‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ row: Open letter to Asaduddin Owaisi

Mumbai: All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) leader Asaduddin Owaisi sparked a fresh political controversy refusing to chant ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ slogan.

Owaisi’s statement started a new debate over ‘nationalism’, which has gripped the entire country.

Here’s an open letter written by Mohammad Asim, senior news editor at NDTV 24×7, which takes on communal and divisive politics played by the AIMIM chief.

Dear Mr Owaisi,

I write to you as a concerned citizen of this country. We have a lot of commonalities – we are both Indians, Muslims, and have had the good fortune of getting the best of higher education, And yes, we both get to hear “go to Pakistan” from some loonies pretty regularly these days.

Like you, I am also pained at the socio-economic condition of most Muslims in India. It pains me as much as it does you to see that Muslims reel at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder even below the Dalits and SC/STs on some indicators. It depresses me no end to see that Muslim youths are regularly incarcerated in prisons on trumped up terror charges all over the country for years on before being acquitted by courts. It’s a shame that there is no action against the cops who frame innocents and that there is no compensation to these youths by the State whose agencies victimise and stigmatise them and their families.

Even as I share so much with you, I differ with you on your politics. Let me reiterate that even though you often raise all the issues that are close to my heart, being a citizen of this country, I reject your ways. I refuse to accept you as a leader of Muslims in the 21st Century as I would refuse to accept some of those sitting in power as the sole voice of Hindus in the country.

Before I come to my specific issues with your kind of politics, let me tell you that on the recent controversy over your insistence on not raising “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” and the shameful suspension of your MLA, Waris Pathan, I am with you. It’s extremely unsettling and abhorrent to see the Congress now hopping on to this hyper-nationalism bandwagon to claim its share of patriot pie.

You are right that no one can force you to raise the slogan, and it cannot be a test of your patriotism. But when you give a passionate and rhetorical speech on a public platform to the loud cheering of a crowd, you are not speaking just for yourself presumably. You try to project yourself, or at least you get projected, as the voice of Muslims.

So your statement portrays Muslims as rejecting a slogan which was as much part of the national movement as “Inquilab Zindabaad”. Would you also tell your audience that they are free to raise the slogan if they wish to? Would you tell them that when Allama Iqbal wrote “Khak-e-watan ka mujhko har zarra devta hai…(I see in each speck of my country’s poor dust, divinity)” he did not turn into an idol worshipper. It was a poetic expression of reverence for the country. It’s perfectly possible to reject this bogus test of patriotism that hinges on a slogan, while embracing and chanting “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” at the same time.
Yes, you are a patriot, but Mr Owaisi, but you are also a politician and a very feisty one at that. That’s where the problem begins. You claim to represent the Muslims of the country. You may be a single-MP party in parliament and with little presence beyond your fiefdom of Hyderabad, but you have every right to harbour some self-indulgent ideas about your reach and impact.

Given that, please spare the Muslims your indulgence. Your expressions such as “mere gale pe churi rakh do to bhi nahin bolunga Bharat Mata Ki Jai (put a knife to my throat but I will not say Bharat Mata Ki Jai)” are not just in bad taste, but also have an unnecessary confrontationist tone them.
In the extremely volatile times that we live in, we don’t want this confrontationist, tit-for-tat politics. And let me tell you, such unnecessary confrontations harm you and your party.

So often, you speak much sense. Most parts of your speeches are about relevant issues. You condemn terrorism and ISIS unequivocally. Your party has done some fabulous work in education and healthcare in Hyderabad. How many people would know that your party has given three Hindu mayors to the city of Hyderabad? Or that many of your party candidates in the Maharashtra Assembly elections were Dalits?

You are the only Muslim politician who openly speaks against the Haj subsidy, but then you also fall prey to rabble-rousing. Because somewhere you believe that your audience wants you to be a Muslim Togadia. No?

If that is the case, may I ask what political benefits did your brother’s xenophobic speeches get you beyond Hyderabad? You failed to make any impact in Bihar.

Let me put a few specific questions at you, Mr Owaisi:
Do you believe that Muslims deserve a leader who is a mirror image of the Hindu right? In doing so aren’t you trying to pushing back the community into the same cocoon of insecurity that you claim to rescue it from? Aren’t you trying to whip up a fear psychosis and herd Muslims your way?

Why did you not throw your brother Akbaruddin Owaisi out of your party for the horrendous speeches that he publicly made three years ago? Or are you also going to fall back on the stupid whataboutery and list all the Hindu fringe elements who get away with far worse? Didn’t his hate speeches boil the patriot’s blood in your veins?

What action did you take against your party MLAs and members when they assaulted Taslima Nasreen in Hyderabad in 2007? Didn’t they break the law of the land?
Mr Owaisi, you sit on the Muslim Personal Law Board that has institutionalised the most regressive and gender-biased practices among Muslims. Have you tried to convince the board members against practices such as polygamy, triple talaq and inheritance rights for women?

You are a fiery orator. In today’s world when the power of your speech is amplified by the traditional and social media, I advise you to choose your words carefully. Be a responsible politician, or you will mirror only those who you claim to oppose.

Muslims have a serious leadership crisis today. But I am sorry to say, Mr Owaisi you are not the answer.

Courtesy NDTV