There was nothing in Akbaruddin Owaisi’s demeanour to suggest that he was suffering from ill-health when he landed at Hyderabad airport from London, to a rapturous welcome early on Monday 7 January morning. On the contrary, his trademark swagger firmly in place, greeting supporters and well-wishers with a salaam, Owaisi was wearing a T-shirt with ‘4’ embossed on it.
But Owaisi has not managed to get past the fielder to reach the boundary in his latest political innings yet. His “hate speech” in Nirmal in Adilabad district of Andhra Pradesh last month went viral on the net, raising temperatures in the state. The BJP went for Owaisi’s jugular, demanding that he be arrested as soon he landed at the airport. The Congress that lost Owaisi’s party, the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) as an ally only two months back, is seen as soft-pedalling the issue. First its police did not know Owaisi had given such an inflammatory speech, then it could not get Urdu translators in a hurry and finally, when it took suo moto notice, Owaisi ignored it saying he is unwell.
But there could be trouble for Owaisi. The Ethics committee of the Andhra Pradesh Assembly is likely to recommend action against him to the Speaker, the worst-case scenario being disqualification from the House. On Tuesday 8 January, he will be taken to a government hospital for a medical check-up to verify if the internal pain that he is talking about is true or not. In 2011, he was fired at by assailants and a bullet is still lodged in his body.
Those who know Owaisi and have followed his brand of politics, say he is notorious for making such speeches. In 2007, he got away with threatening to behead writer Taslima Nasreen if she set foot in Hyderabad. His choice of words for the late prime minister PV Narasimha Rao at a public meeting in 2011 was in extremely bad taste. And in his speech last month, Owaisi remarked that “the 25 crore Muslims will take care of the 100 crore Hindus if only the police was removed for 15 minutes” and used offensive language against Hindu gods and goddesses.
Pushed to a corner, the MIM has been trying to gain political currency from the mess. Its president, Asaduddin Owaisi, who is Akbaruddin Owaisi’s elder brother, has attacked the BJP accusing it of trying to get MIM disqualified. At a public meeting in Tandur on Saturday 6 January, Asaduddin Owaisi said, “We are not against Hindus. Our fight is against the BJP and Kiran Kumar Reddy.”
But that is unlikely to help his cause now. In the past, Akbaruddin Owaisi got away because the Congress government looked the other way. A fact Asaduddin said in so many words, saying that the cases have been filed because the MIM is no longer a friendly party. Chief minister Kiran Kumar Reddy has no love lost for the Owaisi brothers. But even he may be unable to do much given Asaduddin’s connections with the movers and shakers in the Delhi leadership. The Congress knows that the divorce with the MIM is at best temporary and the partners would reunite sooner than later. So will the Congress play into the BJP’s hands by agreeing to its demands?
To dismiss this episode merely as angst over a “hate speech” would be to miss the point completely. It is a vicious game of political consolidation taking place, played by both the MIM and the BJP. Both parties are looking to consolidate their respective communities behind them. Already leaders are predicting very close contests in 70 out of the 119 Assembly seats in Telangana region, given the fact that the vote will be split between the Congress, TRS, TDP, YSR Congress and BJP and this may just be the first attempt at polarising voters on communal lines ahead of elections in 2014.