After Bihar Debut, Asaduddin Owaisi and AIMIM Eye Further Expansion

From traditionally being restricted to Hyderabad, the party is now trying to project a pan-Indian image.

Hyderabad: Asaduddin Owaisi and his All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) became a hot topic in political circles in the Hindi belt after the by-election results in Kishanganj in Bihar’s Seemanchal region were announced on October 24. In this constituency, AIMIM candidate Kamrul Hoda emerged victorious, defeating his BJP rival Sweety and displacing the Congress from its traditional stronghold.

Soon, Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM)’s Jitan Ram Manjhi, one of the constituents of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD)-led grand alliance, instantly saw bright prospects for Dalit-Muslim consolidation. Saying Dalits and Muslims have been treated as outsiders in the eastern region of Bihar, Manjhi called for joint action with the AIMIM to take on the BJP’s agenda of implementing the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in the state.

As a strategic move, Lalu Prasad Yadav’s RJD, which performed impressively in the by-elections after smarting under a severe drubbing in the general elections, chose not to field a candidate against the AIMIM in Kishanganj.

The Kishanganj victory is the first in Bihar for the party, which has traditionally only been restricted to Hyderabad. This success follows the foray into Maharashtra, where it won the Aurangabad Lok Sabha seat and two assembly seats in state elections, held on October 21. Owaisi is now set to take his party’s footprints from Bihar into Jarkhand, where assembly elections are scheduled from November 30 in five phases.

Also Read: Kishanganj Bypoll: How the Congress Lost Its Deposit in a Former Bihar Bastion

This was confirmed by Syed Aminul Hasan Jafri, AIMIM’s member of the Telangana legislative council. Speaking to The Wire, he said, “Pre-election rallies have already been held in Ranchi, attended by Asaduddin Owaisi. We have decided to contest the state elections, potentially by forging a coalition with tribal groups.”

The AIMIM made its debut in Bihar in the November 2015 elections. It contested six seats, all from the Seemanchal region where Muslim votes can be decisive. The party polled 80,248 votes, but drew a blank, with its candidate coming second in the Kochadaman segment. In the Lok Sabha elections too, the party fielded Akhtarul Iman in Kishanganj, polling almost 3 lakh votes. However, it stood third, behind the Janata Dal(U) and the Congress.

The party’s also attempted to open its account in Uttar Pradesh, fielding 38 candidates in the 2017 state elections. It polled 2.04 lakh votes, but failed to win any seats.

From vote cutter to catalyst

The AIMIM began its journey as an unregistered outfit making its electoral debut in 1959, contesting the municipal elections in Hyderabad. It then contested state and general elections, but mostly within Hyderabad and its surrounding areas. Asaduddin’s father Sultan Salahuddin Owaisi held the Hyderabad Lok Sabha seat six times consecutively. He chose to confine the party to Hyderabad, with a tag of ‘old city party’. This was the case until the baton was handed down to his elder son.

Akabruddin (left) had strained relationship with his father Salahuddin Owaisi (centre). To the right is Asaduddin Owaisi. Credit: twocircles.net

Asaduddin, a barrister who graduated from Lincoln’s Inn of London, looks ambitious in his attempts to emerge as a pan-Indian Muslim leader, unlike his father.

Owaisi’s firm stand on the Babri masjid issue and his extensive rallies – he is known for his crafty oratorial skills – across the country gave him the impetus to project himself as a vocal voice for Indian Muslims.

In pursuit of his ambitions, Asad’s party made electoral forays in Maharastra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu in the south, Maharastra in the west, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh in the north. It could make some inroads in Maharastra and Karnataka.

Mir Ayub Ali Khan, a senior journalist and analyst from Hyderabad, says that the AIMIM, under Asaduddin Owaisi, has undergone a radical change in its character and form. As a purely religious organisation floated to counter the anti-Muslim narratives of the Arya Samaj during the liberation movement in Telangana under the Nazam, it became inclusive by accommodating non-Muslims.

Also Read: Love and Hate in Hyderabad: The Incendiary Political Life of Akbaruddin Owaisi

Under Asad’s leadership, the party expanded its base by entering into coalitions with subaltern caste groups to suit the local socio-political conditions. He foresaw fertile ground for his party to grow in the Muslim-dominated Marathwada region in Maharastra and the Hyderabad-Karnataka region, which were once part of the Nizam’s Hyderabad state. Its narrative was built around the killing of Muslims during the “police action” before the merger of the princely state with the Indian Union.

Asaduddin coined a catchy slogan – Jai Bhim-Jai Mim – to be an architect of an AIMIM-Dalit coalition that helped his party to emerge as a formidable force in certain caste-sensitive pockets in Maharastra, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

Jaffri said the party is also eyeing the possibility of expanding to West Bengal, where 30% of the population is Muslim. “We have got a strong party with active functionaries in the state. Our party is due to take a call on contesting the forthcoming 2021 assembly elections in the state,” he added.

However, according to a party source, the top brass chose to press the pause button with regard to expansion plans in Telangana. “As chief minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao is our ally in Telangana, we don’t want to cut into his party, Telangana Rastra Samithi’s (TRS) vote bank. This may help his rival parties. So were are limiting ourself to Hyderabad for now.”

In Andhra Pradesh, Owaisi joined hands with KCR to defeat N. Chandrababu Naidu’s TDP and volunteered to campaign for Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy’s YSR Congress Party. Here too, expansion plans may have to be halted to ensure that the YSR Congress is not harmed.

Asaduddin Owaisi, Akbaruddin Owaisi and K. Chandrasekhar Rao. Credit: PTI/Files

Accusations of being BJP’s B-team

In the process of expansion, AIMIM has been targeted by the Congress and the other anti-BJP parties for allegedly eating into the “secular vote”, thus indirectly benefiting the saffron party. Before the run up to the 2017 assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, Owaisi’s party was disallowed from hold rallies by the Akhilesh Yadav government. While the administration cited law and order issues, speculation said the Samajwadi Party did not want him to split the Dalit and OBC votes.

Also Read: Maharashtra Polls: Why Prakash Ambedkar’s Social Experiment Didn’t Work

All India Congress Committee (AICC) national spokesman Dasoju Sravan alleged that Owaisi’s conflicting stands vis-a-vis the TRS government in Telangana and the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre point to the AIMIM’s politics of opportunism. “Asaduddin talks tough in the parliament against the Narendra Modi government on issues contentious for Muslims such Article 370 and uniform civil code. But he doesn’t mind to be an all-weather friend of  KCR, regardless of the fact that he has backed the NDA on these key issues,” he said.

In Maharashtra, in at least nine assembly seats, the AIMIM’s candidates were accused of splitting votes and defeating the NCP and Congress candidates. While this has been used as a charge to accuse the AIMIM as the BJP’s B team, Jaffri dismissed the argument saying the Congress has lost its steam and consistency in retaining its secular fabric. “The dividing line between the secular parties and communal outfits is getting blurred and Muslims are used as a vote bank in the power-play. The AIMIM will counter this vote bank politics”, Jaffri asserted.

Gali Nagaraja is a freelance journalist who writes on the two Telugu states.