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Owaisi’s Bengal foray may prove boon for BJP

By Syed Zubair Ahmad

Buoyed by electoral success in the Muslim-concentrated Seemanchal region of Bihar in the recently concluded state polls, All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) supremo Asaduddin Owaisi has announced his decision to contest the West Bengal assembly elections where Muslims are in sizable numbers. The AIMIM won five out of 20 seats it contested in the cliffhanger contest.

The Hyderabad MP, who has managed to make his footprints from the Muslim electoral  space ceded by ‘secular’ parties, hopes to have even more acceptability in the West Bengal’s Muslim-concentrated constituencies as the controversial citizenship matrix is likely to be the main poll plank. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is set to assert vociferously its sinister political agenda of driving out Bangladeshi “intruders” which will directly affect Muslims. Here starts the politics of Owaisi. Politics of polarization suits both the BJP and the AIMIM.

However, Owaisi falls short of reasons behind his decision to contest the West Bengal assembly polls where Muslims, unlike in Hindi-speaking states, do not face identity crisis. Muslims under the Mamata Banerjee government have been doing fairly well, so questions are being raised over Owaisi’s superstitious move.

Undoubtedly, the rise of Hindu nationalism forced the ‘secular’ parties to cautiously keep Muslims away from poll process. This fear has aptly been exploited by Owaisi. But the methodology adopted by the Hyderabad-based political outfit will further weaken the Muslim community .

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, BJP, VHP 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 copy of the Bill, it would definitely be pro-Hindu. Many people say that Owaisi’s aggressive gesture sent the message that the Bill was set to benefit Hindus.

Interestingly, more than 200 sit-ins, mostly led by women, were organized across the length and breadth of the country against the citizenship regime, but none in Hyderabad – the city comprises 33 per cent Muslims. Notably, the AIMIM, which has its headquarters in the city, has been representing the parliamentary seat since 1984. The party has as many as seven MLAs from there.

Furthermore, the AIMIM also chose to gloss over the Million March, a protest demonstration against the citizenship bill, organized in Hyderabad on January 4. Surprisingly, the city administration did not allow any protest. The organizers had to seek permission from high court to carry out the protest. Later on MIM held a protest against the issue at Ambedkar Stadium in Sangareddy, over 50 kilometers away from Hyderabad.

When the government allegedly pitted its machineries and to defame and communalise the anti-citizenship protests, AIMIM’s former legislator from Maharashtra Waris Pathan made a highly controversial statement saying that “15 crore hain lekin 100 crore pe bhari hain (15 crore Muslims can dominate over 100 crore Hindus”. The provocative statement was made in the presence of AIMIM chief on February 16.

In short, a series of speeches made by Owaisi and his ilk have so far only embarrassed the Muslims and the ‘secular’ parties. On the other hand, his party supports the TRS government which stood with BJP on NRC, Article 370 and triple talaq Bill. In Bihar, he also went on to for alliance with the Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP) which more often extended hands of support to the BJP and even voted in favor of CAA, triple talaq Bill and abrogation of 370.

It should be noted that the BJP got 40.2% of the votes in 2019  up from 17% in the 2014 LS polls and only 3.1% less than Trinamool’s 43.3%  giving the  saffron party a clear mandate to take on the Trinamool in the 2021 state election. Any spilt in Trinamol’s  votes can change the political scenario of the state drastically.

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