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Uttar Pradesh Elections: Will Owaisi’s AIMIM spoil other’s game or make its own? 

AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi during election campaigning in Uttar Pradesh.

Ahead of Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, Hyderabad-based All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (AIMIM) led by its charismatic and controversial leader Asaduddin Owaisi has made waves in the restive north-Indian state. This TCN Ground Report looks at what the entry of Owaisi in electoral politics of Uttar Pradesh means for the state’s Muslims, and how he is seen and looked at by various sections of the political divide.

Aas Mohammed Kaif | TwoCircles.net

MUZAFFARNAGAR, UTTAR PRADESH — Fifty-two-year old Irfan Mansoori lives in Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh. He is active in the state-level politics of the state. Mansoori started his political career by being an activist of the National Loktantrik Party (NLP). He later joined the Peace Party. At present, he is a spokesperson for the Meerapur Assembly of All India Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM)—the party led by the firebrand Asaduddin Owaisi.

Mansoori is in the news after he expressed strong displeasure with his nephew Naeem after he (Naeem) had made a controversial comment on Asaduddin Owaisi. Naeem had called Owaisi a “broker of BJP.” This got Mansoori very upset with his nephew.

“Owaisi Sahab is a true leader of the community and I cannot hear a word against him, even if the one making the comment is from my family,” Mansoori told TwoCircles.net.

His nephew Naeem, however, said that he has a right to his political opinion. “I respect Mr Owaisi but he is not doing well. If Mr Owaisi comes to my house, I will feed him, I will respect him, I will stand in his service, but I will not vote for him. My vote is for changing the government and Mr Owaisi’s candidates do not look like they can do that,” Naeem said.

What is not surprising about this incident is that discussions like this—on Owaisi—are taking place in almost every Muslim household in Uttar Pradesh. With the Assembly elections around the corner, every house has a parliament. Every house has more than one axis. Asaduddin Owaisi and Akhilesh Yadav are two political personalities that are being talked about. Interestingly, in western Uttar Pradesh, it is the elders who are inclined towards Owaisi, while in eastern Uttar Pradesh, Owaisi is a hero among the youth. Muslim youth in western Uttar Pradesh are standing in opposition to Owaisi. It must be counted as Owaisi’s success that in the last few months that his name is discussed at the dining tables of the people of Uttar Pradesh. Among Muslim families, at least one member is a staunch supporter of Owaisi. They find Asaduddin Owaisi’s point of view right and advocate of having own community leadership.

Commenting on this, AIMIM leader Tahir Ansari said, “This is our success.”

‘Muslims need own political leadership’
Sixty-five-year old Tahir Ansari of Charthawal, Muzaffarnagar has spent all his life dreaming about having community leadership. He has been fighting for this leadership in western Uttar Pradesh for the last forty years. He finds promise in Asaduddin Owaisi after having been with Maulana Abdul Jalil Faridi, Dr Masood and Dr Ayyub.

“I am sure of only one thing now. Muslims need to have their own leadership,” he said.

Ansari said that he has always advocated for “Muslim community leadership.”

“It doesn’t matter whether the leader is Dr Masood, Dr Ayyub or Mr Owaisi,” he said.

Tahir said Dr Masood and Dr Ayub Saheb have done great work in Uttar Pradesh, especially Dr Masood.

“However, the popularity of Asaduddin Owaisi has increased due to being a big and national face. We have to stick to the agenda of our leadership. Will stand wherever there is hope,” Ansari said.

Talking about the good performance of AIMIM in Bihar, Ansari said that, “We can win 5-6 seats and will also register our strong inflow.”

Tahir insists that he will get more than ten thousand votes in at least 25 assembly seats in the upcoming Uttar Pradesh Assembly Elections.

‘Main election battle will be between BJP and SP’
The election whistle is about to blow in Uttar Pradesh, with less than 90 days left for the grand electoral fight. Every political party is campaigning hard. The main battle appears to be between Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP). Outfits like Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Congress are fighting for survival. The other small parties are campaigning to strengthen their influence.

Electoral observers maintain that the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD)— whose charismatic founding leader Chaudhary Ajit Singh passed away last year—can pull off a surprise with its performance. The RLD is led by Ajit Singh’s son Jayant Chaudhary, and the party mainly does politics on the issues of farmers. RLD is considered to be strong in western Uttar Pradesh. Jayant Chaudhary’s grandfather Chaudhary Charan Singh has been the Prime Minister of India.

Other small parties who will be fighting the elections will be Rajbhar Party, Apna Dal, Nishad Party and Mahan Dal, Peace Party and Ulema Council in Purvanchal. Out of these, Rajbhar Party, Peace Party and Mahan Dal are with Samajwadi Party. Apna Dal has two factions, one is with Samajwadi Party and the other is with BJP. Nishad Party is with BJP but their leader Sanjay Nishad has expressed anger at the recent Gorakhpur rally.

The two popular parties in the state are Bhim Army—an Ambedkarite and Dalit rights party led by Chandrashekhar Azad and AIMIM led by Owaisi. Reports said that there are discussions going on between Bhim Army and SP.

Is AIMIM looking for expansion in UP?
Confident after winning five seats in Bihar, AIMIM is coming to contest elections in Uttar Pradesh with confidence. Electoral observers maintain that parties like AIMIM will fight Uttar Pradesh elections to register their presence. AIMIN may not win but it is keen to make its presence felt in Uttar Pradesh.

Is AIMIM considering expansion is a question that is on everyone’s mind, including its rivals.

However, after talking to their leaders, the intention does not seem to be just expansion.

Sceptical about AIMIM’s expansion, Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) student leader and political affairs expert Ajmal Rehman referred to “AIMIM contesting only 8 assembly seats in Telangana.” “It was in alliance with KCR there and contested only on Muslim majority seats,” Rehman said.

They (AIMIM) are talking about contesting 100 seats in Uttar Pradesh and asking for the post of deputy chief minister in alliance with the Samajwadi Party, Rehman said and questioned, “What they cannot do in Hyderabad, how can they do in Uttar Pradesh?”

His concern is not wrong. AIMIM has all its organisational setup, infrastructure and workers in Telangana. They don’t have any base in Uttar Pradesh. “AIMIM did not have an organizational base in West Bengal, and we saw their performance during the elections there,” Rehman said.

Rehman’s concern is not unfounded. Voters in Uttar Pradesh understand what will happen if votes are divided.

AIMIM’s politics is understandable. Before 2012, they were with Indian National Congress, but with the change of power at the centre, AIMIM changed track. It is being said that Owaisi will not be able to win seats but he will strengthen BJP’s Hindutva politics and give an opportunity to the majority community to unite.

“AIMIM’s action plan to contest elections also proves as if they are contesting elections only on Muslim majority seats. These are those seats where more than 30 per cent are Muslim. At these places, they will fight only Muslim candidates, will make emotional arguments and help in polarization,” Rehman remarks.

AIMIM is going even further than what Rehman points out. At some places, the party is betting on caste maths and effective candidates. AIMIM game is that it is doing research on such Muslim leaders whom the Samajwadi Party cannot give tickets, but, who are strong leaders. An entire team of AIMIM is in touch with more than a dozen leaders, reports said.

“Wherever Owaisi goes, he keeps his hand on the same pulse. He taunts the helplessness of the local leaders and challenges their self-confidence,” observers said.

Preparations to get the wife or son of AIMIM Bahubali leader and former Member of Parliament (MP) Ateeq Ahmed to contest elections in Meerut are part of such a plan. Ateeq Ahmed comes from the Gaddi community among Muslims. The community is involved in the milk business and their population in Meerut city alone is nearly fifty thousand. Ateeq Ahmed is a resident of Allahabad, 650 kilometres away from Meerut.

According to Shoaib, an AIMIM worker from Meerut, “This is not happening for the first time.”

Shoaib points out that Mohsina Kidwai and Avtar Singh Bhadana have also come to Meerut from outside and become MPs. “Ateeq Ahmed is a strong leader. His family members have a right to contest any election,” he said.

Wasim Ahmed, a Samajwadi Party worker in Meerut, told TwoCircles.net that “AIMIM will not influence anything but will allow for a BJP win and defeat the Samajwadi Party candidate.”

To this, Shoaib of AIMIM said that “It is not our contract to get the candidate of the Samajwadi Party to win.”

“We did not contest the elections in 2017 then why did the Samajwadi Party lose,” Shoaib reasons.

Wasim is of the view that AIMIM is fighting elections only to defeat the Samajwadi Party. “His (Owaisi’s) speeches directly target Akhilesh Yadav while the government in the state is of BJP. The Samajwadi Party is being targeted because it is the only party that can defeat the BJP. Since the result will be a close one in the twenty Muslim majority seats—if the votes are divided, the BJP will win,” he said.

Understanding figures
Muslim population in Uttar Pradesh is 20 per cent. In at least 145 Assembly seats, the Muslim population comprise 20 to 50 per cent. In these 30 seats, 40 to 50 per cent are Muslims. Of these, 15 seats are from the Moradabad division only. It has Bijnor, Moradabad, Sambhal and Rampur. There are more than 50 per cent Muslim voters in 2 assembly seats. One of these seats is from Rampur. Apart from this, there are Amroha, Saharanpur, Muzaffarnagar, Shamli.

In western Uttar Pradesh, there is 37 per cent Muslim population in Saharanpur, 34 in Muzaffarnagar, 30 in Shamli, 26 in Meerut, 28 in Baghpat, 49 in Bijnor, 48 in Moradabad, 51 in Sambhal, 50 in Rampur, 14 in Ghaziabad, 13 in Gautam Buddha Nagar, 26 in Bulandshahr, 22 in Aligarh, 26 in Agra, 35 in Amroha, 11 in Mathura, 19 in Firozabad, 33 in Bareilly, and Badayun has about 28 per cent Muslim population.

Uttar Pradesh has a total of 403 Assembly seats. In the 2017 Assembly elections, the maximum—80 per cent Muslim vote went to Samajwadi Party and the party won 47 seats.

What is interesting and cause of concern for Muslims voters in the state is that if there is complete communal polarization in the state, the Muslim voters can choose their MLAs on only 2 Assembly seats. At present, the total number of Muslim MLAs in the Uttar Pradesh Legislative Assembly is 25.

AIMIM leader Syed Farhan isn’t keen on talking about numbers.

“Don’t talk about numbers. When the Muzaffarnagar riots took place, there were more than twice MLA’s than the current lot, but no one did anything. There were more than a dozen Muslim ministers but no one said anything. We don’t want crowds, we want men of work. Even Yazid had a big army but we want people like Hussain’s,” Farhan told TwoCircles.net.

Recently, Asaduddin Owaisi’s statement on Imam Hussain has been in news. During its election campaign in Uttar Pradesh, Owaisi said that “those who fought against Hussain were also Muslims.” His workers are now propagating that they’re Hussainis (followers of Imam Hussain) and those opposing him are Yazeedis (followers of Yazid). There have been many reactions to this statement.

Mohammad Shaheen called it a shameful statement, saying, “How can Asaduddin Owaisi equate himself with Hussain? Earlier his brother Akbaruddin was talking big in his dream. The sting of their honesty is ringing all over Telangana where they have captured land worth thousands of crores,” he said.

What can Owaisi do?
What is obvious is that partition is visible in Uttar Pradesh regarding Asaduddin Owaisi—with some supporting him wholeheartedly and others strongly opposing him.

But the question is what can Owaisi do in this political atmosphere?

Going by past trends, NLP and the Peace Party had contested elections to have a stake in Uttar Pradesh—but instead, they had failed and weakened—even though these parties had their bases in the state.

Considering the pre-election mood in Uttar Pradesh and what the voices on the ground reveal, it looks like AIMIM is not in a position to win even a single assembly seat in upcoming elections.

Although Owaisi is drawing crowds to his rallies, questions have been raised about his participation and what it means to the Muslim vote share in a state like Uttar Pradesh.

In his speeches during rallies, Owaisi raises concerns and questions that make secular parties uncomfortable. This is a concern felt by people across the region.

Farhad Gada of Saharanpur likens Owaisi to Jinnah. “Before independence, a barrister had come who did the work of dividing us. Another one has come but this time we will not be divided,” he added.