years in jail? Who is responsible for that?
Antony said on record that the Congress lost the elections because of the appeasement of Muslims. I don't know what kind of appeasement this is.
Has there been a change in the situation since the advent of the Modi government?
Since the Modi government has come to power, we have seen a substantial decrease in the minority affairs budget -- the allocated Rs 900 crore was not released.
In the last one year, the prime minister has not held a single meeting of his 15-point programme (the Prime Minister's 15 Point Programme for the Welfare of Minorities).
The prime minister says 'Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas (together with all, development for all).' He wants development. He wants Muslims to have the Quran in one hand and the computer in the other.
But at the same time, his government has made lakhs of our Qureshi (the butcher community) brothers unemployed by enforcing the beef ban (in Maharashtra).
Now a recent survey in Maharashtra declares madrasa students as 'not school-going.'
The central government, in last year's budget of 2014-2015, had earmarked Rs 100 crore (Rs 1 billion) for madrasas, out of which Rs 70 crore (Rs 700 million) was not allocated. Then they (the Maharashtra government) said that children who go to madrasas are not school-going.
Clearly, the Maharashtra government has a different yardstick, in complete violation of Article 30 of the Constitution (the right of minorities to establish and administer educational institutions).
The Maharashtra government says it is not treating madrasa students as school-going, because they want to bring them into mainstream education.
If that is the case, how is that it is not implementing or not agreeing to reservations for Muslims?
The Bombay high court had said in its interim order that to bring Muslims in a secular polity, reservation in education should be provided to them.
Are you saying the Maharashtra government is contradicting itself?
Exactly. This is a deliberate contradiction.
Isn't the Maharashtra government's derecognition of madrasa education a good thing because Muslim students will now get to learn subjects like mathematics or science?
Do you know that only two per cent of school-going Muslim children go to madrasas?
Just two percent.
Please read page number 75 of the Mehmood-ur Rehman Committee report to corroborate what I am saying. (The committee was appointed by the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party government in Maharashtra in 2012 to probe the reasons for the Muslim community's backwardness).
Read the Sachar Committee report which says only two per cent Muslim students go to madrasas. If that is the case, what is the government doing for the remaining 98 per cent?
The primary purpose of establishing a madrasa is that a Muslim child could become an imam or scholar of Islam of Quran and the Hadith.
He becomes a faqih (an expert in Islamic law) or mohaddis (an interpreter of the Hadith). That is the primary purpose of a madrasa.
There are many madrasas in Maharashtra and in general, India, which teach English, mathematics, computers or sciences; but the primary objective of madrasas is to impart Islamic knowledge.
It is easy to say 'Oh, this is backwardness,' but it is not, because the primary objective of a madrasa is to teach one to become a scholar. And in the process, madrasas are also teaching subjects such as English, mathematics or science.
A classic example is the madrasa of Akkalkuwa (in Nandurbar district, Maharashtra) run by Maulana (Ghulam Mohammad) Vastanvi. He runs a medical college there. Many of these madrasa passouts go on to do further studies. They graduate, they crack civil service exams.
What about the charge that madrasas radicalise Muslims?
The Sachar Committee said the Muslim community sends their children to madrasas because they don't have financial wherewithal. If that is the case, why don't they (the government) give scholarships to the minorities and Dalits?
According to the Kundu Committee report on the status of Muslims in India, the highest dropout rate in schools is that of Muslims and Dalits. The dropout rate starts at the age of 11.
So why does not the government make all the pre-matriculation scholarships demand driven, where anyone who applies could be given a scholarship? That is how you control the dropout rate at the age of 11.
Image: Asaduddin Owaisi, the three-term Lok Sabha MP from Hyderabad. Photograph: Kind courtesy, the AIMIM Web site.
- Part 2 of the interview: 'How can some exercise be taken as a test of nationalism?'