Monday, October 13, 2014

Owaisis making inroads into Muslim vote bank with promises of ‘justice’ - By Jyoti Punwani - Mumbai Mirror - A Times of India publication

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Owaisis making inroads into Muslim vote bank with promises of ‘justice’

Mumbai Mirror | Oct 13, 2014, 09.10 AM IST

By Jyoti Punwani

A new sensation is sweeping Mumbai's Muslim pockets. Without being paid or carted in by trucks, Muslims are thronging the rallies of the Owaisi brothers from Hyderabad's Majlis e Ittihad al Muslimeen (MIM) and giving political veterans sleepless nights, be they the Congress's Amin Patel or NCP's Jitendra Avhad.

The MIM, which won 13 municipal seats in Nanded in its debut in 2012, has fielded 24 candidates in its maiden bid for the state assembly including 12 from Mumbai and Thane, all but two of them Muslim.

Most are unknown faces, riding on the appeal of Hyderabad MP Asaduddin and his younger brother, MLA Akbaruddin. The brothers follow distinct styles; the elder sober and reasonable, the younger fiery and provocative. In Mumbra on Friday night, as Akbaruddin recounted the litany of Muslim woes, the elderly were wiping tears, and younger ones shouting 'Nara-e-Takbeer'.

The MIM has one main plank: injustice to Muslims since Independence, and the promise to make the community's voice heard. Akbaruddin's speeches are replete with images of bloodshed and carnage, of women being raped and children orphaned. Every wrong done to Muslims is described, with the point hammered home that this is how "Hindustan has treated its Muslims".

Then follows an account of his injuries thanks to the many assaults he has suffered (in a property dispute in 2011— a fact he does not mention), his jail terms for speaking up for Muslims, and how he is ready to do so again. Incidentally, the same emotional arguments were used by Bal Thackeray while appealing to Hindus in the Sena mouthpiece, Saamna.

For Mumbai's Muslims, who have long felt betrayed by the Congress-NCP, Akbaruddin's words strike a deep chord. Said Gulam Nabi Idrisi, an NCP supporter, "He is both bebaak (fearless) and knowledgeable -- a rare combination in a Muslim leader."

The potential division of Muslim votes is making the BJP smile, and leaving politically aware Muslims aghast. "After the Congress-NCP split, this election would have shown candidates' true worth. Vote banks would not have counted. But the MIM with its communal appeal has ruined things for Muslims," said Farooq Mapkar, a 1992-93 riot victim.

Akbaruddin does not agree. "Did we make the so-called secular forces split? This is a sign from Allah. We just stepped into Maharashtra and all alliances split. Now those who were set to destroy our identity and those who've always divided us are themselves divided and attacking one another. This is a golden opportunity, don't throw it away. Allah doesn't help those who don't help themselves," he says at every meeting.

Akbaruddin defended the use of religion in his speeches, pointing to communal utterances of Hindutva leaders, the PM's tweet in support of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat's Independence Day speech, and his gift of the Gita to world leaders.

"I'm a proud Muslim and a proud Indian. Why shouldn't I pray to my Allah for my country? Why does the issue of secularism come up only when a Muslim party speaks up for Muslims? What about the Samajwadi Party which speaks for Yadavs, BSP which speaks for Dalits? Why such narrow-mindedness? Can you build a nation by ignoring its minorities?" he told Mirror, adding: "The results will surprise all of us."

"Countering the communalism of the majority with Muslim communalism is no answer. The MIM is exploiting the sufferings of Muslims," says Afsar Usmani, general secretary of Movement for Peace and Justice. Similar tactics were tried earlier in Mumbai by SP chief Abu Asim Azmi, but today he stands rejected by the community who have tired of waiting for some actual work to be done. Will the same fate await the MIM?

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