Asaduddin Owaisi, president of All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) which is contesting eight seats in Telangana and supporting the TRS in the December 7 elections, speaks to Liz Mathew about the issues surrounding these elections and why he feels they are a curtain-raiser for 2019.
How confident are you about the performance of the AIMIM and TRS, which you have supported publicly?
I am pretty confident that both parties will do well. Not only will we retain our seven Assembly constituencies, there will be an increase in our tally. I am also sure that people of Telangana will bless K Chandrashekar Rao once again and make him Chief Minister.
There has been difference between what you say in Parliament and your political moves outside. You attack the BJP there, but take steps that would help the party in electoral tests. Why is that so?
Opposing the BJP does not mean that I should not contest, it does not mean that I should not expand my party and it does not mean that I should become subservient to the party which has so far been deceiving us in the name of secularism, i.e. Congress. So the whole argument that you are only secular if you are with the Congress has no substance. There is no truth in it. In Bihar, I contested in only six of 200-odd seats. The argument itself is wrong. Secondly, wherever we have not contested, the Congress has lost — Delhi, Jharkhand, Jammu and Kashmir, Haryana, the list is long. We have to oppose the BJP come what may, because of its ideology. But the whole debate in the country is that why is it that one can only be nationalist if it is supporting the BJP and secular only if it is with the Congress. A substantial number of people do not agree, especially the regional parties and parties like me. We feel we should chalk out an independent course of action and that’s what we are doing.
There is talk about TRS getting close to the BJP before Lok Sabha polls. If it happens, will that be an embarrassment or an issue for your party?
As far as Assembly elections are concerned, this question does not arise. There is no BJP here, in fact, they will lose some of the five seats they have. Why isn’t anyone asking this question to the Congress — are you going to cross 100 or 120 seats? You get 120 seats and the game is over. The whole argument that we, whether it is me or TRS, should join the Congress. But why? Why can’t the Congress deliver? It is because of the Congress weakness and failure that the BJP is in power. This question should be asked to Congress leaders. In Madhya Pradesh, the Congress has given only three Muslims tickets. Then your leader says you must vote 90 per cent. You give three seats in a state where Muslims are about 8-9 per cent. My argument is this — we are not born to vote for you. This whole struggle of mine is for political empowerment, because unless and until, whether it’s a section of the society, class, group, you are politically represented, your issues and development are not addressed at all. This is the hypocrisy of the Congress and the BJP. The BJP gives one seat (in MP) and Congress three. The whole of Madhya Pradesh, you have just four Muslims contesting. I read in an article in a newspaper quoting Rahul Gandhi as saying that his party is with the Hindus. If I had said the same thing in a different way, the nationalists would have slaughtered me from 6 pm to 9 pm. Because Rahul Gandhi said it, it is fine, janeu-dhari Hindu is fine. Fortunately or unfortunately, I am not part of Varna system. Where should I go then?
What is your view on the Congress’ new avatar with its leader going to temples?
India is a country where we celebrate all religions, and even people who do not accept religion. But to say that there is only one religion in this country, and unless and until you follow that you cannot progress socially, I do not buy that argument. The Congress themselves have called its leader a janeu-dhari Hindu. If he is a janeu-dhari Hindu, there is a huge section that is outside the Varna system. What will happen to them? You show me the difference between the BJP and yourself. If you are trying to ape BJP, follow them, you are trying to become a mirror image of (PM Narendra) Modi, then what is the choice people have?
What is your take on the 2019 elections?
Come nearer to the election, I can form an opinion. Right now I can only see one thing — that regional parties will play a reasonable role in the formation of the next government in Delhi. These elections in the five states will be a curtain-raiser and give us an indication on which way the country wants to go.
In Telangana, how many constituencies can your party influence and swing for the TRS?
As leader of my party, I would say every constituency. This Prajakutami is nothing but East India Company 2018. N Chandrababu Naidu, sitting in Amaravati, and Congress sitting in Delhi, cannot become masters of destiny in Telangana. This is a newly formed state and we still have issues with our neighbouring Telugu state. There is a huge issue as far as irrigation projects are concerned, and Andhra Pradesh has opposed many irrigation projects. If backroom remote controlling is done by Naidu from the neighboring state, I don’t think people are ready for it.
You said a Congress leader had offered Rs 25 lakh for you to cancel a rally?
The Congress candidate is speaking to vice-chairman of Bhainsa Municipality, a member of my party, in the audio available now. He is saying the candidate of Nirmal constituency is sitting with me and asking me to tell Owaisi saab that we will give you Rs 25 lakh, stop that Nirmal public meeting. This shows what the talk of probity by the Congress — opposing the Rafale deal because of kickbacks — means. You don’t want me to hold a public meeting, so you first call me a communal person, then you say he is in cohorts with the BJP and when it does not work, you say ‘we have enough money, you take it’. This is the arrogance of the party. From 1998 till 2012, I was with the Congress. Did I ask you something from you? Anyway, you have been exposed.
How do you react to the developments in Kashmir?
Mehbooba Mufti is equally to be blamed. Why did it ally with the BJP? Because of BJP and PDP, we are seeing IS kind of executions in the valley. You are seeing educated young people with PhDs picking up arms. You have seen huge alienation. She is equally to be blamed. They want to form the government now, whereas they did not even contest the local polls. And now, we have not seen the governors — whether it is in BJP or Congress rule — living up to their great standards of constitutional impartiality. They have never followed the Bommai judgment. What happened there was the continuation. I hope someone challenges it in the Supreme Court