Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (AIMIM) made huge gains in the Bihar results, winning five seats out of 24 in the Seemanchal region. The party’s critics had accused it of being “vote cutters” in the polls, with the Congress dubbing the AIMIM as the BJP’s “B-team”. Here, Owaisi speaks to The Indian Express on the AIMIM’s growth graph in Bihar, its prospects in the upcoming Assembly elections in other states including West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, and the allegation that his party helped divide the votes.
The AIMIM has won five seats in Bihar. You had contested the last Assembly elections and 2019 Lok Sabha but could not win any seats. You won one Assembly seat in a bye-election later. How do you see the graph of your party in Bihar?
Your question is absolutely right. After we lost in the last Assembly elections, since then we have been consistently working in Seemanchal in the last five years. We strengthened our organisation and other areas apart from Seemanchal. In the last Lok Sabha elections, our candidate got three lakh votes. Though we couldn’t win, we came third. Then we won a bye-election in Kishanganj. So in a way we were in a much better position as compared to five years ago in terms of organization, in terms of our hard work in terms of our visibility, in terms of raising issues. And, and also being amongst the people when floods came we held many medical camps, when those migrant labourers came back and they were suffering in quarantine centres our party members went there. So, basically, it was a great team effort. I must thank the people of Bihar, and especially the people of Seemanchal for voting for us.
You were fighting against the BJP-JD(U) alliance. Overall, if you see the results, the NDA is back. And this time the BJP is the largest party in alliance. You were also on the opposition as were the RJD-Congress -Left . How do you explain this result?
Why is it only me who have to explain. Why should I explain? It is for the people who have been ruling for 15 years, it is for people like the Congress Party, which ruled for many years…it is for them. I don’t carry this baggage alone.
The question was how do you analyse the results?
How can I analyse? They should analyse. The result is there in front of us. If you are not able to win then of course, I will personally for my party, I will do some introspection, I’ll find out the weaknesses and overcome it. Because we contested in only 21 seats. It is for the other political parties who were contesting 70 seats or 140 seats or whatever it is for them to answer this question. As far as we are concerned, we were part of this alliance headed by Mr. Kushwaha, Devender Yadav, BSP and Om Prakash Rajbhar’s Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party. Out of that we contested in 21 seats and we tried our level best for the alliance and our party candidates. We could win five seats.
What happened to your alliance partners? Except for the BSP which has won one seat, others could not win any.
Yes it is very sad that they could not win. But at the end of day it is the people’s verdict. So we’ll have to accept it.
What is your message to the opposition?
Which opposition? Everyone is opposing me. So I don’t know which opposition you are talking about.
The rest of the opposition parties which are opposed to the BJP? In Bihar it was RJD, Congress and the Left. And there are many parties in other states too.
I am not privy to any other political parties apart from me about their affairs, I will not comment on their internal affairs. As far as I am concerned, my party is concerned, we will do introspection, we will correct our mistakes, we will try to win more confidence of the people where we could not win. And then move forward. Other political parties it is for them to answer. Why didn’t they win? But let me tell you one thing that you should never form an opinion after seeing crowds in a public meeting. Because, if crowds turn up in huge numbers in a public meeting, and especially in an election meeting, and that might boost the ego of politicians for a while, for some time, but there is no guarantee that it will turn into votes. So that is the biggest challenge which I have seen for myself and for the party. So getting crowds is a different thing, getting them, making them go wild or crazy or, or making them clap and raising slogans and what speech you give, but to convert that into votes is a huge, Himalayan challenge.
It seems the BJP did well in the third phase where you were a major player. So now the other parties will say you ended up dividing the votes. How do you respond to this charge that you in a way contributed to the BJP coming back to power?
Why is this question only asked to me by all the journalists. Why can’t this question be asked to the Congress party? What was your role? Why didn’t you win? They contested in 70 seats. No question is asked about them. No question is asked to RJD. No question is asked to other political parties, but only Seemanchal and AIMIM. This clearly shows the inherent bias in people who ask this question. Elections are conducted so that political parties contest. So far fortunately for us we don’t have the North Korean or some Syrian democracy where in some, only two political parties are allowed and they get 98% vote and 2% are shown as opposition. So elections will be contested. By asking this question and saying damage and all you are demeaning the people who have voted for me, you’re demeaning those people who came out, stood hours in line to vote despite Corona.
They took all the risk and voted for a political party. And in democracy, it is the people’s voice and vote that matters. So it is quite demeaning to say that you won and you lost…And the Congress which is attacking me..who did it lose to? We won I think two seats against the Congress…remaining 49 (of the 70 Congress contested) what happened. Who won those 49 seats. The Congress won one of my seats – Kishanganj…for them that is not vote cutting.
The RJD has always targeted the MY votes. The Congress too believe it has a Muslim vote bank. Now that you have won five seats which show that a section of the Muslim votes have moved to you. Why do you think that has happened?
Why did Abdul Bari Siddiqui, the tallest leader of RJD, lose in Keoti in Darbhanga district. He lost to a Yadav candidate from NDA. How did he lose. And then how do you explain that in the 2015 assembly you had 57 Yadav MLAs in the whole assembly whereas their population was only 14%. And whereas 17% of the Muslim population and only 24 can win. And this time only 18. RJD is only six. How did that number of the RJD come down? This is all bogus politics which they are doing. You should also know that not only Muslims, but even non Muslims, even Dalits voted for us in those five assembly constituencies and everywhere because we are part of this secular front Alliance. And when you are part of an alliance you are supposed to get and you will definitely get votes from all these political parties who have people who support them
But your alliance did not win seats in other parts of Bihar..that clearly shows…
Not winning is a different thing. But the fact is, we did get votes. One cannot say that votes were not given. The result didn’t come according to what we wanted. But one cannot say that I didn’t get RLSP or BSP or Devendra Yadav’s party’s votes.
Do you think there is disenchantment among the Muslim community towards mainstream so called secular parties?
In this whole election campaign, the gathbandhan political parties did not talk about CAA, NPR or NRC. There was complete silence. But why? No, no, if we talk about it will give BJP an advantage. So now what happened? The results are there in front of you. So you don’t talk about development of Seemanchal, the most backward area of our country. You say you give votes…don’t support Owiasi who is an outsider…He is B team, C team, you don’t talk about issues which pertain to people and you assume that whatever narrative you set will work everywhere. And people will blindly follow and vote for you. So, that is why. Then there’s a realisation that India is a diverse country, there is pluralism and that pluralism must be celebrated in a democracy. How can that happen…it can happen when each and every community or caste gets their equal representation? If you see the Muslim political representation in Bihar it is now only 18…18 MLAs have won. What does that speak about our participative form of democracy? You don’t have a Muslim voice, you don’t want to nurture a Muslim voice…you assume that we are only voting machines. And our only job is to vote for you and to uphold your form of secularism, which is completely farce. It does not even relate to what actually secularism is. That is why the disenchantment is there, that is why there is a great yearning and desire for a political leadership within these communities. The hypocrisy of the Congress party..can be clearly seen…you sit with Shiv Sena. You take out all the speeches of the Congress leaders during the Maharashtra elections…everywhere they were saying if BJP and Shiv Sena has to be stopped Owaisi don’t give votes to Owaisi. And then after elections conveniently, you do a honeymoon with Shiv Sena. This is hypocrisy of the highest order. That means that you decide who’s secular, who’s communal. To hell with you. I don’t give a damn about it. All these people who justify, who claim to be so called liberal, secular who justify each and every action in the name of secularism, what is this.. what is left you…at the drop of the hat you change your opinion? So that doesn’t weaken me. That exposes you and that weakens you and in the long run.
Now that you have succeeded in winning seats in Bihar, you had made some presence in Maharashtra earlier…the next round of Assembly elections are in West Bengal, Assam, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Do you plan to field contest candidates?
I have clearly said that I will not go to Kerala and Assam. I will not go there and disturb AIUDF in Assam and IUML in Kerala. There is immense pressure on me from both these states. Not a month passes when a delegation comes and meets me but I have taken a decision I will not go and disturb them unnecessarily no matter what language IUML leaders use against me or AIUDF speak against me I will not go there. Good luck to them. But yes in West Bengal, UP we will definitely go. What is wrong in that?
There’s nothing wrong. The question is about your plans?
In my opinion as a political party we must contest elections because the democracy has to be strengthened and when people say that dictatorship and fascism is growing in our country then there is more the need to contest elections so that your voice is heard..so that you show your opposition to whatever is happening and the best way of doing it is to contest the election.
Do you see a space for your party in Bengal?
Space or no space you have to create your space. I will be speaking to my Bengal unit and I will be taking their opinion and if they are confident in fighting elections then we will definitely take a decision on that.
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