Asaduddin Owaisi, a third-term Member of Parliament representing the Hyderabad Lok Sabha seat since 2004, and president of the Majlis-e-Ittihadul Muslimin (MIM), is a Bachelor of Law from the prestigious Lincoln’s Inn in London. An alumnus of the Hyderabad Public School and the Nizam College, he has been steering his party and trying to provide leadership to the Muslim community across the country by expanding his party rapidly, especially since the rise of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Inheriting a mantle with challenges aplenty from his father, Sultan Salahuddin Owaisi, he has been dextrous and pragmatic in his politics, while maintaining a steadfast ideological opposition to the BJP, a party he perceives as an enemy and threat to his community. But he has been flexible in his alliances with the Congress and the two regional parties that have ruled from Hyderabad — the Telugu Desam and Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS). He is facing his greatest challenge since 2014, when not only his political and existential enemy, the BJP, came to power at the Centre with a majority of its own but he also exited the Congress-led UPA and opposed the formation of Telangana.
Hailed by his supporters as Naqeeb-e-Millat (leader of the community), the articulate, shrewd, analytical, politically insightful Mr Owaisi spoke to Deccan Chronicle on a range of issues, including the prospects of the TRS-MIM combine in early elections in the state, the situation and mood within the Muslim community in the Modi era, and the strategy to defeat the BJP in 2019. Excerpts.
You are a friendly party to the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) despite having opposed the cause of a separate state and the TRS supporting your rival candidate in the 2014 elections. Were you consulted by Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao before taking the decision?
The question is now moot, and too late to be answered. Now that the decision has been taken, I will describe it as a bold one. When an incumbent chief minister decides to dissolve the Assembly despite having a comfortable majority, and goes to the people asking them to renew their mandate eight-nine months ahead of schedule, it shows how confident he is. We have only one precedent I can think of — the then chief minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, seeking early elections in 2002. While Modi did it to consolidate the ill-gotten gains of communalism, KCR is seeking an early mandate to consolidate his good governance, having delivered extensive development, massive growth and peerless welfare schemes.
It is true that in the larger interest of our community we stood against separate statehood, but once Telangana state was formed, we stood by the Chief Minister and his government in providing greater stability in the Assembly and ensuring the state does well. This was important because there were several fears based on perception and real forces working against the interests of Telangana.
The reason I asked was because despite being a one-MP party, you were treated with great respect by the Congress in the two UPA regimes as long as you were part of it. UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi was personally known to consult you on several policy matters. Have you lost in stature from being part of the ruling Central government to being in a place where you are not even possibly consulted by your friendly party in a state?
I have the highest respect for UPA chairperson Smt Sonia Gandhi. But my personal relationships aside, we are in politics for our people, in my case my Muslim community and other downtrodden sections, especially the Dalits. Ever since the unfortunate demise of Chief Minister Dr Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, the Congress-MIM political relations were nose-diving. False cases were foisted on me and I was put in prison.
The minority community welfare programmes were shelved and a moratorium was imposed on development activities in Muslim populated areas. Riots became the order of the day. There was complete stalling of all development and welfare between October 2009 and May 2014. The police in Andhra Pradesh played happy partners to the illegal detentions of our youth who were taken on false charges to Gujarat, where they languished. We supported the Congress from 1998 till 2012. But could the MIM have continued to be a partner of the Congress when they became anti-Muslim? That too for the sake of my personal friendship or for personal importance?
You have not answered my question: Did KCR consult you on early polls?
There are some things I cannot reveal to Deccan Chronicle. There will be secrets I have to take to the grave.
How pleased are you with the performance of the TRS government, especially on the issue of minority welfare and development?
This has been the best state government in India since 2014. Despite being a new state plagued with issues of bifurcation, it has done immensely well. Shadi Mubarak has been one of the most emotively and positively responded to schemes. From pension schemes for senior citizens to scholarships in residential schools where over 50,000 Muslim girls and boys are getting the best education free of cost, to overseas student scholarships, where over 1,000 Muslim youth are getting reimbursed for their education to the tune of `20 lakh per student, to rice and other necessities at lowest price — I have little doubt in declaring that Muslims have fared best in Telangana state since 2014. One can always sit in judgement and say more can be done, but I am very convinced of KCR’s sincerity and commitment towards minority welfare. More will be done in the next term on this front.
Are you going to contest as an alliance partner or will there be a friendly fight?
Let me explain to you a basic tenet of politics: There are no friendly fights. Every party fights to win. Wherever in Telangana state the MIM will contest, it would be to win the elections.
Who do you think will win? If TRS wins, will you be a part of the next government?
There are no ifs about TRS winning. It will win the election and KCR will be the next Chief Minister and head a stable government.
Will the next Chief Minister be KCR or KTR, as is being generally perceived?
Generally perceived where? In some media discussion? I repeat that the next government in Telangana state will be a stable one and headed by Chief Minister KCR.
So if KTR is made Chief Minister, will the MIM object?
What is the need for such a hypothetical discussion? If something like that happens, come to me. I will tell you then.
The Congress argues that you are compromising on the core political values of the MIM by being friendly with a party that is perceived as pro-BJP, has purportedly a clandestine alliance with them and will join the NDA after the next Lok Sabha elections. Is Mr Owaisi compromising on the interests of the Muslim community?
I would have said that Congress should do some soul-searching, but I am not sure if they have a soul anymore. So let me say, let them introspect. How many times has the Congress supported the BJP in Parliament since Modi became Prime Minister? I can give many examples but two would suffice. When the Delhi High Court passed a judgment invalidating foreign funding and contributions to political parties, both of you (Congress and BJP) compromised and passed a cosy Bill of mutual benefit to bypass the judgment. Not just that, they legalised all the past foreign funds received by both these national parties with retrospective effect. Who supported the triple talaq bill in the Lok Sabha? Why does the Congress think the Muslim community listens to it any more after they have sold us out to be nice to the Modi-Shah duo?
If your primary aim is to defeat the BJP, isn’t the Congress a necessity?
We have two certifying authorities in India — the Congress and the BJP. While Congress issues certificates of secularism, the BJP issues certificates of nationalism. The MIM does not need either of these certificates from these dubious sources. The Congress must realise the days of its preferred politics of entitlement are over. Why did they not call Chief Minister KCR seeking support of the TRS in the recent elections for the deputy chairperson of the Rajya Sabha? Why did they not call the Aam Aadmi Party? Their dreams of the comeback of their dictatorship must end.
But the question remains: Are you not an ally of the TRS which might be an ally of the BJP? Can you afford to have the MIM be seen as on the same side as the BJP?
The MIM has been the constant, most vociferous, and consistent opponent of the BJP and its ideological backers, the Sangh. Look at my track record in Parliament. Who voted for the no-confidence motion? The reason Congress thinks it can arm-twist regional parties into supporting it is because of media liberals like you who have a soft corner for it and won't ask it tough questions. Can the Congress stand up and declare we will win 100 seats in 2019? Isn't there a direct battle between the Congress and the BJP in nearly 190 seats? Who makes the political life of the BJP easy by not winning, but also not willing to take allies together? What happened in Chhattisgarh when they were not willing to co-opt Ajit Jogi and Mayawati? Why are they not forming an alliance in Madhya Pradesh?
One day Rahul Gandhi says PM is ‘whatever-he-said’ in the Rafale deal. Next day, his ally Sharad Pawar gives him (Modi) a clean chit. Any response? The day the judgment on the mosque came, did a single Congress spokesperson give a statement or interview? Nothing has weakened secularism in India more than the selective, hypocritical lip service and actual practices of the Congress. My answer to this mindset of theirs — to hell with you. I don’t need you to stand for the Muslims of India. Inshallah, we will fight the Sangh and protect our people till our last breath.
What if there is a hung Assembly?
Another media speculation. There will be a comfortable majority for KCR.
Your party leader and brother Akbaruddin Owaisi said this… not a media speculation. He said what happened in Karnataka can also happen in Telangana.
What he said for an hour before and 30 minutes after that was ignored; one minute’s statement was blown out of proportion. As party president let me state in unequivocal terms — the MIM does not want power, only the protection, development and welfare of its people. We will be friends with the TRS to ensure we can maximise benefits for our people, not enjoy power.
Where do you see India headed in 2019? What would be your party’s strategy?
Firstly, we will go to the people and hope the people of Telangana state give us the Hyderabad Lok Sabha seat and a huge bumper for the TRS, say 15 seats. We will try our best to defeat the BJP in Secunderabad. This will ensure not KCR or Owaisi but people of Telangana have the maximum say in the formation of the next government.
From a Muslim community perspective, how has the Modi government fared?
Their single obsession with select directive principles of state policy, uniform civil code and the ban on beef has destroyed the moral fabric of governance. Does the Supreme Court have to remind the Central government that the fundamental rights are supreme, and the right to life is so sacrosanct that a government which fails to protect life and liberty of citizens has no right to continue?
Every single fear of the Muslim community has come true. Their agenda to render Muslims and Dalits as second class citizens is no longer hidden.
Your views on the Muslim representation in legislative bodies and Parliament in India and the ways to augment it?
Muslims have less than four per cent representation as against an over 14 per cent population. The country must truly ask itself — are we really your brothers and sisters? Not just in Parliament, every aspect of social empowerment has been denied to Muslims and Dalits. There is place only where Muslims have higher than proportionate representation — incarceration in prisons, and for Dalits, in manual scavenging. India must solve this issue as much as Muslims and Dalits must unitedly fight to reverse the injustice.
Are you conceding that the BJP will win in 2019? Has the Muslim community reconciled with this eventuality?
Every day since this government came to power a Sangh agenda is being pushed. People are lynched on rumours of consuming beef or even trading in cattle. Even Hindus are not being spared — if a Hindu girl talks to a Muslim boy, the police will manhandle her on camera.
But why is protecting secularism the sole battle and responsibility of the Muslims? Does not every Indian have a role in protecting secularism? Protecting the supremacy of the Constitution? Here are people in power who have not delivered to any section except a handful of industrialists. The rupee-dollar exchange is not to everyone. The petrol, diesel and gas prices are skyrocketing. No jobs. No growth. Destroyed the informal economy. Everyone has been cheated. Now scams in defence deals are beginning to come out. Why will anyone want to re-elect such a government?
Is there an opposition leader who can take on Modi?
In my mind, India is too big and Owaisi, Rahul Gandhi and Modi are too small. When the country wanted, it threw out Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and Atal Behari Vajpayee. The time for the TINA (there is no alternative) game is over. We are optimistic because various by-elections as well as mood of the nation surveys have shown the BJP has lost over eight per cent of its vote. We will see a defeated BJP in 2019....