(This interview was originally published on 21 November. It has been republished from The Quint's archives.)
As the Telangana Assembly elections draw close, The Quint catches up with All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) chief and Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi on his campaign trail. He talks about the Congress' 'Minority Declaration' in Telangana, the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP’s) manifesto, his friendship with the Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS), and more. Read excerpts from the interview:
The AIMIM is contesting from nine Assembly seats this time – two more than what it currently holds in Hyderabad. How confident are you about winning Jubilee Hills and Rajendranagar, especially considering the party's loss in the Rajendranagar Assembly constituency in 2018?
We are very confident. We have overcome our earlier weakness and have rectified our mistakes. Compared to last time, we're in a better position now. We're working hard, and hopefully, we'll be able to win the Rajendranagar seat. As for Jubilee Hills, we have two municipal corporators there. Mr [Mohammed Rashed] Farazuddin is the candidate there, and he is a two-time corporator. We have a substantial presence [in Jubilee Hills]. So, we're hopeful that we'll win both these seats this time.
Some mood surveys have predicted a hung Assembly in Telangana. In such a scenario, do you see yourself being the 'kingmaker'?
I don't think those findings will come true. The people of Telangana are very wise. I'm sure they will make K Chandrasekhar Rao the chief minister of the state for the third time. KCR will get a majority.
What is your electoral relationship with the ruling BRS? You had asked voters to support the BRS in seats where your party is not contesting. But during municipal polls, that's not the case.
Even now, in the Jubilee Hills and Rajendranagar seats, they have sitting MLAs. We are of the opinion that it is always better to have a third political player – a regional party which would be better for the weaker sections and the Muslim minorities as compared to the two national parties [BJP and Congress]. These national parties, wherever they are in power in India, what happened is that: one, the BJP becomes powerful, and two, development issues and issues related to justice take a backseat. That is why it is important to have a party like the BRS. You have an important stake in the political balance of the state.
Ever since their Karnataka win, do you feel that the Congress is the major opponent for the AIMIM and the BRS in Telangana?
When you fight an election, everyone who is contesting against you is your opponent. You cannot pick and choose. But you will have to ensure that you defeat all your opponents to win that Assembly seat. For us, the opponents may be the BRS, the Congress, the BJP, any other party, or an Independent. We have to fight them in a democratic way.
How do you react to the 'Minority Declaration' that the Congress has released in Telangana, which promises 'fair reservation' for backward classes and minorities and subsidised loans to unemployed minority youth, among other things?
One thing people should take note of is that elections are yet to be held in Rajasthan, elections have been held in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Why didn't the Congress issue any 'minority declaration' over there? Why only in Telangana? The percentage of minorities in Telangana and Rajasthan are similar. Maybe a little less in Madhya Pradesh. What makes the Congress party have a declaration here is that the AIMIM is here. We have done substantial work for Dalits and minorities, and they are politically very aware and empowered. The declaration has nothing substantial. It is a copy-paste of what has been done in Telangana.
The Congress has accused the AIMIM of fielding a candidate from Jubilee Hills – where it has fielded veteran cricketer Mohammad Azharuddin – just to split votes and help the BRS candidate and sitting MLA Maganti Gopinath. How do you respond to these allegations?
Why didn't they [the Congress] field Azharuddin from Goshamahal? Who's stopping them? I have two corporators in Jubilee Hills. In 2014, we had contested there, but not in 2018. Why did Rahul Gandhi contest from Wayanad? He could have just contested from Amethi. These are decisions which are made by a political party. The Congress party cannot make a decision for my party. We will make a decision that is good for our party, strengthen our party, and is based on the feedback from that particular Assembly constituency.
Azharuddin is a completely unsuccessful politician. The man who won the prestigious seat of Moradabad was not fielded by his own party again in 2014. He was given a seat in Rajasthan's Tonk-Sawai Madhopur. The man didn't even visit there once after losing the elections. The people of Moradabad didn't like him because he didn't do anything for them.
And Azharuddin as the president of the Hyderabad Cricket Association destroyed it. We're now in the plate division, thanks to his misdeeds and misgovernance.
The BJP and the Congress have questioned the AIMIM's decision to not field a candidate in Goshamahal where controversial BJP MLA Raja Singh is contesting. How do you respond to these allegations?
The thing is that these Johnnys do not know the history of that constituency. They are worse than 'WhatsApp University' followers. This Assembly constituency was known as the Maharajgunj seat till 2009. In 2009, it became Goshamahal. In 2009, late Mukesh Goud contested from there and we supported him. In 2014 also, we supported him but he couldn't win. The BJP won the seat. In 2018, I had unofficially told the Congress not to contest from there, and that we would ensure that the BJP doesn't win, but they still contested. They got 26,000-odd votes, but the winning majority was 17,000 votes.
So, we have never contested Maharajgunj, we have never contested Goshamahal. Where is this question coming from then?
Moreover, why did Congress field a weak candidate over there? A deal happened between the Congress and the BJP in 2018, wherein they fielded a candidate so that the BJP wins. In turn, they helped Revanth [Reddy] win the LB Nagar Lok Sabha seat.
Please remember that the present state Congress president [Revanth Reddy] has an RSS background. He worked in ABVP, he worked as a BJP member. When Mr Kishan Reddy had contested his first Assembly elections in 1999 against Mr Syed Sajjad who was an MLA, I had seen Revanth work for the BJP.
The man comes from RSS – and he is talking about secularism?
What do you have to say about the BJP's manifesto in Telangana, which has called for the scrapping of the Muslim quota?
The BJP has completely failed in providing employment to a large number of youngsters; the prices have gone up; inflation is high. Poor people are troubled by the economic decisions taken by the BJP. They have also brought about a lot of contentious decisions. For example, the UCC [Uniform Civil Code]. Can Mr Amit Shah go to Adilabad, Boath, Khammam, Warangal, or Mahbubabad and say that they will impose the UCC? Will Adivasis accept this nonsense? I'm sure that this message has reached them. Why would they keep quiet? The beauty of India is that everyone has their own culture, religious practices, every section has different flavour of what they do. This is India's strength and beauty. The BJP wants to finish this off.