In the run up to the Lok Sabha elections, the Hyderabad-based All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, or AIMIM, is trying to mark its presence in the states of Bihar, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh. The 91-year-old party is led by Asaduddin Owaisi, its lone member of parliament, who is eyeing a fourth consecutive win from the Hyderabad constituency. The AIMIM has declared its support to the Jagan Mohan Reddy-led YSR Congress Party in Andhra Pradesh, and had supported the Janata Dal (Secular) in the Karnataka assembly elections last year. In Maharashtra, the AIMIM is part of the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi—an alliance of Dalits, Muslims and other marginalised groups—which was spearheaded by Prakash Ambedkar, the president of the Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh.
The AIMIM’s traditional base is in the old city of Hyderabad, from where Owaisi had won with a margin of over two lakh votes in the 2014 general elections. That year, the AIMIM was recognised as a state party in Telangana, after seven out of the 20 candidates it fielded won the assembly elections. In the 2018 assembly elections, it contested eight seats and won seven of them again. The AIMIM had supported the Congress in undivided Andhra Pradesh since 1998 and was a part of the United Progessive Alliance, but pulled out of the coalition in 2012. After the 2014 general elections, the party entered into an alliance with the Telangana Rashtra Samithi and continues to be a staunch supporter of its leader and the chief minister of Telangana, K Chandrasekar Rao.
In an interview with Nileena MS, a reporting fellow with The Caravan, at the party headquarters at Darussalam in Hyderabad, Owaisi spoke about the upcoming elections, and the AIMIM’s plans and allies. Among other things, Owaisi discussed how the Congress had adopted the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Hindutva ideology to contest the elections, the need for all marginalised groups to come together, and the role of regional parties in the Lok Sabha elections. “Let’s share this burden of defeating BJP equally,” Owaisi said. “Why only regional parties?”
Nileena MS: “The 2019 general elections will not be about what a government can deliver. The race now is about proving who is a bigger Hindu in India.” You said this at the India Conference 2019 held in Harvard University. How is this reflected in the political discourse of today?
Asaduddin Owaisi: From what we have seen especially in the last three years, what is the difference between the Congress and the BJP? That invisible line does not exist anymore. That is why I say, India has only one national party—one is the BJP and the other is one-and-a-half BJP. The latest example is the imposition of the NSA [National Security Act] on three Muslims in [Madhya Pradesh] who were already booked under the MP Prohibition of Cow Slaughter Act. [The Congress] went overboard and applied NSA. Is that a national security issue? That shows your priorities are not employment, economy, reviving informal sector, or addressing agrarian distress. Your main priority is this because you feel that unless and until you become like the BJP, you cannot win elections.
NMS: The Congress repeatedly says they are secular, and Rahul Gandhi launched a “Save the Constitution” campaign in April 2018.
AO: When anyone says I stand by the constitution, the constitution should be the driving document. But it is not so. It is merely lip service. If you abide by the constitution, then make it a living document. You do not want to do that.