The 52-year-old, who in recent times has emerged as the most recognisable Muslim leader in the country, is travelling extensively in Uttar Pradesh to address rallies attracting huge crowds…writes Mohammed Shafeeq
From being confined to seven Assembly seats in its traditional stronghold of Hyderabad to now eyeing 100 seats in Uttar Pradesh, the AIMIM has come a long way during the last eight years.
The ensuing Assembly elections in India’s biggest state will be crucial for not just the BJP, Samajwadi Party and other key players but will decide the course for Asaduddin Owaisi-led party in the national polity.
Unfazed by the criticism from all non-BJP parties, who brand him a “vote-cutter”, Owaisi is going all out to emerge as a kingmaker in the politically significant state.
The 52-year-old, who in recent times has emerged as the most recognisable Muslim leader in the country, is travelling extensively in Uttar Pradesh to address rallies attracting huge crowds.
Known for his excellent oratory skills, the MP from Hyderabad is heard slamming all his opponents from the BJP to the SP and countering Union Home Minister Amit Shah, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and SP leader Akhilesh Yadav with his tongue-in-cheek remarks.
At a rally in Sharanpur two days ago, Owaisi came out with his abbreviation of Yogi “Raj” in Uttar Pradesh. According to him, “Raj” stands for “Rishwat” (corruption), “Apradh” (crimes), and “Jatiwad” (Casteism). He was responding to Amit Shah using the “NIZAM” acronym, using the names of Muslim leaders of the SP, the BSP, and the Congress to target the SP rule.
This was also seen as a taunt aimed at Owaisi as the latter comes from erstwhile Hyderabad State, whose Asaf Jahi rulers were referred as Nizam.
“Hum kisi ka qarza baqi nahi rakhtey,” Owaisi said amid loud cheers at the well-attended rally.
Political analysts say the Lincoln’s Inn-educated lawyer has succeeded in reaching out to his target audience in the Hindi belt with equal ease.
His message is clear. Uttar Pradesh’s 19 per cent Muslims need their own political strength, leadership, and participation so that they get their due rights and there should be an end to discrimination and repression the community is being subjected to.
This is not the first time All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) is testing its political fortunes in Uttar Pradesh.
In 2017, the party had contested 38 of 403 seats but drew a blank. It polled about two lakh votes in the seats it contested and only four of its candidates could save their deposits.
However, Owaisi believes that in these five years, his party has become stronger and he is now confident of bagging a big chunk.
Like in Maharashtra and Bihar, the AIMIM is keen to have alliance with smaller parties. However, its efforts have not succeeded so far.
Owaisi was trying for an alliance with BJP ally-turned rebel Suhaildev Bhartiya Samaj Party (SBSP) chief Om Prakash Rajbhar but the latter struck alliance with the Samajwadi Party.
AIMIM leaders say even if alliance with any other party does not materialise, they are in a position to go alone.
The year 2021 has not been very good for AIMIM in its attempts to expand the base as it failed to open the account in both West Bengal and Tamil Nadu.
In West Bengal, AIMIM contested seven seats. It went alone as the efforts to reach an alliance with Indian Secular Front (ISF) failed. In Tamil Nadu, it fielded candidates in three constituencies under an alliance with T.T.V. Dhinakaran-led AMMK.
Aware of the huge challenge it faces in having a pan-India presence, the AIMIM never felt disheartened by the electoral reverses. “Despite defeats in some states, we continue to work there to strengthen the organisation and overcome our shortcomings,” a leader said.
This strategy worked in Bihar and the party hopes that it will be able to repeat this in Uttar Pradesh.
The party had contested six seats in the 2015 Bihar Assembly elections – all in the Seemanchal region, which has a significant Muslim population. However, all six candidates lost, with only one managing to save his deposit.
However, five years later, the AIMIM succeeded in Bihar. In 2020 elections, it won five of the 20 seats it contested. It was a huge achievement for the party as this was the second biggest number of seats after Telangana, where it has seven seats.
This had come a year after the party failed in its maiden attempt to have a foothold in Jharkhand. It contested 16 of the 81 seats in Jharkhand Assembly elections, but failed to win any.
Till 2013, the AIMIM was confined to its traditional stronghold of Hyderabad. Barring a few seats in some urban local bodies in parts of Telangana, Rayalaseema region of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka, the party had no presence outside Hyderabad.
The year 2014 saw the party making a serious bid to expand by contesting Maharashtra Assembly elections. It fielded 24 candidates in the 288-member Assembly and made an impressive debut by winning two seats. The party started dreaming big and expanded the base by constituting units in different states.
The AIMIM, however, came under attack from the Congress and most of the other non-BJP parties for dividing secular votes. Many termed it the “B-team” of the BJP.
However, Owaisi remained unfazed. He dismissed the allegation and questioned the other parties as to what they had done for Muslims in return for their support.
Sporting Hyderabadi sherwani and a skull-cap, Owaisi became the voice and face of Muslim community. Participating in the prime time debates on television, he defended his party’s efforts to expand its base and argued that there is nothing wrong in Muslims fighting the democratic battle to get the rights which the Constitution has guaranteed them.
The year 2019 saw AIMIM receiving a big boost. The party, which had just one Lok Sabha seat (Hyderabad) for the last 35 years, captured the Aurangabad seat in Maharashtra. It also succeeded in retaining its tally of two seats in the Maharashtra Assembly.
Established in 1928 with the aim to keep then Hyderabad State independent, the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) was banned after the state’s merger with the Indian Union in 1948.
However, in 1958 it was revived with a new constitution by Moulana Abdul Wahid Owaisi, grandfather of Asaduddin Owaisi, to champion the cause of Muslims. He named it the AIMIM.
The party claims that its biggest achievement was to give a political platform and an identity to the community passing through turbulent times after ‘police action’ – the operation by Indian Army in 1948 against the Hyderabad State to force it to merge with the Indian Union
Often branded as communal by its critics, the AIMIM, however, claims to represent the interests of not just Muslims but all socially and economically backward classes of society.
Starting from winning a couple of municipal wards in the old city in the 1960s, the party consolidated its base and went on to capture Assembly seats. In the 1980s, it had five seats in the then 294-member Assembly of undivided Andhra Pradesh.
Under Asaduddin Owaisi’s father Sultan Salahuddin Owaisi, the AIMIM became a dominant political force. Salahuddin Owaisi represented Hyderabad Lok Sabha seat from 1984 till 2004 when he made way for his elder son due to ill-health.
Asaduddin Owaisi, who has never lost an election, further strengthened the party after taking over as its President following the death of his father in 2008, and under him the party emerged on the national political scene.
In 2009, the AIMIM won seven assembly seats in Hyderabad, which was its best-ever performance and it continued to hold the seats in Telangana state which was carved out in 2014.
The AIMIM claims to be the only party in India to develop a chain of educational institutions including medical and engineering colleges and state-of-the-art hospitals offering services to the poor at subsidised rates.