The doyen of Hyderabad’s Owaisi dynasty has repeatedly maligned Hindu gods and goddesses, referred to Hindus as “impotent” and suggested that Muslims could destroy all Hindus in India inside 15 minutes. These statements are not simply ludicrous, they are an open call to civil war. Rarely has a Muslim politician sunk to such depths. Muslims have to remember that for all its recurring troubles, their life in India is far better than in most parts of the world―whether as the minority or the majority. Despite all their little differences, Muslims’ relations with Hindus are far more cordial than with any other religious community. People like Owaisi, or anyone who tries to sow seeds of discord, must be denounced clearly and categorically.
By Saif Shahin, New Age Islam
It will be easy to dismiss Akbaruddin Owaisi’s viciousness as cheap politics. After all, what is new in a legislator trying to ignite communal fires, polarise voters and win elections? Owaisi himself has done it in the past―such as in 2007, when he declared he would kill “anti-Islamic” writers Salman Rushdie and Taslima Nasreen; or again in 2011, when he said he would have killed former prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao with his own hands had the latter not died (the curious fact that Owaisi never tried to kill Rao while Rao was alive, and mentioned his intentions only after Rao was dead, wasn’t explained).
So his latest diatribe―at a recent rally he claimed that India’s 250 million Muslims could destroy its 1 billion Hindus in 15 minutes if there was no police to stop them―can be written off as the rant of a small-time politician who has little more than the next assembly polls in mind. That, however, would be a mistake. The Hyderabadi lawmaker’s political vision may indeed be myopic, but the shrillness and doggedness of his tirade could be symptomatic of a bigger change.
The year 2012 was not a good year for Hindu-Muslim relations; it may have even been the worst in almost a decade. The Gujarat riots of 2002 are commonly viewed as the low point of Indian secularism. What is not so well recognised is that they also precipitated a broad shift in communal relations and national politics. The nationwide shame that the riots engendered ended nearly a decade of antipathy between Hindus and Muslims―following the destruction of the Babri Masjid and the Bombay blasts in 1992-93―and ushered in a decade of peace and tolerance.
A Decadal Cycle?
To be sure, the peace of the past decade was not perfect. Both Muslims and Hindus engaged in terrorist activities against each other, and there were small riots here and there, every now and then. But what was different was that the Muslim community in general―including political leaders, religious leaders, celebrities and the masses―shunned terrorism in one voice as anti-Islamic, and Hindus in general accepted that violence was not really the Islamic way. Not even the Mumbai attack of 2008, the worst terror assault in India, could pollute this atmosphere of amity.
These sentiments influenced national politics as well. The BJP’s fast growth over the preceding decade came to a sudden halt. The Gujarat riots may have won chief minister Narendra Modi the assembly elections, but they also helped his party lose the parliamentary elections two years later. The BJP has largely remained on the sidelines of national politics since then as the “secular” Congress and regional forces took centre stage. It has also been forced to consider that communal politics may have run its course, that the party needed to rake up other issues―from black money stashed abroad to corruption in government contracts―to stand a chance of returning to power. Even Modi has contested all his elections after 2002 on the plank of development rather than communalism.
But 2012 may have begun to alter all that. A series of events tested communal relations all through the year. Importantly, these were not terrorist attacks that are the handiwork of a small group; instead they involved common Muslims in large numbers.
The year started with protests against Salman Rushdie’s proposed visit to India. Although Rushdie had been visiting the country of his birth regularly for the past several years, a number of Muslims still took to the streets to protest his proposed arrival last year―just ahead of the Uttar Pradesh elections in which the Muslim vote was crucial. Some months later, the Northeast suffered from an outbreak of communal violence, followed by incendiary speeches by so-called Muslim leaders in Mumbai and some other Indian cities that caused serious law and order problems for the administration. All these incidents involved Muslims in thousands, if not tens of thousands.
In the midst of all this, Akbaruddin Owaisi began to deliver a series of vitriolic speeches. Many Muslim politicians have given addresses in the past that have been deemed “hate-mongering.” Such speeches tend to blame the government, or Hindus in general, for all the problems that Muslims face in India, and end up demanding special rights and privileges for the community. While such an attitude is in itself incorrect and unjustified, Owaisi went far beyond all this.
The doyen of Hyderabad’s Owaisi dynasty repeatedly maligned Hindu gods and goddesses, referred to Hindus as “impotent” and, as I noted earlier, suggested that Indian Muslims could destroy all Hindus inside 15 minutes. These statements are not simply ludicrous, they are an open call to civil war. Rarely has a Muslim politician sunk to such depths. But what is most deplorable, and alarming, is that these speeches have been attended by thousands―the last speech on Dec. 24, 2012 at Adilabad was reportedly delivered to a gathering in excess of 20,000 people.
Does 2012 mark the end of a decade of harmony, which itself followed a decade of discord? Is there a 10-year cycle governing communal relations in India? I don’t really think so. For one, the 1992-2002 decade was brought on by momentous events (Babri Masjid and the Bombay blasts), as was the 2002-2012 decade (Gujarat riots). Nothing quite so dramatic has taken place―yet.
Nonetheless, the lesson we can learn from this historical quirk is that times can and do change―sometimes in sudden and unexpected ways. If the past decade has been kind to Muslims, there is no guarantee that the next will also be so. Muslims, therefore, need to be on guard. They mustn’t fritter away the inter-communal goodwill gathered over the past 10 years so easily. They have to remember that for all its recurring troubles, their life in India is far better than in most parts of the world―whether as the minority or the majority. Despite all their little differences, Muslims’ relations with Hindus are far more cordial than with any other religious community. People like Owaisi, or anyone who tries to sow seeds of discord, must be denounced clearly and categorically.
Saif Shahin, a regular columnist for New Age Islam, is a doctoral research scholar in political communication at the University of Texas at Austin, U.S.