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UP & the Owaisi offensive: Here's why the AIMIM cannot be ignored

Shahnawaz Malik | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:46 IST

The wrangling within the ruling Yadav clan in UP is far from over. The spate of suspensions and resignations since Monday indicate that the nephew-uncle rivalry is still simmering in the Samajwadi Party (SP) camp.

In such a situation, the forays being made by the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) President Asaduddin Owaisi in the state's political arena could add to Mulayam's troubles.

Campaign trail

The fiery leader visited the Muslim-dominated Lok Sabha constituency of Kaisarganj in Eastern UP on Sunday. In a well-attended rally in the local Wazirganj Bazar, Owaisi talked about 'injustice' done to the Muslim community, which has consistently voted for the Samajwadi Party for the past 24 years.

Owaisi's next stop was Western UP's Bijnor district. He was scheduled to visit the Peda village in the area, where three Muslims were killed in recent communal clashes. However, the district administration denied permission for the visit citing imposition of Section 144 in the disturbed areas. This forced Owaisi to cancel his programme.

It is no secret that Muslims are a key factor in UP elections. The community is also the mainstay of the SP vote bank.

Ideally, the ruling party would not like to provide a single opportunity to Owaisi's party to cut through this support base. The alacrity with which the Akhilesh Yadav government acted during communal tensions in Peda demonstrates this point.

It happened last Friday

Last Friday, three Muslims from a family were killed, allegedly by assailants belonging to the Jat community. Since all signals on the ground suggested the crime had communal overtones and the UP government didn't take much time to spring into action.

Also read: Bijnor violence: How Dainik Jagran & HT wrongly blamed Muslims

Also read: Bijnor: 3 killed as Jats and Muslims clash over eve-teasing incident

The chief minister rushed the state Home Secretary Mani Prasad Mishra and the Additional Director General of Police (Law and Order) Daljeet Choudhary to Bijnor on choppers.

Two local police personnel, including a sub-inspector, were suspended. They had allegedly failed to act on the spot of the crime. The government announced a compensation of Rs 20 lakh each to the victims' families by the same evening.

Meanwhile, Owaisi, the astute leader and a prolific speaker that he is, tried to score political mileage on the issue. He took swipes at the state government and insisted on visiting Bijnor, till an unrelenting administration foiled his plans.

Plans foiled

"We are a law-abiding party. Our leadership did not want to break Section 144. Owaisi was also scheduled to address a rally in Shamli district's Kairana, but the local SDM denied permission. Now, we plan to organise an election meeting in Eastern UP's Sant Kabir Nagar district on 25 September," clarifies Hashmat, who is a member of AIMIM's state executive committee.

Kairana is the same town that was compared with Kashmir, not long ago.

The local BJP MP Hukum Singh had released a list claiming 346 Hindu families had migrated from Kairana out of fear of Muslims. However, the credibility of the list came under the media scanner and allegations were found to be dubious at best.

Nevertheless, the entire controversy still managed to terrorise the local Muslim population.

Owaisi has been accusing the Samajwadi Party of working in cahoots with the BJP and terrorise Muslims to get their votes. The AIMIM leader surely wanted to make the same point in Kairana.

Matter of causes

Owaisi has been trying to espouse the cause of Muslims in UP for quite some time now. He has previously tried to visit several communally disturbed areas in the state. This is a part of his political strategy to win Muslim support in India's most populous state.

Last year, Owaisi spent his Bakr Id at Dadri's Bishahra village, where a Muslim man was lynched by a mob for suspicion of possessing beef. Later, he tried to organise a rally in Azamgarh and even announced to adopt a village for development in the area.

Azamgarh is also a communally sensitive region that came into the limelight after the Batla House encounter. All these steps point towards a concerted effort on Owaisi's part to make inroads in to UP politics.

There is no doubt that the Samajwadi Party still enjoys the support of a considerable section of Muslims. Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) is the second obvious choice for the leaders of the community, especially those left disgruntled by SP.

Enough ammo?

Yet, Owaisi is seen as a leader with enough ammunition up his sleeves to emerge as an alternative for the Muslims in the state. The confusion created by the ugly spat in Mulayam's family is only helping his cause.

However, Owaisi is equally aggressive against the BSP. It would serve his purpose to sway BSP's Muslim supporters in his favour.

But, a seasoned politician like Mayawati knows how to keep her guard. She has already countered Owaisi's attempts by announcing to filed more than 100 Muslim candidates. Clearly, Owaisi will have to find new issues to target the BSP supremo.

Can't quite ignore him

Still, no party claiming any degree of Muslim support can afford to ignore the AIMIM factor. Owaisi is believed to be increasingly popular among the youth of the community. His personal charisma and interventions in the Parliament in favour of issues concerning Muslims have only enhanced his profile.

Owaisi is arguably more suave, capable, logical and aggressive leader than any other political representative of the community in the state.

All major political players realise that the Muslim-Dalit combination is almost unassailable in UP. Owaisi has already tried the formula in Maharashtra and during the By-elections in UP. A Dalit AIMIM candidate in Bikapur By-election had managed to get 11,000 votes.

However, Owaisi's politics is fraught with danger. He is known to be a polarising figure. All would be lost if he ends up doing the same in UP.

Edited by Jhinuk Sen

Also read: Will Asaduddin Owaisi lead an alliance of Muslim parties in Uttar Pradesh elections?

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Also read: Spoiler turns benefactor: why Nitish & Lalu need to thank Owaisi

First published: 20 September 2016, 9:19 IST