Asaduddin Owaisi, president of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, tells B Dasarath Reddy and Prashanth Chintala what went wrong in the party’s relationship with the Congress in Andhra Pradesh, while blaming Chief Minister N Kiran Kumar Reddy singularly for this political break-up
Your party has a long association with the Congress in Andhra Pradesh. What was the trigger to end this relationship?
This was not an impulsive decision. There were several reasons for our dissatisfaction over the past two years and these cumulatively led to our decision to choose our own path. The state government paid little heed to the developmental issues that we brought to its notice. For instance, we wanted the government to take up housing in a 100-acre government land for the benefit of residents of the old city, irrespective of their caste, creed or religion. This was one of the reasons why Akbar [Owaisi’s brother and the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) legislative party leader in the state Assembly] was attacked. For the last one year, the court stay on this land has not been vacated, owing to the callous attitude of the government.
Among other things, there has also been a recurrence of communal incidents and riots in the state, which the government has not tried to control seriously. After the recent Bhagyalaxmi Mandir issue, we decided it was enough.
Where did the government go wrong?
There are government orders and court rulings that no new construction should be allowed within 100 meters of a monument. But people were trying to put up permanent structures right at the base of Charminar. Instead of protesting on streets, we approached the court for a status quo order against such actions. From the first day, I kept the chief minister in the loop. He told me: “Aap acche kare [you have done the right thing]; whatever order comes is good for us.”
I requested him on Sunday (November 4) that the police should be ordered to not interfere, since there were apprehensions of the police’s plans of laying a tarpaulin over the mandir. The chief minister said, “Arrey saab, apse matlab hai, ye tension nahi hona [it is you who matter to me; why should there be any tension].” The court issued status quo orders on Monday (November 5).
Subsequently, next Saturday (November 10), the government received a letter from the Archeological Survey of India’s foreman at Charminar, stating that on a particular day, there was a tarpaulin laid over the mandir. The government was clearly not following the court’s order. On Saturday night, it was decided by the government that on Sunday (November 11) morning, around 2,000 policemen would surround the monument and allow a tarpaulin to be laid over the mandir.
Let me tell you honestly, not only minorities, but a large section of secular people from the majority community, felt disgusted with the government’s behaviour. Why should anyone see Charminar through the lens of Hindu and Muslim. It’s a part of our city — a part of its culture and heritage. It needs to be protected.
But your opponents see your personal gains in your actions...
However, the chief minister has hidden the fact that we have given him a letter, stating that do not want the hospital premises because he was expected to examine the request, and not use it for selective leakage of the information. Some big organisations had also approached the government with the same request. Is it appropriate to see this as a political demand in my case because I head a political party?
I am a third-generation politician. By the grace of almighty Allah, I don’t have a power project and I am no road contractor. Where do you get an ally like this? None of our members of legislative Assembly has power projects or road and irrigation contracts. You can use the Right To Information Act to find out the truth.
If you had issues with the state leadership, what stopped you from discussing them with the Congress high command? Why did you withdraw support to the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government?
These issues came up after N Kiran Kumar Reddy became the chief minister. I am sure the Congress high command is in the know of all these problems. No one has to go and tell them. It’s not my high command; they have all the resources, and there are confidants giving them reports every day.
However, I did try to caution them. I cannot be very specific because there is a level of etiquette that we practice at the topmost level of politics. Because of this man’s irresponsible governance and his inability to fight communalism, we were forced to withdraw support to the UPA.
There were reports that members of the All India Congress Committee approached you to reconsider your decision...
No one has contacted me. There is no truth in those reports. They are all rumours.
Would you reconsider your decision if the Congress changes the chief minister?
It is a hypothetical question. It is the party’s call and decision. You and I are not in a position to influence its decision.
Your ambition to expand the party base outside and inside the Assembly, and your relationship with YSR Congress Party President Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy, are also viewed as possible causes for friction between the MIM and the ruling party in the state.
As an ally, can I stop the Congress from expanding its political base? But you look at stopping my expansion. Expanding and strengthening the party is an ongoing work to survive; it is immaterial whether you are in power or not, and whether you are an ally to a party or not. Every party will do it. How is it that it is a problem for them? Where are the elections to prove we are trying to align with Jagan’s YSR Congress Party? Moreover, we are not a pre-poll ally of the Congress to question my parting ways with it.
Maybe you are not a pre-poll ally of the Congress, but you extended the support...
In 2004, and again in 2009, we supported the UPA government. The state government already had enough numbers. But, after Y S Rajasekhara Reddy’s death within three to four months of the elections, we decided in favour of supporting the state’s ruling party because we wanted it to be stable and perform.
But our basic complaint was of non-performance of the government on various schemes — it is a long list, but to give an example, the Prime Minister’s 15-point programme proposes 15 per cent share in the priority sector lending to minorities, backward classes and weaker sections of the population. While it has touched about 12-13 per cent at the national level, it is only 6.5 per cent in Andhra Pradesh. We asked the chief minister to speak to bankers and fix this.
Why would the Congress like to lose an ally such as the MIM? How does your decision affect both the Congress and the MIM in the state?
You should ask this question to the Congress. Maybe it feels that it doesn’t require minorities or any Muslim support. It doesn’t make any difference to me because we are not pre-poll allies. This gives me an opportunity to get ready for elections, to work on my weaknesses and strengthen my party. It definitely will have an adverse effect on the Congress’ chances in the state because Andhra Pradesh is no more a two-horse race, it is a four-horse race now.