In the packed streets of Malakpet, dotted with new residential complexes and pucca houses, Hyderabad MP and All India Majlis-e-Iitehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) Chief Asaduddin Owaisi is visiting door-to-door, campaigning for his candidate Ahmed Balala.
Youth, women and senior citizens rush towards him to click selfies, some to air their grievances. In his trademark style, Owaisi lends an ear to all his supporters and leaves them with an appeal to vote for the kite. He is arguably the only leader in Telangana who holds an audience with the people from all walks of life, six days a week at his party headquarters Darussalam, which explains his idolisation in the hearts of his supporters.
While MIM is expected to sweep at least 7 of the 9 seats that it is contesting in Hyderabad, Owaisi is also confident of KCR’s hat-trick. Responding to Priyanka Gandhi’s ‘Naatu, Naatu’ salvo, alleging BRS-BJP-MIM nexus, Owaisi hits back with a punchline that people of Telangana will show their ‘Teen Maar’ to BJP and Congress.
Edited excerpts from the interview:
Q: You are contesting nine seats, what does it look like?
A: It’s an election we have to work hard, we have always respected our opponents and tried not to be overconfident but at the same time we have full confidence in the work we have done in the last five years. Our party leaders have always been on the ground. This is also the first election that is being held after the Covid pandemic. People remember the work and sacrifices made by the MIM leaders. We will win maximum number of seats.
Q: What is your manifesto this time?
A: The way we work is our manifesto. Six days a week — our MLAs, corporators and myself sit at the party office and people come and give their manifesto to us every day. We work on that. Apart from that, we don’t have formal manifestoes because other political parties who are contesting in Telangana don’t work around the clock, around the week, around the year as we do. So, whenever we meet the people, and share their problems, that is the manifesto that we work on, not for elections.
Q: Why are you sticking to nine seats this time. There was a lot of buzz that you would go out of Hyderabad?
A: I didn’t give any number earlier. It was the party’s decision to contest nine seats.
Q: Why not Goshamahal constituency?
A: This is a point that is being raised by the Congress, which lives in fool’s paradise. Previously, this constituency was known as Maharajganj. In 2009, it became Goshamahal and late Mukesh Goud was the candidate. We had supported him back then. In 2014, unfortunately, Goud lost. In 2018, I had told some common political friends and the Congress not to contest from Goshamahal as we wanted to jointly defeat the BJP but they insisted and went ahead. And the Congress candidate secured 27,000 votes and the BJP candidate won with 17,000 votes, so, we never contested Goshamahal and the fact of the matter is that these smart johnies don’t know a single thing about Goshamahal. MIM is not contesting in Nizamabad town where you have 44% of the Muslim electorate, where I have a deputy mayor and 16 corporators. So, why am I not contesting from there? Because I want to defeat the RSS over there. I have never contested Goshamahal, which has 27% Muslim electorate because we don’t want RSS to win.
These people only talk about Goshamahal, but why are they not talking about Nizamabad? I am really shocked that the leader of the Congress who happens to be the daughter of Sonia Gandhi comes and says I am contesting less number of seats to help KCR. Before that she said he contested 80 seats. Please have clarity before you open your mouth. You wanted me to contest more in Telangana? I have left 110 seats for you, go there and fight. Priyanka Gandhi should do proper homework and not rely on someone who has no sense of Telangana.
In Uttar Pradesh, 402 seats were contested by Congress, under her leadership. What was the result? Did you have an alliance with the BJP?
She says MIM is with the BJP, but it is the BJP which has helped her husband. What happened to the DLF inquiry that he was facing? Should I also say that there was a deal? Congress is in complete frustration.
Q: Why are you not in an official alliance with the BRS?
A: We don’t require any political party’s support to win elections. We are contesting against the BRS in all nine seats. In 110 assembly seats, we have requested the people of Telangana to vote for a regional leader who got Telangana so that the balance of power remains not only with the poorer people but also with the Muslims, Christian minorities, Dalit and Other Backward Classes. Wherever there are two national parties, these communities become football and it is the BJP, which is always in the advantageous position. So, the development of these communities takes backstage. I can go on and give numerous examples. We require KCR to become the CM for the third time.
Q: As a leader with national ambitions, why not contest in your home state and put up a fight against all?
A: We are expanding. Nine is an important number. In Rajasthan, we are contesting 10 seats, in UP, we are in an alliance with Babu Singh Kushwaha and we were given the number of seats we wanted to contest. We won 5 of the 19 seats we contested in Bihar. Out of those 5, Congress purchased our 4 MLAs. The same thing happened to them in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Karnataka. In all these places, Congress was shouting, crying, weeping that “democracy had been murdered”, but what about you buying my MLAs in Bihar, was that a Gandhian act?
Q: But don’t you think that anti-incumbency is the biggest negative factor against KCR?
A: No, I am confident that KCR will come back to power for the third time. Congress’ guarantees have no traction on the ground. People don’t believe them after what they have done in Karnataka. Congress is headed by an RSS man. He was working with Kishan Reddy, then he went to TDP, destroyed them and now he is in the Congress; the remote control lies with Mohan Bhagwat. The language this man uses against minorities is exactly the training he received many years ago.
Q: BJP has promised to root out corruption, radicalisation from Hyderabad?
A: All a load of rubbish.
Q: Don’t you see BJP playing a spoilsport?
A: I am accused of being a spoilsport. Where is extremism in Hyderabad? There have been no riots in the last 9.5 years. Hyderabad was the only city where Muslims agreed to hold Milad-un-Nabi rally three days after Ganesha’s procession. The same thing was replicated throughout India. It’s the BJP which keeps on saying they will do surgical strikes on old city, we will take bulldozers into old city. It is their language of hate and they are saying all this to create an atmosphere of hate.
Q: What is Owaisi’s X-factor?
A: There is no X, Y factor. You have to work hard on the ground. You can’t work for just 30 days and win the elections. Those days are gone. If Congress believes that they will parachute someone from Delhi, Amethi or Wayanad with their exhausted highnesses giving sermons here, it will not work. You have to be on the ground, build connection, have an organisation, share people’s happiness, their grievances. Unfortunately, people believe in money power and you will see what will happen.