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HomeOpinionIndia’s Hindi belt politics has a southern challenger — Asaduddin Owaisi

India’s Hindi belt politics has a southern challenger — Asaduddin Owaisi

The ‘Hyderabad ke mohalle ka leader’ is now being dubbed as ‘nearly king-maker’. Taking him lightly will only cost the Opposition.

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Call him a ‘vote katua’ if you like, but Asaduddin Owaisi has left his fiercest critics introspecting over their take on his party’s electoral graph after the recent success in the Bihar assembly election. The All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, or the AIMIM, won five seats in Bihar and experts are divided over his impact on the overall result.

Data shows that barring one seat, the AIMIM did not secure more votes than the margin of defeat between the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the Mahagathbandhan, thus making the votes polled for Owaisi’s party inconsequential for NDA’s win. But Owaisi’s detractors insist that he is ‘BJP’s B-team’, because the NDA gained most in the third phase of the polling where the AIMIM fielded the majority of its 20 candidates.

Nevertheless, the Bihar election is done and dusted, and all eyes are on West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh now. And the AIMIM president has decided to fight the assembly elections, due in 2021 and 2022 respectively.

Also read: What the Owaisi phenomenon says about Indian Muslims & future of ‘secular’ parties

Owaisi in Hindi belt

Truth is that Owaisi has brought in a new angle to India’s Hindi belt politics. Although the South still has parties that exclusively represent and cater to Muslim voters, North Indian parties are essentially divided between a Right-wing Hindutva party — the BJP — and a pool of ‘secular’ parties. Since the BJP always loses out on the Muslim votes and the ‘secular’ parties gain them, Owaisi’s entry in the Hindi belt evidently divides the Muslim vote. The AIMIM chief also, perceptually, polarises elections, thus consolidating the Hindu vote. However, since Owaisi allied with political chameleons such as the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samta Party (RLSP) in Bihar, who have allied or been soft on the BJP on multiple occasions in the past, it raises doubts on his motives — that his efforts are essentially in opposition to the ‘secular’ parties whose main agenda since 2014 has been to defeat the BJP. By planning to go to West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh, Owaisi doesn’t help that perception of threat among anti-BJP parties.

The Trinamool Congress (TMC), the Samajwadi Party (SP), the BSP and the Congress need to go back to their drawing boards to tackle ‘the Owaisi problem’ who has, for them, turned from ‘just a thorn in the back’ to a prickly bush that does manage to change the overall election result, even though in numbers, it is marginal and not directly in favour of the BJP.

Owaisi always sides with an inconsequential third front, which helps no one. But because he eats into the Muslim vote share, the votes that he garners only make the ‘secular’ parties weak. While the argument is valid that his role is not to help anyone in a democratic election, there exists a strong corollary to this — the BJP inevitably emerges as the single-largest party and, for it, finding allies is as easy as a pie.

The way to understand Owaisi’s modus operandi is to see through the 2019 Maharashtra assembly election numbers. The AIMIM polled 1.34 per cent votes and the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) 4.6 per cent, eating into the Muslim and Dalit votes of the ‘secular’ parties in at least 35 constituencies. However, the AIMIM and the VBA did not win a single seat. In 27 seats, they secured more votes than the victory margin between NDA and the Congress-NCP candidate. For example, in Pune cantonment, the BJP polled 52,160 votes while the Congress lost by just 5,012 votes, securing a total of 47,148 votes. In this seat, the AIMIM secured 6,041 votes. The story was similar in seats like Chalisgaon and Akola West among others. So, dismissing his role into weakening the ‘secular’ parties will be an ignorant approach to his politics. What he achieves by weakening these secular parties, which he brands as “fake” or “hypocrites”, is only up for conjecture.

Also read: AIMIM wins 5 seats in Bihar, but hasn’t made a big dent in Mahagathbandhan vote share

In Bengal, TMC’s fear of Owaisi’s Bihar repeat

Sensing a possible damage to its vote bank, the TMC has already started attacking Owaisi. TMC leader Anubrata Mondal launched a full frontal attack on Owaisi by calling him “BJP’s middleman”. Bengal is Home Minister Amit Shah’s pet project. It will significantly increase the power of the BJP government in Rajya Sabha to pass controversial laws.

The bugle of National Register of Citizens (NRC) was first sounded in Bengal to fuel animosity against Muslims by branding Bengali Muslims as Bangladeshi infiltrators. And on ground, it seems to be working. The BJP has, to its credit, greatly covered ground in West Bengal, which is why Mamata has chosen to go silent over her anti-Modi rants and resorted to chai-making photo ops, much like her arch-nemesis Modi.

Owaisi coming into this political canvas and trying to paint green over Shah’s saffron will further divide the voter on religious lines, which is why the TMC is reacting to Owaisi trying to enter its playing field. The TMC has argued that Owaisi will dent its vote share but that he will only be able to divide the Hindi and Urdu-speaking Muslims, if at all, who constitute just 6 per cent of Muslim electorate in the state. Muslims, otherwise, comprise 30 per cent of the electorate in West Bengal — a vote share that can easily swing an election to any side.

Also read: Owaisi’s AIMIM eats into ‘secular’ parties’ votes but not enough to help BJP win, data shows

UP is no different

The story is similar in Uttar Pradesh. With a 19.3 per cent Muslim population, the Muslim vote in Uttar Pradesh is further divided by the Shia and Sunni factions. While Shias have been traditional backers of the BJP, they remain a minority within the minority.

The major share of vote lies with Sunni Muslims who have traditionally voted for the Congress, BSP and SP. And now they’ll have a new leader to look up to — Asaduddin Owaisi.

With ‘project’ Ram Mandir now cleared, Yogi 2.0 seems to be a done deal. In fact, 2017 saw the decimation of the Muslim representation in the state. While the BSP fielded 99 Muslim candidates, only five won. Out of the 57 Muslim candidates of the SP, only 17 won. And the Congress saw only 2 of its 22 Muslim candidates emerging victorious. The entry of Owaisi will further take away the Muslim votes from the ‘secular’ parties, thus rendering the Muslim vote useless in Uttar Pradesh, which so far was considered the swing vote.

The Owaisi factor in elections is now real. The ‘Hyderabad ke mohalle ka leader’ (Hyderabad’s small leader) is now being dubbed as ‘Nearly king-maker’. Taking him lightly will only cost the Opposition.

The author is a political observer and writer. Views are personal.

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  1. If the so called “Secular” parties want the votes of Muslim citizens, they need to canvas their support, acknowledge their contribution, speak to their concerns, integrate them into their organisations and elevate them to positions of leadership. If they don’t, they must expect Owaisi-like figures to fill the void.

  2. Nothing but justifying the defeats of so called secular parties and of course personal views nothing to do with facts. god bless u with ur views and ignorance.

  3. It’s double whammy for secular-politicians. First, the Hindus dubbed them as Muslim-appeasers. Now, the Muslim that latch on to Owaisi consider them as pariahs. So, secularists are deserted by both Hindus and Muslims. For the W.Bengal Muslims, religion may come first, then the language. So, it is better for secularists to make truce with the belligerent Owaisi.

  4. Akbaruddin represents the moral and ideological reasons for the party to exist.

    It’s important to understand that the onslaught will happen it’s just a matter of time.

    HINDUS believe in education and science and prosperity but must never ignore what’s happening around them .

  5. I heard some speeches from Mr. Owaisi and good thing about this guy is he always refers constitution of India.
    He must be careful about the people around him including his brother.

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