Though he resists the label of ‘Muslim leader’, All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen president Asaduddin Owaisi is the biggest star in Muslim politics today. Turning 50 on May 13, he’s seeking to retain Hyderabad for the fourth time in a row, and is looking to extend the AIMIM footprint, contesting from Aurangabad, Maharashtra, and Kishanganj, Bihar. He spoke to Amarnath K. Menon on the status of Muslims:
Q: Why does India still not have one Muslim leader with pan-India appeal seven decades after Independence?
A. There has been no semblance of political representation for decades even at the municipality or gram panchayat level. Only if that grows can there be a leader.
Q. Even among Muslim voters, Muslim leaders do not have uniform appeal across regions. Why is this?
A. Muslims are not a homogenous community. The culture of a Tamil Nadu Muslim is distinct from that of a Hyderabadi Muslim. So having a pan-India appeal is a challenge.
Q. Why do Muslim leaders restrict themselves to issues relating to Islam and not socio-economic development?
A. We should definitely talk about all issues. It is high time we prepared for and participated in debates. For a start, we should draft questions. No party whip is flouted in asking a question. A lot of data is available on the extent of Muslim economic backwardness. It is high time we start reading and raising questions. Elected Muslim representatives should take part in discussions of the standing committees, whatever the constraints by any party on taking part in debates.
Q. What’s wrong in making triple talaq a criminal offence? Dowry is a criminal offence.
A. Marriage is a civil contract. So there cannot be any criminal provisions. Nowhere in the world has a democratic country introduced punitive measures on a civil contract. The government takes pride in saying punishments are imposed in Pakistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia. But those are theocracies. Proof about triple talaq is another issue. The burden of presenting proof will fall on the woman. Who in a house will stand up and say that I heard my daughter being given a triple talaq? The laws against domestic violence are good enough to protect the interests of women.
Q. What’s your vision for the development of Muslims?
A. There is enough empirical evidence to justify the demands for education and employment. But what I’ve discovered as a member of the parliamentary standing committee is that allocations are not driven by demand but made ad hoc. Every year, some 60,000 Muslims are denied scholarships. But how can socio-economic uplift happen in an environment vitiated by mob lynching or a Pragya Thakur, accused of killing six Muslims, being given a ticket to contest for the Lok Sabha?
Q. Do you think the BJP’s Hindutva politics poses a threat to Muslims? Or has it united them in a common cause?
A. It is a danger to India’s composite culture. Hindutva as opposed to Hinduism is exclusive. It does not believe in equality and talks about one nation, one religion. It is a threat to our Constitution and constitutional morality.
Q. Recent election trends show that Muslims, unlike in the past, don’t vote en bloc. Does it mean they have lost relevance as a vote bank? The BJP has been winning despite them. Where does that leave the Muslim leadership?
A. I am of the firm opinion that there has never been a Muslim vote bank. If there was one, we should be having at least 50 MPs. There is a Hindu vote bank that is growing which isolates and discriminates against a community.
Q. What has been the Congress’s role in the development of Muslims? Have they only played on their existential fears?
A. Absolutely. Through the Babri Masjid, Bhagalpur, Hashimpura and Mumbai incidents, acting on the Srikrishna Committee report, this is what the Congress has done. Then it indulges in rhetoric at the time of elections. Such political opportunism has to stop. How long can we be taken for a ride with precious little done for our rights? Such acting and hypocrisy can no longer influence Muslim minds.