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Owaisi’s Challenge

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The Muslim vote is crucial for India’s ‘secular’ parties, but it is almost always taken for granted. Muslims are expected to support these parties just to be ‘saved’ from the depredations of the BJP. This traditional alliance has taken great umbrage at Asaddudin Owaisi’s AIMIM foraying into its political space, describing it as the BJP’s ‘B’ team. However, as Owaisi has told West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, the Muslim vote is not her ‘jagir’. All he is trying to do is upend the equation and leverage the Muslims’ indispensability by claiming leadership of the opposition. Rather than support caste and family based parties, why should not these sections rally behind a leadership that happens to be Muslim?

One of the grievances the Muslims have always had is that, despite the need parties have of them to make up the numbers, members of the community are never given an adequate share of the leadership. In fact, they are almost hidden away so as not to aggravate the support from other sections. The Muslims are expected to be happy just to be on the winning side and have the concessions made to them – such as under the personal laws – remain untouched.

Owaisi’s campaign has already made inroads in other states, the latest being Bihar. He is being blamed by the RJD led opposition for having rocked their boat, but he has set his priorities – it is for the Muslims and others to decide on what they wish to do. Initially, it will prove a setback for the anti-BJP forces, but the sooner they work out the permutations and combinations, the better it will be for democracy. He has his eyes set, first, on the Dalit voters. The only problem, of course, is that Asaddudin Owaisi is one of his kind – someone who has the ability to present his arguments in an impeccably constitutional way. The other members of his party do not have that clarity of vision. However, for as long as he is around and pursues his agenda with vigour, he may well become a tall leader of his own accord without dependence on the charity of others. Who knows, he may go on to become India’s first Muslim Prime Minister. It all depends on the level of desperation felt by the opposition in the face of Narendra Modi’s present dominance.

Owaisi is a conservative Muslim who is not inclined towards a reformist Islamic agenda. It would be interesting to see how he approaches the constitutional obligations when in a position of ‘secular’ power. Thus far, though, he has steered his ship exceedingly well.