All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen chief Asaduddin Owaisi.
Snapshot
  • The idea of Jinnah ultimately is not about Muslim empowerment, but separatist thinking.

    Following the Ayodhya verdict, all Indians must be careful to ensure that new Jinnahs do not rise again within ‘secular’ India.

The Supreme Court’s verdict in the Ram Janmabhoomi case has provided the right setting for the possible emergence of new Jinnahs in India. One man who has been trying hard for that honour is Asaduddin Owaisi of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), who said the verdict did not mean the Supreme Court is infallible.

It’s certainly true that the courts are not infallible, but Owaisi followed that up by rejecting the court’s order giving Muslims five acres of land to build a mosque as unwanted “charity”. PTI quoted Owaisi as saying that “we do not want this khairat (donation or charity). Our fight was for a legal right, for a Babri Masjid. Our fight was not… to get this piece of land.”

Fair enough. But Owaisi is not necessarily a wysiwyg politician, where what you see is what you get. He has two sides to him, a formal constitutional side, and a closet Islamist side. He is both Jekyll and Hyde. By day he will demand secular justice; at other times, he will be making incendiary remarks that can often be seen as communal.

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Over the last few years, he has made statements claiming that every child born is a Muslim. After one incident involving miscreants cutting off a hapless Muslim victim’s beard, Owaisi thundered he would convert them. “Those who did it, I am telling them and their fathers, even if you slit our throat, we'll be Muslims. We will convert you to Islam and will make you keep a beard.”

His brother Akbaruddin Owaisi takes the cake when it comes to delivering hate speeches against Hindus. At one meeting a few years ago, he said that if the police were to disappear for 15 minutes, the minority community would annihilate the majority. On another occasion, he called the RSS a “club of bachelors”, and thus evaders of family responsibilities.

The Owaisis, whose political base in Hyderabad, inherited the anti-Hindu party of Razakars (ie MIM) when its rabidly communal chief, Qasim Razvi, was forced to leave for Pakistan in 1957 after he was arrested earlier for unleashing terror against the Nizam’s Hindu subjects. At the time of leaving, he wanted to hand over the MIM to a local, and Asaduddin’s grandfather volunteered to run it. He got the party on a platter, and since then the Owaisis have ruled large parts of Muslim-dominated Hyderabad city.

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In recent years, the Owaisis have been trying to expand their base beyond Hyderabad, and have found some purchase in Nanded, Aurangabad, Malegaon and Mumbai in Maharashtra. In the recent Bihar assembly by-elections, the AIMIM made a breakthrough by winning its first seat ever in Kishanganj.

It is difficult to predict whether Asaduddin Owaisi will make further gains in the Muslim-dominated pockets of India on a larger scale than hitherto, but that would depend on how disillusioned Muslims are with the regular 'secular' parties, including regional ones in various states.

But, in terms of possibilities, Owaisi certainly has the potential to play the role of a new Jinnah among India’s Muslim minorities, given his aggressive talk against the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Sangh.

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The idea of Jinnah is actually peculiar to India. Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, found his strongest support not in the regions now called Pakistan or Bangladesh, but in Hindu-dominated Muslim minority areas like United Provinces (now UP). Jinnahs rise only in Muslim-minority regions, not Muslim majority areas.

The idea of Jinnah – not the historical person, but essentially a strong Muslim leader who will lead the flock in defence of its rights against traditional Hindu rivals – appeals a lot to many Muslims inside India even now.

The difference between Asaduddin and the real Jinnah lies in how they came to the same conclusion about providing leadership to the minority Muslims in India, one before independence and the other after the failures of bogus Indian secularism. Before he embraced the idea of Pakistan as a political necessity, Jinnah was a man who loved his pork, his daily alcoholic drink, and regular smokes. He traded his well-tailored suits for a sherwani only after he embraced the idea of Pakistan and partition. Today, the creator of Pakistan is simply a sanitised hero who fought against Hindu machinations and created the new Medina called Pakistan.

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Asaduddin, in contrast, is a dyed-in-the-wool Muslim from head to toe. He speaks the language of secularism, but when he is with his cheering followers, he is likely to slip into covert Hinduphobia, expressed as hatred for the Sangh parivar and Narendra Modi in particular.

Given falling faith in the traditional 'secular' parties, Muslims have been looking for new Jinnahs in various places. The answers range from Badruddin Ajmal in Assam to Azam Khan in Uttar Pradesh to Asaduddin Owaisi in Hyderabad, who is now expanding his political footprint by entering into local electoral tie-ups with Dalit parties.

The idea of Jinnah ultimately is not about Muslim empowerment, but separatist thinking. Following the Ayodhya verdict, all Indians must be careful to ensure that new Jinnahs do not rise again within 'secular' India.

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At some point in the future, when such Muslim parties manage to gain electoral traction, there could be demands for either separate electorates (which existed before independence), or reserves seats or proportional representation. The mainstream parties are unlikely to agree, but if Indian politics become more fractious, the Owaisis will gain traction.

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