Why does everything Asaduddin Owaisi says become news of the day on Indian news channels?
When RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat said in an interview that Muslims had nothing to fear in India and, “If they wish to stick to their faith, they can…”, the AIMIM leader’s angry retort — “Who is Mohan Bhagwat to give Muslims permission to live in India or follow our faith?” — was immediately ‘Breaking News’. Channels like TV9 Bharatvarsh interviewed him.
When Congress leader Rahul Gandhi declared himself ‘dead’ on 8 January — “Rahul Gandhi is in your mind. I have killed him”, Owaisi’s scathing epitaph, “Then what are you? (Phir tu kya hai?). Djinn hai?” was emblazoned in banner headlines across Hindi and English news channels.
Both comments were frequently telecast along with his photograph or relevant video clips.
His merest observations are broadcast with great fanfare. On 15 January, Owaisi claimed during a speech that Islam had brought democracy to India — it was, promptly, reported on Hindi news channels like News 24.
On 14 January, his tweet about a 45-year-old Muslim man from Moradabad being stripped and beaten on a moving train in Uttar Pradesh found its way onto channels like Zee News.
Also read: The BJP does not want Owaisi, the BJP does not need Owaisi
Owaisi’s special place on TV
Owaisi would be the first to admit that the media, and television news especially, has been more than kind to him. Indeed, his every utterance is given more importance on TV news than that of any other politician, barring PM Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi. You can find something he has said on some news channel each day–Uttar Pradesh’s chief minister Yogi Adityanath, West Bengal’s Mamata Banerjee, and all the other CMs put together can seldom match his stardom.
And, he’s the only Muslim politician to enjoy such media visibility.
So, be it his criticism of the proposed demolition of Muslim-owned houses and shops in Haldwani, Uttarakhand—“according to BJP, Muslims only deserve bulldozers”—his views on the Supreme Court ruling on demonetisation, the December 2022 India-China clashes in Tawang, PM Modi’s handshake with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 summit in Bali, BJP’s Nupur Sharma, The Kashmir Files, all these and more can be seen and heard on TV news.
Now this would be perfectly understandable if he were, say, the leader of the main opposition party in the country. But his party, the All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), boasts of just one Lok Sabha MP: Owaisi himself. Nor does it rule a state, although it enjoys a significant presence in Hyderabad, Telangana, parts of Maharashtra, Bihar, and Uttar Pradesh.
So why is he such a TV celebrity?
Because he’s a man for all seasons and many reasons.
Also read: Hindi news anchors such as Rubika Liyaquat and Sayeed Ansari are like Muslim leaders of BJP
‘Voice’ of his community
Foremost, he is Muslim – a Muslim political leader. He is articulate and sophisticated, outspoken and equally pithy in English and Hindi and of course Urdu. To boot, he is a lawyer who has a way with words and is an excellent public speaker. These qualities make him a compelling communicator—not to mention his tall, striking figure and the neatly trimmed beard.
For the news channels, it’s an ideal mix: they treat him as the chief spokesperson of all Muslims and by reporting his views regularly, they can share a Muslim and minority viewpoint on their channels which are, otherwise, dominated by the majority worldview. This is crucial.
Owaisi’s remarks, prominently displayed on the screen, help counter allegations of media bias against the minority community and strengthen its claims to freedom of speech: see, news channels can say, we allow all shades of opinion.
Also, Owaisi’s urbanity sets him apart from other Muslim personalities on TV shows—they are either clerics or Muslim ‘scholars’ who often speak in riddles, at least to the layperson. By contrast, Owaisi is smooth and suave – that makes him a politically correct representative of his community who speaks his mind on all issues related to Muslims — but also on national subjects.
That his opinions are almost always politically incorrect make him the darling of TV news channels and social media. That he is equally caustic about the BJP and Congress and other political parties endears him to their respective supporters. That he can be critical of his community – he condemned the killing of a Hindu tailor in Udaipur, last June, after his social media post supporting BJP’s Nupur Sharma – increases his popularity with all communities. In fact, you are never quite sure what Owaisi may say, when he will declare ‘hamla’ and on whom, as news channels are fond of saying.
He’s a savvy media personality: he constantly delivers speeches, makes comments, and is generous with his interviews and sound bytes. He’s active on Twitter, too — many of his tweets are picked up by news channels which then create a news story out of them.
Result? Everybody is happy: he gets free publicity, the channels a story and viewers a juicy, controversial statement.
The author tweets @shailajabajpai. Views are personal.
(Edited by Prashant)