Speaking for ourselves

The controversial and much Youtubed speech made by Andhra MLA Akbaruddin Owaisi landed him a spell in jail. The nearly hour long speech has evoked comparisons with inflammatory speeches by Varun Gandhi and Praveen Togadia. Now, his brother Asaduddin Owaisi, Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) chief and an MP from Hyderabad, has been sent to jail because of his alleged involvement in riots in 2005. Together, the brothers constitute an emerging brand of "Muslim neta" who finds it fruitful to look for an exclusively Muslim constituency.

Akbar Owaisi's speech has a context. In the cyber-world of "Muslim issues", where there is a constant lament over things not yet done for Muslims and the insurmountable institutional bias, a case for a committed "Muslim" leadership is being made. Even TV debates seem to look for a "Muslim" counter, a suitably rightwing rabble-rouser, rather than a political counter to those arguing against Muslim "appeasement". The presence of such a soapbox has fuelled the political ambitions of some who feel that as Muslims, only they can understand and fix certain problems.

The most important political takeaway from Akbar Owaisi's speech comes when he lampoons advocates of "secularism", saying with pride that he is a "Muslim-parast" — a votary of the Muslim cause. Unlike Mulayam Singh Yadav and others, he is the "real thing". It becomes evident that Owaisi's fighting an old battle once again, one that was first fought in the 1930s, when his party, the MIM, was formed in the state of Hyderabad, then under the nizam. The MIM was formed in opposition to the secularists who had staked a claim to the political turf and fought feudalism. These secularists recognised and sympathised with Muslim backwardness, but did not cast it only in an identity framework. It is possible that after years with Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy and the Congress, the MIM now finds it necessary to reassert itself and its original agenda.

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