Owaisi’s rise continues as AIMIM looks to expand base

The rise of Owaisi, 50, follows the ascent of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) nationally, the tactical confusion among traditional secular parties over how to challenge it nationally, and his efforts to expand the AIMIM’s base beyond its traditional stronghold of Hyderabad.

In the haze of the big picture emerging from the Maharashtra and Haryana assembly elections, a little-noticed story is the rise and continued expansion of Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), a Muslim party until recently confined to Hyderabad.

The AIMIM is ahead in three assembly segments in Maharashtra — it won two seats in 2014. It is also leading in one assembly bypoll, in Kishanganj in Bihar.

The rise of Owaisi, 50, follows the ascent of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) nationally, the tactical confusion among traditional secular parties over how to challenge it nationally, and his efforts to expand the AIMIM’s base beyond its traditional stronghold of Hyderabad.

The centrepiece of the puzzle that explains the rise of the AIMIM is the rapid expansion, paradoxically, of the BJP. With a party that is perceived as a largely Hindu formation widening its political footprint, there has been a political churn in the Muslim community.

There is a degree of alienation in the community, especially due to its exclusion from power structures. This has either resulted in the community sticking to older “secular” formations, turning apathetic, or seeking out new alternatives like Owaisi. He is seen as a blunt man who speaks the language of constitutionalism, but also strongly condemns the BJP, and this works for a segment of younger Muslims.

The second reason is the loss of credibility of older formations who the Muslims traditionally voted for. The Congress, for instance, is seen by some Muslims as neither having the ability to put up a fight nor are sections of the community convinced of its secular credentials, especially in the wake of the efforts by a section of its leadership to also turn to Hindu symbolism. The target of Owaisi’s speeches is often these older formations and he hopes to fill the space vacated by them.

And the third is organisational work. In Kishanganj for instance, in Bihar’s Seemanchal, a district where Muslims make up 70% of the population, Owaisi has been hard at work for years — contesting elections, losing, but contesting again, and spending time on the ground.

To be sure, Owaisi’s presence is still marginal in Indian politics. A few wins must not be interpreted as heralding a larger political force. But his growing visibility and now the expansion of AIMIM’s political footprint is an interesting feature of India’s evolving politics.

Source: Hindustan Times

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