The ever-increasing tribe of defeated, disgruntled and decimated Muslim politicians, after passing their prime in Congress and other non-BJP parties, have in All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen, got a haven to take shelter and ventilate their frustration and grievances against the secular outfits.
It is somewhat natural for them to complain against these parties as they had hardly ever got any chance to play their innings in the saffron brigade and thus know nothing about its internal functioning. Barring ornamental presence like that of Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Syed Shahnawaz Husain, Syed Zafar Islam etc there is no scope for any Muslim community leader to work freely in the BJP. So these retired politicians had little to speak out against the BJP top brass or its organisational structure as such.
Thus one often comes across a long list of complaints against Rahul Gandhi, his parents, or even Indira Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. It is other thing that when they were in power the same Muslim leaders would find no fault with them and would praise to sky these personalities whom they are now blaming for all the problems plaguing the community.
At the regional level these very set of faces would accuse Rashtriya Janata Dal supremo Lalu Prasad, Samajwadi Party duo of Mulayam Singh Yadav and his son Akhilesh Singh Yadav or Bahujan Samaj Party president Mayawati for letting down the community.
The list is comparatively shorter in West Bengal as Trinamool Congress under Mamata Banerjee is in power and thus there is little room for unemployed Muslim leaders here.
The AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi knows the nuisance value of such a lot. So on the eve of any election–Assembly or Parliament–he would hurriedly raise a rag-tag army of politically crippled soldiers to wage a battle royal for the ’cause’ of the community.
Thus a couple of days after Union home minister and a BJP bigwig Amit Shah’s June 7 virtual rally the Bihar president of AIMIM Akhtar-ul-Iman, himself a two-time RJD MLA, announced that his party would contest 32 seats in the coming Assembly poll in the state.
Curiously, the AIMIM became the first party to make its intention clear on the number of seats it is going to fight. But much depends on the number of leftovers from different secular parties who failed to get ticket or spent forces who one way or the other want to revive their political fortune.
For example, several months before the 2015 Bihar Assembly election the party had announced that it would contest at least two dozen seats, but actually put up only six as it could not get suitable candidates. This is simply because outside the Muslim-dominated Kishanganj district of Bihar, AIMIM is considered by Muslims in general as the B-team of the BJP. Their first option across the state would certainly be the RJD-Congress led alliance. However, in case of any compulsion they would instead of opting for AIMIM throw their lot behind NDA candidates, preferably of Janata Dal United or Lok Janshakti Party. So barring a few youths the community in general would not waste their votes by exercising their franchise in favour of Owaisi’s outfit.
A few months back one of its leaders of Bengal claimed that AIMIM would contest in all the 294 seats of the state in 2021 Assembly poll.
In Jharkhand Assembly election last December the party contested on more than a dozen seats. At least one-third of its candidates were non-Muslims. A sizeable number of them who were fielded at the 11th hour were those who failed to get the ticket of their respective parties. The AIMIM suffered humiliating defeat yet in a couple of seats, for example, Bokaro, its candidates could muster some votes and managed to eat into the votes of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, Congress and RJD nominees.
In Jharkhand too its state president was Hubban Mallick, who incidentally is the son of a senior Congress leader and former minister Abdul Mannan Mallick. Ironically, while the son Hubban was hurling criticism on the Congress his father was contesting from the same party. It is other thing that he lost the election. If Hubban is the beneficiary of the same secular party, the Congress, Akhtar-ul-Iman was kept in high esteem by RJD chief Lalu Prasad when he was the party MLA for nine years between 2005 and 2014.
It was on the eve of 2014 Lok Sabha election that he deserted RJD to jump the Janata Dal United bandwagon and got the Lok Sabha ticket from Kishanganj. It is other thing that he withdrew from the contest just three days before the polling was to take place in that parliamentary constituency. At that time Akhtar argued that he was leaving because he does not want to divide the secular votes and lent his support for the sitting Congress MP, Maulana Asrar-ul-Haque, who finally won. The latter died in 2018.
Notwithstanding the fact that Akhtar ditched Lalu at a very crucial time the latter on the eve of 2015 Assembly election personally called on the former asking him to return to the RJD. Akhtar, however, rejected this offer and went over to the AIMIM camp to become its face in Bihar. Be it in the coming Assembly poll in Bihar or Bengal next years much depends on how much the AIMIM manages to poach the deadwood from the politically muddied water.
So far raising the Muslim issues are concerned neither Owaisi nor Akhtar are keen on raising them specifically. When the anti-CAA movement was going on and the police carried out the crackdown the AIMIM chief was busy in campaign in Jharkhand where he repeatedly attacked the Congress-Shiv Sena combine in Maharashtra. Then on Jan 4 he tried to disturb the joint gathering of several outfits in Hyderabad against CAA. Incidentally he announced the rally of his own party on that very day. In Telangana his party is supporting the ruling Telangana Rashtriya Samiti and did not allow Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad and former JNU Students’ Union president Kanhaiya Kumar from addressing rallies.
He never went to Aligarh Muslim University or anywhere in UP where the police carried out crackdown against anti-CAA protesters. He was nowhere in the scene after the riots in North-East Delhi.
When the Muslims in general were upset over the manner in which Delhi and Telangana chief ministers Arvind Kejriwal and K Chandrashekar Rao went overboard in blaming Tablighi Jamaat for spreading the Corona Virus the AIMIM chief deemed it fit to keep mum.
What is surprising is the manner in which Owaisi and his team are allowed to go scot free when in this era of personal vendetta and witch hunting no one is spared. His party leader Waris Pathan is still at large though just before the Delhi riots in February last he gave a very provocative statement while participating in a TV discussion.
All these aspects raise the doubt that Owaisi brothers and their party enjoy the blessing of some-one above.
What is more interesting is that while AIMIM is always keen on fielding candidates in Muslim pockets of Bihar, UP, Jharkhand, Bengal and Maharashtra it is least bothered on expanding the base of the party outside Greater Hyderabad in Telangana. In contrast the 32 seats in Bihar, where it is planning to contest, are spread in 22 districts. In some of them Muslims form very small minority.
Usually, Owaisi would harp on the neglect of Kishanganj in particular and Seemanchal region of north-east Bihar in general. He always bases his argument on the wrong and outdated data to prove that Muslim-dominated Kishanganj is the most backward district of Bihar. The truth, according to various official indicators, is that it is Hindu-dominated Sheohar and Madhepura which are among the most backward districts of Bihar.
(The writer, a senior journalist, is based in Patna. The views are personal.)