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India: Muslims-only party vs secularism?

Friday 6 February 2015, by siawi3

Owaisi’s plans for UP Muslims: Should ’secular’ parties hit the panic button?
by Ratan Mani Lal Feb 4, 2015 14:49 IST


Lucknow: The reported initiatives of the Hyderabad-based Asaduddin Owaisi to seek a foothold in Uttar Pradesh has alerted political outfits in the state as the move – if it goes ahead as planned – may cause a substantial shift in Muslim voters away from the so-called ‘secular’ parties.

Photo: MIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi. IBNLive

According to reports in Lucknow, the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) president Asaduddin Owaisi and his younger brother Akbaruddin Owaisi have established a line of contact with the community through a couple of local Muslim leaders in Lucknow and Azamgarh. This had first come to light in November 2014, and since then, the AIMIM has been running a membership drive.

Interestingly, it was initially reported that Asaduddin Owaisi, the MP from Hyderabad, wished to adopt the Muslim-dominated Sanjarpur village under the Saansad Adarsh Gram Yojana (SAGY). Before that, the senior Owaisi had given statements on the condition of Muslims and communal riots in Uttar Pradesh that were quite uncharitable towards the ruling Samajwadi Party.
It is learnt that Asauddin Owaisi had visited Lucknow during the month of Ramzan (corresponding to July) last year and met, among others, Maulana Saeed Athar Qasmi of the Tehrik Umar Society, an outfit ostensibly dedicated to welfare projects for the Muslims. Qasmi was reported entrusted with the task of strengthening the membership drive and Mohammad Shaukat Ali of Azamgarh was made the party convenor in the state.

Shaukat Ali also said that the membership drive has been continuing since 2014 across the state and will continue till June this year. After that Asaduddin Owaisi is expected to tour different districts and also organize a big programme to spell out his plan of action for the Muslim community.

A report said that besides Azamgarh, the AIMIM is likely to focus on Gorakhpur, Fatehpur, Unnao and Varanasi – areas represented by Yogi Adityanath, Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, Sakshi Maharaj, all so-called Hinduttva hardliners, and Narendra Modi. Apparently, the party would like to take advantage of the unease among the Muslims after polarizing statements given in the past by some leaders.

The reported move of AIMIM wishing to adopt Sanjarpur is seen as a ploy to polarize the Muslims of this region. Sanjarpur itself had bagged the headlines after revelation that the two persons gunned down in Delhi’s Batala House encounter in 2008 belonged to this village. Azamgarh also happens to be the Lok Sabha constituency of Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav. The district has a population of roughly 47 lakh, with nearly 30 percent Muslims, according to local estimates.

According to the party’s website ( Asaduddin Owaisi has already given his choice to adopt Sanjarpur and is “awaiting approval from the government.†The party website also confirms that the AIMIM already has its units working in about 15 districts of Uttar Pradesh. Owaisi was also quoted as asking what was wrong in his choosing Azamgarh, and that he would go wherever opportunities existed for expansion of his base.

“By revealing his intention Owaisi has made it clear that he wishes to make inroads into Uttar Pradesh by playing the Muslim card,†says a SP leader. He adds that rather than a Muslims-only party, it is only a “secular†party that can improve the lot of the minority community. The Congress, too, believes that the Muslims need to become a part of the mainstream rather than float their own party. “Their interests have always been secure under the Congress,†said a UPCC spokesman.

Despite having a substantial Muslim population, Uttar Pradesh has not seen a Muslim community-oriented political outfit achieve electoral success in the last several decades. On the other hand, caste-oriented parties have done much better - Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party are examples, having pursued OBC and Dalit politics, respectively, to achieve dominance in the state. Muslims have preferred to support either of these after the Congress lost its appeal about two decades ago.

One major attempt to form a Muslim-driven party was the formation of Peace Party, started by Dr Mohammad Ayub Khan, a medical practitioner of eastern UP in February 2008. It contested the UP Assembly elections in 2012 and won four seats. Although it professed to espouse the cause of Dalits and Muslims, its approach was to offer an alternative to Muslims as ‘their’ party. It is learnt that several office bearers of some smaller parties have been contacted by AIMIM leaders to seek their support.

AIMIM has retained Hyderabad parliamentary seat since 1984 but its presence is limited in and around the Old City of Hyderabad. In June 2014, the Election Commission recognized AIMIM as a state party in Telangana. It contested 20 Assembly seats in Telangana and 15 in Seemandhra, and six Lok Sabha seats in undivided Andhra Pradesh, winning seven Assembly seats in Telangana besides the Hyderabad Lok Sabha seat. Later, the party won two seats in Maharashtra assembly elections.