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'I'm caught between Maulana Modi and Maulana Mulayam'

By T S Sudhir
Last updated on: June 16, 2016 11:44 IST
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'The problem with the Congress is that it is neither with the secular crowd nor with the Hindutva group.'
'A is for Anti-National. B is for Buffalo. Everything has been changed by the BJP.'
'Bajrang Dal is permitted to hold arms training, but I am not allowed to speak.'

IMAGE: A Muslim resident, who was displaced by deadly communal riots in Muzaffarnagar in 2013, casts his vote during the 2014 general election. Photograph: Anindito Mukherjee/Reuters

On Tuesday, June 14, a cake with the image of All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen leader and the Member of Parliament from Hyderabad Asaduddin Owaisi was cut (external link) during Maharashtra Navanirman Sena leader Raj Thackeray's birthday celebrations in Mumbai.

While his party leaders were extremely upset at Thackeray's action, Owaisi chose not to react; perhaps since the vociferous leader is focused on the fast approaching Uttar Pradesh assembly elections.

Owaisi, image, below, opened up to T S Sudhir on his party's plans for next year's UP elections and why he thinks both the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Samajwadi Party have vitiated the secular atmosphere in that state.

The BJP came up with the story that there has been an exodus of Hindus from Kairana in Uttar Pradesh's Shamli district due to extortion by Muslim criminal gangs.
The local MP likened it to migration of the Pandits from Kashmir. Now it transpires that the story is not entirely true.
Are incidents like this a clear indication that the battle for Uttar Pradesh is now on?

It has been proven by empirical data, including that released by the Government of India, that any exodus that happened, took place due to economic reasons, not due to religion.

You are forgetting that when the Muzaffarnagar riots happened in 2013, the majority of people who moved away were Muslims.

Will the BJP try to probe why it happened? It was a mass exodus. Will the BJP find out where they are, in what condition are they, what happened to their lands?

It is all documented by agencies such as the National Human Rights Commission. Will the BJP form a committee? They were not allowed to live there.

This entire talk of development, development is only a farce. Finally, the BJP has come back to Hindutva. Kairana is proof of that.

As we get into election mode, do you get the feeling that the Samajwadi Party government is under pressure?

The SP is playing soft Hindutva politics. It is playing hide and seek with secularism.

If it wanted, it could have controlled the situation in Muzaffarnagar. But the SP wants to create fear among Muslims, tell them we are your only saviour. But they do not realise that they are the ones politically insecure.

In 2014, the BJP won 71/80 (Lok Sabha) seats in UP. The SP has not learnt from its mistakes in 2014. It still displays a Jekyll and Hyde personality and it will see the same result in 2017.

You have said in the past that the SP and BJP have a hidden understanding. How does that reconcile with the PM's and Amit Shah's attacks on both the SP and BSP?

The understanding between the SP and BJP still exists. The SP government allows the Bajrang Dal and Hindu Yuva Vahini to conduct events, but do not permit me. That itself shows who is on whose side.

What is on the anvil as far as the AIMIM's positioning in the UP elections?

See, I am not allowed to hold a single public meeting. It shows what the SP stands for.

When the by-election took place in Bikapur constituency in February, I addressed three public meetings. Since the Election Commission was in control, the SP administration could not do anything.

Now I am making a list of all district magistrates and SPs who denied me permission and will send it to the EC.

Elections cannot be held in a free and fair manner with this administration. At the moment, our work is taking place on the ground. We will work hard.

Narendra Modi and Amit Shah can hold public meetings, but I cannot. The Bajrang Dal is permitted to hold arms training, but I am not allowed to speak.

In Bihar your party came a cropper, despite the initial hype. Have you learnt any lessons from that election?

In Bihar, we should have done organisational work. But UP is different.

What is your cadre strength like in UP?

I do not want to talk numbers, but I will say our organisation is in better shape compared to Bihar. In many assembly seats, we have identified our candidates, told them to start working in their areas.

Presumably, in contrast to the Bihar polls, where you only contested in the Seemanchal region, in UP you plan to put up many more candidates.

Yes, unlike Bihar, we will be much more spread out in UP. The number of candidates the AIMIM will put up also will be much more.

How would Asaduddin Owaisi compete with a 'Maulana' Mulayam Singh Yadav who has always projected himself as the protector of Muslims?

In fact, I am caught between Maulana Narendra Modi and Maulana Mulayam Singh Yadav. After all, Modi claims to be the bigger Sufi!

As far as we are concerned, we are going to the people on the plank of empowerment to Muslims and Dalits. We will expose the promises made by the SP like the release of innocent Muslims who are in jail on false charges. There is no development in UP.

Do you see UP election as a make-or-break one for your party? After all, another defeat post Bihar will mean you can be written off as a Hyderabad leader while, conversely, a victory will make you a pan-India national leader.

No, not at all. I do not see this election like that. I do not want to be a leader; I prefer to create leaders who will work for the community.

I hate the word 'leader' because leaders of all communities only have duped Indians and led us up the garden path.

How many seats are you likely to contest in Uttar Pradesh?

I do not want to disclose the number at this stage.

The Congress is pinning its hopes on political strategist Prashant Kishor, who is seen to have done magic for Nitish Kumar in Bihar. Do you think he will manage a repeat in UP for the Congress?

I do not know about magic. Magic does not work in politics. Only strategy, communication and organisation work.

It is not a PC Sorcar show. The perception about the party matters. I will give you a recent example.

In the by-poll in Bikapur, the AIMIM candidate polled 11,800 votes while the Congress got 2,900 votes. You can make your own judgement on where the party stands.

As an observer of politics, do you think the Congress, which is in dire straits, is in with a chance?

I cannot answer as a neutral observer because I am an opponent. Moreover, I am not privy to their strategy.

But you look at Telangana. From 21 MLAs in the Telangana assembly, the party is down to 12, the others having joined the Telangana Rashtra Samithi. One of its two MPs also has joined the TRS. The party apparatus is getting vacant.

The problem with the Congress is that it is neither with the secular crowd nor with the Hindutva group. There is chaos and confusion.

In the run-up to the UP election, there has been a new twist in the Dadri beef and lynching case, regarding beef in Mohammad Akhlaq's home.

A is no longer for Apple, it is for Anti-National. B is not for Bat, it is for Buffalo. Everything has been changed by the BJP.

First of all, the meat was found near his home, not in his home. But even if it were to be so, does that justify lynching by a mob?

Are you a vigilante? Does that justify the molestation of the daughter? Are you justifying the killing?

It is for the BJP to think that when its leaders say 'Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas', do they mean this? Its local unit is justifying what happened.

In the run-up to the election, the BJP would try all sorts of tricks.

Your fellow parliamentarian, Union HRD Minister Smriti Irani took objection to the word dear' being used for her by the Bihar education minister.
Would you write 'Dear Smriti Irani' if you were to ever represent to the minister on any issue?

Oh dear! (Laughs)

The twitter spat has been trending on social media

I do not know understand why the HRD minister wants to get involved in semantics.

Why object to the term 'dear'? Even the PM writes 'dear'.

Incidentally, when Union Labour Minister Bandaru Dattatreya wrote that letter to Smriti Irani, asking her to take action against the Ambedkar Students Association in the Rohith Vemula case, he referred to her as 'Dear Smt Smriti Zubin Irani Ji'. The minister had no objection then, why now.

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