Akbaruddin Owaisi and Raj Thackeray
By G Pramod Kumar
9 Jan 2013
With the rise of Akbaruddin Owaisi, the new icon of hate-speech in India, Raj Thackeray, the ‘Hindutva hottie‘, has competition. But, together, they seem to have demolished the long-held stereotype of hate politics in the country.
They are among the limited edition of younger, hate-speech politicians in India: clean-shaven, suave, well-educated and sharply dressed. Both had an urban and privileged upbringing and went to schools and colleges where they mixed with cosmopolitan crowds.
But when they open their mouth, there is something shockingly misplaced: it’s pure venom that goes well – to our trained eyes and ears – with saffron, vermillion, beards and skull-caps.
However, as we get used to their shrill, they sound interesting, however retrograde and dangerous they are.
This is a new combo of hate politics that we have not been used to. Raj, when he started, looked like an exception; but now, with Owaisi – although not new to politics and hate-speak – are we seeing a new trend?
Are they just a random occurrence or the emerging face of extreme politics in India?
Is hate-speech undergoing an un-laboured make-over?
Probably, it’s too early to say; but that they have established a new look-and-feel for hate-speech politics is significant because politics is also about stereotypes and images. Just as the way the congress had clad itself in khadi, from which even Rajiv or Rahul Gandhi couldn’t escape, hate-speech has always been comfortable being retro, scruffy, frothy and intimidating.
And their constituencies had been mostly rural, old-fashioned and the city-ghettos.
In India’s political iconography, which is also highly deceitful, trying a new model over the existing one – that too a perfectly working one – is fraught with risks of rejection because perception is more important than reality. On the other hand, the new-age looks might be the breakthrough that hate-speech politicians have been looking for to create a new constituency.
The stereotypical extremist was certainly repelling for the urban and young Indian, but a Raj or Owaisi are models that might make their brand of politics look cool. Raj has already shown that it’s a working proposition, and Owaisi might reinforce its replicability.
The duo has instant solutions that this constituency – the urban, young and otherwise apolitical – might lap up. The members of this constituency want faster solutions and systemic changes overnight. They wanted Kasab to be lynched without a trial, and the Delhi rapists to be hanged in public without the courts’ intervention.
They are a highly en-tropic constituency, which is perhaps ashamed of the old images and ways of the country and its people. They might be small in number, but the recent uprisings have shown that they have the firepower.
Raj and Owaisi will appeal to the extreme youth of this constituency. Raj has an easy and instant solution for the ills of Mumbai and incidents like the Delhi rapes – drive out the Bihari migrants. Similarly, Owaisi has an easy solution for Muslim assertion: in 15 minutes, 250 million Muslims can show one billion Hindus who is more powerful.
In the past, when Raj spoke against the Muslims and migrants in Mumbai, Owaisi was certain to execute a fatwa against Salman Rushdie and Taslima Nasreen if they ever entered Hyderabad.
Raj proclaims and demands all this and more without stirring out of his home turf, namely Mumbai, and the right for his hate-speech was inherited.
Owaisi’s turf is also strictly his city, and his legacy of hate-speech also was inherited from his father Sultan Salahuddin Owaisi, a six time MP from Hyderabad. As in the case of Raj’s uncle Bal Thackeray, Owaisi senior was equally flagrant in his communal and divisive politics. While Thackeray poured hatred against minorities and migrants, Owaisi senior targeted the Indian State. According to him, Muslims had been abandoned by India and should stand on their own feet instead of looking for help from the State.
In, India, most of the Sangh Parivar indoctrination started with their khaki and red tikka. They were the established routes to radical thinking.
In the sangh parivar camp, Varun Gandhi, although still kurta-clad, is another representative of this creed. He is young, urban, well-spoken, but unabashedly inflammatory. He dresses up his communal vitriol in such smart oratory that people are more amused than put off.
The designer doctrine might create a parallel and fast-track process of enrollment for hate-speech politics in India. Raj and Owaisi have piloted a model which shows that inflammatory speech and communal polarisation do not have to come with any kind of uniform. They have also shown that it is a smart thing to defy stereotypes and reach out to new constituencies.
Interestingly, the State has been quite soft on the designer radicals. Had they been old fashioned with no urban legacy, the story would have been different.
Anyway, as the cliché goes, let’s wait and see.