The silence of some of the most prominent politicians over an attempt to kill All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen president, and parliamentarian, Asaduddin Owaisi, is deafening. He escaped unhurt. The bullets fired by two men hit his car near Meerut on Thursday.
Imagine the outrage such an incident would have evoked had it been some other Member of Parliament or president of some other party with presence in the Lok Sabha and in at least three state assemblies. That the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) isn’t going to town about this shooting incident is understandable. One doesn’t expect Prime Minister Narendra Modi to condemn a bid on an MP’s life, especially when it happens to be Asaduddin Owaisi.
The only BJP leader of consequence who has reacted is Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, who termed the incident ‘unacceptable’. In the same breath, he also ‘appealed’ to leaders of political parties not to make speeches that could hurt the sentiments of any section of people. Adityanath’s comment, a day after the firing incident, wasn’t spontaneous though. It came in response to a question about the incident in an interview with News 18.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah is now likely to speak on the attack on Owaisi in Parliament on Monday.
Silence of Opposition leaders
What’s surprising, however, is the nonchalance of Opposition leaders. Except Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav and the Telangana Rashtra Samithi’s KT Rama Rao, and some local Congress leaders in Telangana, no opposition leader of any consequence has condemned the attack on Owaisi — not the Gandhis, not Mamata Banerjee, Jagan Mohan Reddy, Arvind Kejriwal or any other Chief Minister or party chief. That’s despite the fact that the incident gave them a big stick to beat the BJP with. It happened in BJP-ruled UP, whose chief minister holds a gun in the party’s campaign song. And one of the attackers was a self-proclaimed BJP member, who displayed his membership number and also pictures with senior BJP leaders on Facebook.
What’s holding these opposition leaders back? There could be three possible explanations.
First, they don’t find this incident serious enough to merit their attention. Because the bullets hit the car, and Owaisi escaped unhurt. This explanation, however, doesn’t hold water. A bid on a prominent politician’s life is a serious matter, although Opposition leaders, who prefer to talk about their own family’s sacrifices, apparently don’t find it alarming enough.
Second, the Opposition leaders really believe what they say rhetorically — that Owaisi is BJP’s ‘Team B’ because he ends up splitting their ‘Muslim vote bank’. They are wrong, of course. In September 2020, ThePrint analysed the results on seats contested by the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) party members in elections over six years. The analysis showed that the AIMIM, per se, made little or no dent on the so-called secular parties’ fortunes.
These facts, however, don’t matter for Opposition leaders. They want Owaisi to help their ‘secular cause’ but won’t break bread with him. Basically, they would like Owaisi to sacrifice himself to help their cause. He is not willing to do that, and this upsets ‘secular’ leaders greatly. As an AIMIM leader once told me caustically: “They (secular parties) basically want to treat us like… Meet them in the darkness of night but don’t be seen anywhere near them during the day.” I will leave it to you to understand how these parties treated them.
The third reason for Opposition leaders’ silence could be their political calculations and compulsions. That if they make an issue out of the bid to kill Owaisi, it would help the BJP to polarise the upcoming state elections along communal lines. Behind this logic is their assumption that Owaisi is such a polarising figure that saying anything in his support would alienate Hindus from them.
Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy would readily send his state home minister, M Sucharita, to unfurl the Tricolour at the controversial Jinnah Tower in Guntur. Doesn’t matter if it legitimises the Hindu Vahini. Rahul Gandhi would rather do ‘Ganga aarti’ at Har ki Pauri in Haridwar. Even when the Congress leader talks about hijab controversy in Karnataka, he has to invoke “Ma Saraswati” to support his stand.
By letting students’ hijab come in the way of their education, we are robbing the future of the daughters of India.
Ma Saraswati gives knowledge to all. She doesn’t differentiate. #SaraswatiPuja
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) February 5, 2022
Hindus are liberal enough
The Opposition leaders appear to have preconceived notions about how Hindus would react if they talk about issues concerning Muslims. What they don’t get is the fact that Hindus may or may not agree with Owaisi’s views, but most of them are intelligent and liberal enough to smile at even his most provocative remarks. They can see he is addressing his constituency and doing his politics just as Modi, Rahul Gandhi and Mamata Banerjee do theirs.
These leaders, however, seem to be worried about the political consequences of condemning the bid to kill Owaisi. Because there will be no such consequence. They may like to hear what poll strategist Prashant Kishor, who prefers to call himself a political aide to politicians, had to say about Hindu voters at ThePrint’s Off-the-Cuff programme. “Even in the most polarised elections, the BJP hasn’t got more than 50-55 per cent Hindu votes,” he said.
With Modi’s popularity registered at its all-time high in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, at least half of the Hindu population did not vote for the BJP (which got 37 per cent votes in a population of 80 per cent Hindus). Even for 50-55 per cent of Hindus who voted for the BJP, aggressive or belligerent Hindutva doesn’t necessarily determine their voting behaviour. For most of them, it’s Modi — his persona, integrity, development agenda, brand of nationalism, global status, and, of course, his Hindu credentials.
Trying to counter ‘minority appeasement’ charges by doing ‘Ganga aarti’, rendering Chandipath or reciting Hanuman Chalisa is smart politics. ‘I-am-also-a-Hindu’ refrain is also ok. But to not condemn the attack on Owaisi’s life and extend him good wishes for fear of polarization, and of being seen with a firebrand Muslim leader, is a sign of extreme insecurity and vulnerability. Opposition leaders need to understand Hindus and Hinduism better.
DK Singh is Political Editor, ThePrint. He tweets @dksingh73. Views are personal.
(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)