Asaduddin Owaisi, 51, is the most suspected political leader in India. Wild conspiracy theories swirl around him — the most persistent being that he is an agent of Amit Shah, usefully deployment as a tried and tested “vote katua” (vote cutter).
This is the most common refrain and charge of the so called “secular parties” against Owaisi. The BJP called him names in the recent Hyderabad civic elections. The secular parties were not convinced. They say that the BJP had to call him names to bolster his credibility.
So who is Asaduddin Owaisi? The chief of the All India Majlis e Ittenhadul (AIMIM) is -- no surprises -- a heirloom dynastic politician (dynasty is the glue that holds Indian politics together) a Hyderabad based party. His grandfather Abdul Wahed Owaisi relaunched the party.
Owaisi is also a four-term member of Parliament from Hyderabad and a barrister from Lincoln’s Inn in London, one of the world's most prestigious professional bodies of lawyers.
Indisputably Owaisi is an excellent parliamentarian and makes cerebral no holds barred interventions in the House. Owaisi is thoughtful on most issues yet rarely nuanced and makes an unapologetic punt for the Muslim votes.
Owaisi's forays in to other states
Owaisi ran his Hyderabad party till now but, his forays in to other states such as Bihar and now his Bengal plans have drawn fury from the opposition as he hurts their votes and helps the BJP. Whether this is intentional and how intentional it is currently — is the million dollar question.
If Owaisi does give the BJP the edge in the West Bengal elections — a bastion that has held out against the Saffron tide till now — it will be a clear pointer to his real intent
Consider this: In the recent Bihar state elections in the Amour constituency, the AIMIM vote share went up from 1.1 per cent in 2015 to a whopping 51.1 in 2020. In the Kishanganj seat it went up from 9.6 per cent to 23.4 per cent.
Owaisi post Bihar went public about his plans to contest the upcoming West Bengal elections. His trip to Kolkata recently provoked a furious response from Mamata Banerjee, chief minister guarding her citadel of Muslim votes. The BJP often accuses the chief minister of pandering to the Muslim vote and Owaisi wants to take them away from her.
Push back from TMC
Banerjee acted swiftly to protect her turf. Sk Abdul Kalam, the acting West Bengal unit president of AIMIM, joined the Trinamool Congress along with several other members of the Asaduddin Owaisi-led party,
Joining the TMC at its headquarters in Kolkata, Kalam said there has been an atmosphere of peace and tranquillity in West Bengal for several years and he switched sides to keep the “poisonous air” at bay. “Poisonous air” is the new moniker that the TMC has bestowed upon Owaisi. While it is hyperbolic, there is an element of truth to the opposition’s accusation that Owaisi is only active in states where the BJP wants to take on the opposition.
A senior Congress leader who has made Owaisi-watching an obsession says “a Hyderabad based party makes forays into Maharashtra, Bihar and now Bengal where Shah is engaged in a do or die battling with Banerjee. Why are all his interventions where Shah wants to surgically dismantle the opposition?
Never contested in Assam
A relevant question looms large why has Owaisi never contested in Assam which also has a large Muslims population. The same question can be raised for Kerala. In his own home ground Owaisi has a tactical alliance with the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS). This seems to be a purely transitional alliance.
Owaisi claims to speak for all Muslims but is selective in where he contests. Invariably the Muslim vote gets divided in all these states — first Maharashtra and Bihar and now may be in West Bengal.
The only beneficiary remains the BJP. Yet Owaisi contests these charges with a lot of anger. Theatrics and drama are an essential part of politics in India. Owaisi despite, his sound and fury, fails to convince why he keeps helping is self sworn enemy — the BJP.
If Owaisi does give the BJP the edge in the West Bengal elections — a bastion that has held out against the Saffron tide till now — it will be a clear pointer to his real intent.