New Delhi: Leaders of “so-called secular” parties are now engaged in a running battle with Prime Minister Narendra Modi to prove that they are the bigger Hindus, Hyderabad MP and chief of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), Asaduddin Owaisi, has said.
Owaisi, who has been travelling in Uttar Pradesh and has already announced his intention to fight 100 seats in next year’s Assembly elections in the state, also said that he is open to an alliance with any party other than the Congress and BJP.
“Going to religious places is fine but doing so just before the elections and making a media spectacle of it raises questions,” Owaisi told ThePrint in an exclusive interview. “This is being done more especially since 2014 after the BJP came to power.”
The AIMIM chief also said that the narrative is no longer just “soft Hindutva”.
“Other so-called secular parties have started following in toto what the BJP is doing. The most unfortunate part is that the fight now is to show the electorate who is a bigger Hindu, Narendra Modi or the ‘X’ leader of a party that claims to be secular,” he said. “It is not about soft or hard Hindutva, it is Hindutva and the whole fight is to show who is the biggest Hindu. The late Arun Jaitley once said: ‘When you have the original, why do you need a clone?’ I hope these people will understand that.”
From Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi’s temple hopping to Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Akhilesh Yadav’s promise of a grand Vishwakarma temple on the banks of the river Gomti, temples have become the new battleground in Uttar Pradesh.
Elsewhere, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, looking to take on a more national role, during her recent visit to Mumbai, made it a point to visit the Siddhi Vinayak Temple in full glare of the cameras, while Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal has held Diwali celebrations recently in front of a replica of the Ram Temple being built in Ayodhya.
‘Open to any alliance except Congress and BJP’
Days after Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav ruled out an alliance with the AIMIM, Owaisi said his party is open to an alliance in Uttar Pradesh, with any outfit, except the Congress and the BJP.
Over the last several years, AIMIM has been making electoral forays in several states outside of its home state of Telengana — in fact in the 2019 elections, it also won a Lok Sabha seat in Maharashtra. The latest state on its radar is Uttar Pradesh, where the party is preparing to fight 100 seats, but that could change depending on whether it allies with someone and who that is.
“We are ready for an alliance in UP with any party other than with Congress and BJP. Whether that happens with that party (SP) or any other party, time will tell. But the Samajwadi Party leader has publicly said that he will not be in an alliance with AIMIM,” Owaisi said. “I have to fight elections because I owe it to the members of my party, the organisation that has been working for us. I cannot wait for an alliance to fructify. That does not mean that we do not want an alliance or we are reluctant.”
He also said that the allegation that is often levelled at him, of benefiting the BJP by splitting the “secular” votes, is made without any empirical data. “This is completely untrue. But people should know who wants an alliance and who does not, so that after elections, these things are not said,” he added.
Five years ago, when the party contested 25 seats in UP, AIMIM had lost its deposit in all but two seats. Much has changed since then, Owaisi said, and there is now an organisation that gives him confidence that it would be able to increase its vote share.
“In the last three to four years, we have done well in local body and zila parishad elections,” he said. “Our organisation is better. This time we hope to win some seats, we also hope to increase our vote-share.”
‘Akhilesh’s Jinnah remarks a blunder’
Even while expressing his openness to an alliance, Owaisi said that Akhilesh Yadav’s comments about Mohammed Ali Jinnah, were a “blunder that gave the BJP a handle to say what they have to say”.
Speaking of Jinnah, Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel in the same breath, Yadav had said that the trio helped India win freedom.
“In my opinion, there was no need for the SP president to talk about Mr Jinnah and that too on the birthday of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel,” Owaisi said. “Historically they are two different personalities having two different ideologies. I don’t know who advised the SP president, but that was a big blunder on his part, that gave a big handle to BJP to say what they have to say.”
He added that the Jinnah controversy is taking away from the real issues. “The real issue now in UP is price rise. The farmers not getting price for sugarcane, high prices of petrol diesel, gas cylinder, mustard oil — these are important issues,” Owaisi said. “Unemployment has risen hugely. Instead of talking about these issues, if the opposition parties want to defeat BJP take up such issues, then you are helping BJP in my opinion,” Owaisi said.
Mamata’s non-Congress outreach a ‘popcorn’ moment
Owaisi, who recently fought Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress in the West Bengal elections, is derisive about the party’s attempt at becoming the fulcrum of a non-Congress opposition alliance. “This is a popcorn moment for me. I am enjoying this Congress calling Mamata the ‘B team’ (of BJP), and Mamata calling Congress BJP’s strong point. For a long time this was thrown at me,” he said.
He also compared the Trinamool’s Goa foray and the response from the Congress to his own in West Bengal and how Banerjee had reacted then.
“When I came to West Bengal, the things that were said were ‘Who are you? You are Hyderabad based, why did you come?’ Now when TMC is going to Goa, Congress is using the same language,” he said. “But that is the beauty of a democracy. More political parties, the better it is for the electorate. They have more choice.”
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)