Having covered the BJP and the Sangh parivar for over a decade now, I have often been confronted with the myth of the “macho Muslim”. Organisations like the VHP actually perpetuate this and I recall Giriraj Kishore telling me on the record that Muslim men prey on innocent Hindu girls because “they have had surgery [a reference to circumcision] and can give them greater pleasure”. Muslims, too, at one level, love the idea of being a great masculine race. I have heard many delight in the fact “that only we can produce fast bowlers”. Prejudices, in fact, are the source of great wit and humour, but cross a thin line and they become dangerous.
Akbaruddin Owaisi manages to cross that line. His speech is particular to the psychology of old Hyderabad and draws from the mentality of the Razakar movement. Many members of a congregational religion like Islam are also skilled at speaking from a pulpit and Owaisi’s speech is delivered with that particular tempo, pace and evocation of religious symbolism. He is addressing a congregation of the faithful and is an effective rabble-rouser.
What is rabble-rousing? It is about making the audience feel good about itself, make them feel like tigers for a minute vis-a-vis another section of society, who often bear the brunt. This is a classic Shiv Sena, Raj Thackeray technique and the similarities with the MIM are obvious—power with one family that has talented speakers and an organisation that can swiftly resort to violence. The Sena’s power emanates from its hold over the Mumbai municipality while the mim’s clout fundamentally comes from Hyderabad.
Both parties have a vested interest in communal politics, but it is rare to see such a wanton display of minority communalism. Owaisi plays into every bad stereotype of the “conquering Muslim”. The fundamental idea driving his rhetoric appears to be that we are the great masters of civilisation, we built all the great things in India, no one can push us around and we will show you if you dare. Oh Modi, come to Hyderabad and we will show you. Oh Hindustan, see what we can do...we are 25 crore, you are 100 crore, remove the police for 15 minutes and see....
I remember the late BJP leader Pramod Mahajan telling me that “after the Bombay riots, many of us felt too much blood was shed. They killed 200, and the Hindus killed 2,000.” It is because of such realities that Owaisi’s speech could have been dismissed as ridiculous. Now that it has been amplified by social media, it is circulating among the minority community across India. People say he is out of line, but they add that there is one point that he makes that they relate to—about the lack of justice for Muslims, how innocent Muslims die in riots and innocent Muslim boys are jailed for blasts committed by others. Let us presume that the Owaisis know their constituency just as the Thackerays do or Praveen Togadia does. Justice, or the lack of it, is an issue for minorities after livelihood issues. For they do not happen to be conquerors of this world.
Saba Naqvi is Political Editor, Outlook