Owaisi and Ilk Can Take Backseat, the Change They're Driving is not the Sort India Needs
“My name is Khan and I am not a terrorist,” the immortal line delivered by Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan in the eponymous film, went viral in 2010, sending the message that the majority of Muslims oppose violence. In 2014, the minority audience has been captivated by a leader whose name is Owaisi, who appears to be an error-ist.
In Asaduddin Owaisi’s quest for nation-wide acceptability, the 46-year-old barrister from Lincoln’s Inn has committed an error of judgment. Like many other Muslim leaders in the past, he too pursues the notion that he is the chosen one meant to carve out a political niche by communally pandering to his community’s fears. In the past few weeks, he has not missed any opportunity to project himself as the saviour of minority interests, as if it is the only course open to him to survive and thrive in politics. In that respect, he has something in common with Mohammed Ali Jinnah, also a barrister from Lincoln’s Inn, who fought for a separate nation for Muslims, taking the divisive position that India wasn’t doing justice to his community. Most of India’s Muslims rejected this thesis. Owaisi, however, had till recently limited his ancestral political fiefdom to in and around Hyderabad, where Muslims form the largest chunk of the electorate. His latest gambit to delve into the Bihar poll fray reflects his dream to acquire the label of a pan-India Muslim leader. He is putting up over 40 candidates in Muslim-dominated constituencies. He and his brothers are known more for their acerbic speeches against the majority community than for crafting a road map to improve the conditions of impoverished section of minorities. Perhaps because they are his vote bank. Besides, in Bihar, it is unclear how a leader contesting less than 20 per cent of seats can bring about any transformation in a caste-ridden state.
Having tasted political blood in Maharashtra, where his party with the tongue-twister moniker, ‘All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM)’, did fairly well in both the Assembly and municipal elections, Owaisi has expanded his battlefield to other parts of the country. He appears at every spot where any communal accident or incident takes place. Last week, he popped up in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh, where a Muslim was lynched to death because he was suspected to have stored beef in his larder at home.
Owaisi has every right to practice his kind of politics. He is one of India’s few Muslim leaders, who is widely travelled and well educated. The question is why does an erudite leader like him indulge in communal politics? A study of the rise and fall of leaders in India since the early 20th century reveals that ones who took up the cause of extreme elements could never become national leaders. None of the Hindu Mahasabha satraps could acquire national stature because the overwhelming majority of Hindus disapproved of their actions. Jinnah floated the Muslim League because he failed to get his spot in the sun, pun intended, in the Indian National Congress. Owaisi and his type do not perceive themselves as leaders of an inclusive India. Most Muslim leaders are involved in combat to capture the majority of minority sentiment, not realising that it wouldn’t serve their mission to impact the nation’s governance. It is surprising that even after 68 years of Independence, the country doesn’t have a single Muslim leader with pan-India acceptability among his own community, let alone others. India has produced leaders like Abul Kalam Azad, Rafi Ahmed Kidwai, Dr Zakir Husain and more who spoke for the nation as a whole, not just for its 17-crore Muslims. India has the largest Muslim population after Indonesia. It should give enough of a headstart for any leader who empathises with the angst of his community. It is true that the benefits of economic development have not reached the minorities fully. All political outfits have ritually obliged a few Muslim leaders by giving them symbolic posts in the government or party. After the fall of Babri Masjid, the voice of the moderate Muslim has been drowned in the cacophony of protests of a psychologically wounded section of the community. Instead of exploring reconciliation, insane elements in both the Muslim and Hindu communities took to violence. Since then, they have been talking in terms of revenge and rivalry rather than friendship and fraternity. Owaisi and his ilk are forgetting that when anyone who practices the rhetoric of extremism becomes the darling of just the fanatic fringe, they are hated by the silent, peace-loving majority. He can draw some consolation from the fact that electoral expansionism may have paid some dividends, but like many others of his plumage, he too is a victim of diminishing returns.
Owaisi is seen as a leader who divides those voters who are expected to fight what he and fellow travellers call the Hindutva forces. But it wasn’t a coincidence that all the AIMIM candidates lost their deposits in the Bengaluru civic elections. Even organisations such as Sanatan Sanstha are rejected by the majority of the Hindu and secular elements because the DNA of India is genuinely secular. Owaisi is advised to ponder why any Google search throws up only the names of film stars while looking for India’s top Muslim leaders. Of 20 names, 18 are from tinseltown and academia. Isn’t it a tragedy that in a country where over 16 per cent of the population is Muslim, not one prominent political activist is considered the legitimate face of the community? Indian voters have always rejected extremist elements. The Muslim League has been reduced to a party in a few districts of Kerala. The Shiv Sena hasn’t been able to cross the Vindhyas, as well as the numerous smaller offshoots of the saffron type. Even the Ram Sene’s antics couldn’t get them an entry into Goa.
The Indian Muslim needs a voice that resonates over the political landscape, which speaks up for their genuine demands. Today’s minority leaders are seen as pocket borough paladins or vote bank small-timers. It is a matter of concern that India’s moderate and progressive Muslims scholars and opinion leaders are staying schtum on the rise of the extremist elements in politics. None can deny the reality that Muslims are an integral part of India’s unique identity as a tolerant nation. It is time they found leaders who speak for an Inclusive India and not a Divided Bharat. The voice of Owaisi is as dangerous for Muslims as the venomous statements made by fringe Hindu elements for the rest of the country.
Owaisi’s Facebook page sports the slogan: ‘Bihar, change will come.’ Mr Owaisi, keep the change. Yours is not the sort India needs.
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