Hearing Asaduddin Owaisi speaking to the media, one cannot but help notice how often he refers to the Indian Constitution and the rule of law to justify his own, his family members’, and his party’s Islamicist positions and activities
In the previous column, I offered a brief overview of the birth, growth, disbanding, and revival of the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM). To understand its significance, let us consider a simple demographic factoid. Muslims make up some 65 per cent of the 18 lakh voters in the Hyderabad Lok Sabha constituency. Since 1984, this seat has returned an Owaisi leader of MIM to the Parliament for a record ten times. Asaduddin Owaisi, the current incumbent, has won it four times. Before him, his father, Sultan Salahuddin Owaisi, won six times. It is, by any definition, a family borough.
Not only the Lok Sabha seat, but six of the seven Assembly segments of Hyderabad, namely Malakpet, Karwan, Goshamahal, Charminar, Chandrayangutta, Yukutpura, Bahadurpura, are held by the MIM. The only exception is Goshamahal, which elected the former BJP MLA, T Raja Singh, twice. It is the same MLA who is now in jail and suspended by his party for his alleged derogatory remarks against Prophet Mohammad. The Telangana government, it seems, did not want to take any chances when it came to Singh. They have registered nearly a hundred cases against him. One might ask just why is Singh considered so “dangerous”?
To answer that question, we will have to delve deeper into the communal politics of Hyderabad. When Syed Muhammad Qasim Razvi, the founder of MIM as well as the leader of the infamous separatist Islamist militant front, the Razakars, was released from jail in 1957, it was on the condition that had to leave for Pakistan within 48 hours. He handed over the reins of his defunct party to Maulana Abdul Wahed Owaisi, the grandfather of Asaduddin Owaisi, and the father of Sultan Salahuddin Owaisi.
How did Abdul Wahed Owaisi revive the prospects of his party and, at the same time, secure the fortunes of his family? He rechristened the MIM as “All India” Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen. By adding the prefix “All India,” just as the post-Partition Muslim League in the country did, the implication was that the party’s agenda would now be carried out within India. This acceptance of India’s sovereignty as an independent nation and political entity only meant a regrouping of communal forces, not abandonment of the party’s earlier position or ideology.
This was evident in Abdul Wahed Owaisi’s strategy in communalising the electorate and mobilising its Muslim voters to leave the fold of the ruling Congress party. In fact, arrested on 14 March 1958, Abdul Wahed Owaisi spent 11 years in the Chanchalguda jail for his inflammatory speeches. He was convicted for “Rousing or attempting to rouse communal passions and creating or attempting to create panic, resentment or hatred in the minds of the Muslims against the State and the non-Muslims as disclosed by his speeches made by him in public meetings on 5th, 12th, 23rd and 24th October 1957, 15th November 1957 and January 9, 1958.”
Himself a lawyer though he went by the title “Maulana,” Abdul Wahed was defended by his son, Sultan Salahuddin Owaisi. It is no surprise that his grandson, Asaduddin Owaisi is also a lawyer, a London-trained barrister in fact. The formula is Muslim communalism, possibly separatism, with a constitutional front, taking full advantage of the laws, freedoms, and jurisprudence of a secular republic. Hearing Asaduddin Owaisi speaking to the media, one cannot but help notice how often he refers to the Indian Constitution and the rule of law to justify his own, his family members’, and his party’s Islamicist positions and activities.
But Sultan Salahuddin Owaisi, his father, had assumed the title “Salar-e-Millat” or the “commander of the dominion,” while Nawab Bahadur Yar Jung, the earlier president of MIM, was called Qaid-e-Millat or imperator of the dominion. The Muslims of Hyderabad, going by the ideological roots of the AIMIM, are a nation within a nation. In fact, a nation within one of the Indian states, Telangana. A sort of nation-city concentrated in the old Hyderabad. To them Hyderabad is like a small Muslim kingdom, the shrunken remnant of what was once the Nizam of Hyderabad’s state. Over this little Muslim kingdom, the MIM and the Owaisis have unquestioned control.
Going back to the “Sar Tan Se Juda” public threat against T Raja Singh, if the provenance of the slogan is to be believed, its origins lie in Pakistan. This vaunted homeland of the subcontinent’s Muslims was born out of horrible bloodshed and the ideology of Muslim separatism, which has been given the much less atrocious epithet, “two-nation theory”. A failing state with a precarious economy, Pakistan is considered the world-over as the source and supporter of Islamist terrorism. It is also known for blasphemy killings, not to mention the forcible abduction, conversion, and rape of Hindu girls, many of whom are below eighteen years of age.
Aren’t those who dare to chant “Sar Tan Se Juda” slogans in India, protected by the law of the land, open themselves to the charge that they are thereby showing their allegiance not only to an obscurantist and violent version of their religion, but also their affiliation to the two-nation theory? It is this same ideology of Muslim separatism that caused the Partition of India along religious lines and the creation of Pakistan.
Doesn’t the fact that these slogan-shouters are free illustrate, once again, the uncomfortable truth that in communally “sensitive” places such as Hyderabad, appeasement is the prerequisite for peace? Or the scapegoating of an MLA like T Raja Singh, whom his own party has suspended, and whom the state locked up in prison, almost throwing away the key? The question remains: Why is T Raja Singh so “dangerous” and to whom?[Part II of the series “Sar Tan Se Juda in Hyderabad”] [To be continued]
The author is a professor of English at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Views expressed are personal.
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