Less than 450 metres from the Congress headquarters in Jaipur, a crowd of men surrounded an SUV parked under a two-storey house dotted with posters of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM). Moments later, several youngsters on two-wheelers followed the SUV as AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi exited the state party office and headed towards Bhatta Basti, a predominantly Muslim locality in the city where the Hyderabad MP wanted to stop by before leaving for Sikar district.
“Dekho dekho kaun aya, sher aaya, sher aaya (look, the lion has arrived),” chanted Owaisi’s supporters as the car, guarded by CRPF personnel, crossed the Congress office, which bore a deserted look on Wednesday as no party event was scheduled.
The AIMIM constituted its core committee in Rajasthan this May and during the visit, Owaisi addressed his first public meetings in the state to garner support for his party, which will contest the Assembly elections next year. During his two-day visit, he toured, along with Jaipur, the Shekhawati region and adjacent districts that have a high Muslim population.
At Bhatta Basti, a neighbourhood that is part of the Hawa Mahal Assembly seat, Owaisi visited the house of Pappu Qureshi, a local leader who contested the 2013 Assembly elections as an independent but lost. At present, Qureshi’s brother is an independent councillor while veteran Congress leader Mahesh Joshi holds the Hawa Mahal constituency.
As Owaisi entered the neighbourhood’s narrow lanes and obliged supporters with selfies, he was greeted by posters wishing Joshi. It was the MLA’s birthday. “I have never celebrated my birthday,” quipped the AIMIM chief. “I feel that politicians shouldn’t celebrate birthdays. This is my personal opinion as people from my party, too, celebrate birthdays. The public stands for you for hours in the heat to vote for you. Celebrate birthdays in your homes, why turn it into an event?”
A cook at a local hotel, Mohammad Matloob left the eatery to join the people trailing Owaisi. Matloob said he had voted for the Congress in the last elections and added that he was excited about Owaisi’s visit since he heard about it. A large crowd gathered as Owaisi offered namaaz at a local mosque before leaving for Fatehpur in Sikar district. At present Hakam Ali Khan of the Congress is the Fatehpur MLA.
“Congress in Rajasthan has become a circus,” the AIMIM chief said in Fatehpur. “There is one joker bigger than the other. Every time I came to Jaipur for party meetings, so many intelligence officers were deputed behind me.”
Referring to the recent comments of independent MLA, and Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot’s advisor, Babulal Nagar that only the slogans of “Rajiv Gandhi Amar Rahe (long live Rajiv Gandhi)” and “Ashok Gehlot Zindabad” will be permitted, Owaisi said, “Ashok Gehlot is the chief minister, not a Badshah. If we can chant slogans against Narendra Modi, we will also chant slogans against him.”
The AIMIM chief said the nine Muslim MLAs in the Rajasthan Assembly were “helpless and weak” and their voices were not heard by the government. But, he added, this would change if an AIMIM MLA were elected to the House.
“Responsible people told me that the budget for minorities in Rajasthan is only Rs 98.55 crore for 2022 and the population of Muslims in Rajasthan is 62 lakh. In Telangana, the population of Muslims is around 45 lakh but the budget for minorities is Rs 1,728 crore. How is this fair?” said Owaisi.
The MP praised communities such as Rajputs, Jats, and Gujjars, and invited Dalits to stand with the AIMIM. “I want to salute our Gujjar brothers and their political acumen. They are also nine per cent like Muslims, but Gujjars chose Kirori Singh Bainsla as a leader. My friends, you have to choose a leader from your midst. Muslims in Rajasthan who are socially backward should get reservation,” he added.
Tearing into the Narendra Modi-led BJP government at the Centre over issues such as unemployment and violence perpetrated by cow vigilantes, Owaisi said the prime minister runs faster than a cheetah when asked about unemployment. On Saturday, his birthday, Modi is all set to release African cheetahs in enclosures built inside Kuno National Park.
“Unemployment has increased so much that in the entire world, India has the highest number of unemployed youth. When that youngster asks for income, he is told to become a gau rakshak (cow vigilante). When he says that he isn’t getting a salary, he is told, ‘Kill Pehlu Khan’. Tell me, which route are India’s prime minister and the BJP taking the country in?” said Owaisi. Pehlu Khan was a dairy farmer from Haryana who was waylaid by a mob in Alwar in April 2017 and assaulted. He died of his injuries.
Also taking a jibe at Gehlot, Owaisi asked at one of his public meetings why the CM’s son Vaibhav lost the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. “After we leave, Congressmen will tell you that Owaisi has come here to be a vote cutter. I want to ask, when parliamentary elections were held after the Congress came to power in the state, why did Ashok Gehlot’s son lose? Did he lose because of me? When the chief minister’s son lost, who betrayed him?”
On Thursday, at a public meeting in Jhunjhunu district’s Nawalgarh, Owaisi said Muslims had not got anything apart from iftaar parties, despite voting for the Congress for many years.
“How much have you voted for the Congress? How many times you have voted for the Gandhi family? How many chief ministers did you make? Tell me, what did you get except for Iftaar, Eid Milad parties and mushairas? We didn’t get anything. There were riots in Karauli. The chief minister couldn’t go there. I was speaking to Sindhi Muslim brothers, they said that they are cattle rearers. But when they travel with cattle, people from the Sangh Parivar stop them, beat them up,” said Owaisi.
AIMIM Rajasthan core committee convener Jameel Khan alleged that the state government had called back the police vehicle assigned for the CRPF personnel accompanying Owaisi. “The police vehicle was taken back by the state government in Nawalgarh. We somehow managed to find a private car for the CRPF personnel. We don’t why this happened or whether this is deliberate,” said Khan.
At his public meetings, Owaisi also took potshots at the state BJP that has multiple leaders with chief ministerial ambitions, including former CM Vasundhara Raje who has twice held the top post.
“The Congress is witnessing internal wrestling. It’s happening in the BJP as well. Maharani keh rahi hai ki mai mukhyamantri banungi, Amit Shah unko dekhte bhi nahin hain palatke (The queen is saying that she wants to be the chief minister, Amit Shah doesn’t even look back at her). Now, after my speech today, BJP-Congress will sit together, drink tea and say how to stop him (Owaisi),” said the AIMIM chief.