Hyderabad: Asaduddin Owaisi, the firebrand politician and All India All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) chief’s campaign trail in Yakutpura constituency, in the old city area of Hyderabad, is like a continuous session of speed dating. The leader introduces himself to residents, assures constituents that their pleas will be dealt with and seeks their vote to strengthen ‘Majlis’; all in less than five to ten seconds, before he heads to the next door to repeat the same lines. “Majlis to vote karen (vote for Majlis)", “Majlis ki taakath badayein (strengthen the Majlis)", he says on a wireless mike that he carries around, while a supporter carries a portable speaker. A campaign van, parked close by and decorated with Owaisi’s pictures and reads, “vote for AIMIM candidates", plays popular bollywood tunes with its lyrics tweaked to promote the message of the party.
Owaisi is seeking votes for his party, while the Yakutpura legislator walks ahead, barely talking to anyone or stopping in his tracks.
For most of the AIMIM constituencies (Charminar, Yakutpura, Chandrayangutta, Karwan, Nampally, Bahadurpura and Malakpet) in Hyderabad, Owaisi is their leader. “For us it’s only AIMIM and Owaisi sahab. We don’t look at much else," Syed Ibrahim, a 29 year old engineer and resident says. Many of the people here cite the easy access to Owaisi as the main reason for supporting the leader.
The AIMIM that won seven out of the 20 assembly seats it contested in 2014 or 21% vote share is now contesting only eight seats--making one of the most conservative attempts to expand the influence of his party, especially ahead of next year’s Lok Sabha elections. Owaisi, who is the member of Parliament from Hyderabad is one of the biggest targets of all opposition parties, with most of them accusing the leader of tacitly helping every other party.
But Owaisi, who is one of the strongest critics of the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) says he backs incumbent chief minister K.Chandrashekar Rao’s Telugu Rashtra Samithi (TRS). “KCR is an opponent in the eight segments we are contesting. But outside these, we have requested the people of Telangana to bless KCR," Owaisi says, sipping Irani chai at a local hotel.
“He is the only one who raises a voice for our community. He must win," says Feroz Khan, a 25 year old auto driver but is unable to list any of the work of the party or its representatives. The old city, where the traces of the Nizam rule (Asaf Jahi era in the erstwhile state of Hyderabad) still exists, is where the Muslim identity is deeply etched into the politics. Most of the veterans here recall the targeted killings of muslims during Operation Polo—annexation of the erstwhile state of Hyderabad into the Indian Union on 17 September 1948. Owaisi’s grandfather (Abdul Wahid Owaisi), who took over the reins of the MIM in 1958 after its then president, Kasim Razvi, was jailed and later left for Pakistan, remains the undisputed leader of the community. Since then, Owaisi has become a face of the community, countering right wing ideology with his own brand of fundamentalism.
Every year since Telangana’s formation in 2014, the BJP has demanded that 17 September be declared ‘liberation day’ (from the ‘tyrannical rule of the Nizam’, as the party has been claiming). TRS, which does enjoy support from the community, has remained mum on the issue, giving the BJP another platform to attack the ruling party.
But none of this appears to have a bearing on Owaisi, who is confident of not just retaining his seven seats, but adding another, that he says would further reduce the strength of the BJP, who also have most of their seats in Hyderabad.
“Am hoping that this will happen, Inshahallah," he says.