Asaduddin Owaisi is the president of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen—the first Muslim party since Independence to show indications of a pan-Indian appeal—and a three-time member of parliament from the Hyderabad constituency. On 11 April, Hyderabad will vote in the first phase of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. In the following extract from “The Seeker,” The Caravan’s September 2016 cover story, Neyaz Farooquee traces Owaisi’s journey from his party’s base in Hyderabad to his political life in Delhi, and his relationship with the Delhi-media, where he is a frequent commentator. Farooquee also details the allegations of communal polarisation and the use of violence against Owaisi and the AIMIM, and his responses to them. “As long as I was with the Congress I was secular, but the moment we left the UPA at the centre and in Andhra Pradesh we immediately became politically untouchable,” Owaisi said. “If you are with them you are holy, and the moment you oppose them you become untouchable, you become communal, you become someone’s agent.”
Asaduddin Owaisi’s re-election in 2014 extended his time in the Lok Sabha into a third term. This was crucial as the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen looked to expand from its Hyderabad base. No matter how the party had fared in the city over the last decade, anything it did there got it, at best, sporadic flashes of national attention—and that mostly when it stirred up controversy. But in Delhi, Asaduddin had managed to use his position in parliament and access to the national media to maximum advantage.
Asaduddin came to Delhi at a fortuitous time. His election to the Lok Sabha in 2004 coincided with the surprise defeat of the previous BJP-led government, which brought the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance to power. The AIMIM joined the UPA, allowing Owaisi, as a member of the ruling government, unprecedented exposure. Ever since, he has commanded outsized attention in proportion to his party’s numerical presence in parliament—perhaps more so than any other Indian politician today. This has only been helped by the BJP’s projection of him as a prime antagonist since it returned to power in 2014.
Part of this is down to Asaduddin’s performance in the parliament itself. In 2014, he was one of 12 MPs to receive the Sansad Ratna, an annual award from a civil-society group, for top parliamentarians as judged by their attendance and participation in debates. Asaduddin is known for his eloquent and often fiery speeches on the parliament floor, which are popular online. It helps that he is the only prominent Muslim in an assembly where the community is badly underrepresented. In 2014, for instance, only 23 Muslims were elected to the 545-seat Lok Sabha. With Muslims accounting for 14.2 percent of the population, the proportional number of representatives, not counting the 133 seats reserved for specific other communities, would be about 60.
Beyond the parliament, Asaduddin’s high profile owes much to his relationship with the Delhi-based media. He often brings chefs from Hyderabad to the capital with him, and puts his city’s legendary cuisine to good use. In a Hindustan Times piece denouncing Akbaruddin’s Adilabad speech in 2013—Akbaruddin is Asaduddin’s brother. In 2013, he had been booked for making inflammatory speeches—the journalist Rajdeep Sardesai could not help but note how Asaduddin, during parliament sessions,