It is a common trait to form opinions and be judgemental about people not only in private lives but more so about persons in public lives. And most of the times the judgements are clouded as they are based on hearsays as also because of our own mindset. This is very true when it comes to the firebrand politician Asaduddin Owaisi, MP and President of All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen (AIMIM), who with his fiery speeches evokes strong reaction from people who disagree with his point of views to the extent of calling him divisive and unpatriotic.
Star of Mysore Features Editor N. Niranjan Nikam caught up with this tall, stern-looking man with beard, dressed in traditional attire of a long coat, pajamas, a skull cap and serious, thinking eyes behind those glasses, at a private hotel just before he embarked on canvassing for a candidate at the local body elections. The candidate lost the election is another matter!
In this short interview lasting a little more than 20 minutes, the highly articulate Barrister Owaisi held forth on his reason for campaigning, his views about the current political scenario, his life as a student of Law in London, his stress on the Constitution and above all, spoke at length about triple talaq, with great aplomb. Excerpts. —Editor
By N. Niranjan Nikam
Star of Mysore (SOM): Being a three-time MP, you have come to canvass for a candidate contesting for local body polls. What is the reason behind this move of yours?
Asaduddin Owaisi: I am a soldier of my party and I head a political party also. For me, it doesn’t make any difference as long as my candidate wins, my party wins and flourishes. So every election is important to us. It is not a case of being a three-time or four-time MP. The party is very important to me and because of it only I am here. It is not that I can take comfort in being a three-time MP and say I only campaign for this election or that. I feel I am a stakeholder in every election that my party contests. I must go and try my best so that my party candidate wins.
SOM: Politics is in your blood. Your grandfather re-launched the political party Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen as All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM). What does your party stand for in the present context of politics?
Owaisi: See the issue is not what is happening in the present context. I understand the present political context when one talks about heightened politics of Hindutva, then there is definitely cause of concern. But we always said that people belonging to Minorities, Dalits and people for whom grave injustice has been done should get a political voice. And this is what we have been striving for from 1957 onwards when our party was re-launched. It was clearly made out that this party would abide by the Indian Constitution. So basically, it was a new party, not a re-launched one. Because, the earlier avatar of this was at a time when it was in a feudal State. Hence, we said, we will register ourselves with the Election Commission of India, participate in electoral democracy that has been one of the main ethos of the new party and the journey still continues.
SOM: Everyone is critical of political dynasties and now the same charge can apply to you as most of your family members are involved in politics. How do you react?
Owaisi: You see at the end of the day the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Initially, I might have the first mover advantage but it is always that you have to go to the people, solve their problems, meet them, live up to some part of their expectations and win elections. So the issue is that you have to win elections. If you don’t win elections, then that is the end of the matter. Problem with me has always been that people compare me with my late father. That is a huge, huge disadvantage but then again it is a great challenge for me to work harder.
SOM: You have always been courting controversies and many political commentators even liken you to Mohammad Ali Jinnah. Does this not irritate you?
Owaisi: No, I pity those who compare me with the person who created Pakistan and really it shows their petty-mindedness. I am a third generation or fourth generation Indian and my forefathers had the choice of going to Pakistan and they rejected it. I am an Indian by birth and by choice. This is the great distinction which I have while other Indians don’t. That is, by choice and by birth I am an Indian. So if people still compare me with Mr. Jinnah then it shows they are still living in 1947-48 era and it also shows their communal and biased attitude towards Muslim community. That is why we see that they don’t want the real empowerment of Muslims, whether it is political, social or educational.
This mindset has really ensured that Muslims do not get justice because if you view Muslims through the prism of Mr. Jinnah then you will never do justice. I am a third time MP, twice I have been an MLA, I have taken oath on the Indian Constitution and my whole struggle is for my Constitutional rights. Now, if that is being called by my detractors, my opponents in this way then I can only pity them and tell them, don’t do it because you are exposing yourself very badly.
SOM: As a Parliamentarian you have been conferred the 2014 Sansad Ratna Award (Gem of Parliamentarians). You have asked 1,080 questions in the Parliament compared to National average of just 292. How did you achieve this?
Owaisi: I have a two-member dedicated team who helps in drafting questions and I must also thank PRS (Policy Research Studies) Legislative Research, a non-profit organisation. Basically they give a lab assistant to all MPs and they have been very kind enough to give me one and from last eight to nine years they have also helped in drafting questions and that has been a great help to me. Apart from that, yes I also have interest that we must ask questions because that is what people elect us for — to ask questions on behalf of the people to find answers to their problems.
SOM: Did your questions result in any-thing good at all for your Constituency or the country?
Owaisi: (In a mischievous tone) Well, it is for someone to write my obituary about all this. Definitely when we put questions, these are all questions related to issues of common man and you know, that in itself is a huge check on the government that someone is asking them questions, probing them, exposing them. So definitely that will always keep a government on its toes. That is the best Parliamentary procedure, which an MP has to ask these questions to the government.
SOM: Like many other politicians of earlier era, you are a Barrister by profession and that explains your oratory skills. How was it studying in Lincoln’s Inn, London, which is recognised as one of the most professional bodies of Judges and Lawyers in the world?
Owaisi: It has been tough, you know it has not been easy to go and sit for the Bar exams. Anyway, nothing is easy in life, but it has been a great experience. I cherish my memories of having those dinners in Lincoln’s Inn because the procedure is that you cannot be called to the Bar, unless and until you have 18 or 24 dinners.
SOM: Oh, is it?
Owaisi: Yeah, even if you pass the exams you cannot be called to the Bar. You have to finish those dinners.
SOM: What is so unique about that?
Owaisi: That is the age-old convention and tradition of the Lincoln’s Inn that you have to wear a dark coloured suit and attend all those dinners. And in those dinners all the Judges of the High Courts of England and Wales, who had passed out from Lincoln’s Inn would come and sit.
So they will be sitting at different tables and then after dinner you can speak to them, interact with them. Those dinners were quite unique. I mean, I cannot eat any non-vegetarian food because it is not halal. So, I used to cherish that omelette which cost seven pounds or five pounds.
SOM: Oh, you have to pay for it?
Owaisi: Yes, of course, all of them had to pay.
SOM: The issue of Talaq has now occupied centrestage with even Supreme Court declaring instant Triple Talaq, unconstitutional. This is a huge win for women’s right groups. But still it is stalled in Rajya Sabha. What is your view?
[EDITOR’S NOTE: As we went to press today, the Union Cabinet approved an Ordinance that makes instant Triple Talaq a criminal offence.]
Owaisi: First of all Supreme Court has not called it unconstitutional. They have only set it aside. If you read the last few pages and in fact if you read the last page, it is set aside.
SOM: It is set aside, so this is wrong?
Owaisi: So, it is wrong to call it unconstitutional. Supreme Court (SC) has not said it is unconstitutional. They have only said, ‘We have set aside triple talaq.’ So SC has set aside triple talaq is a fact.
Secondly, it is not victory for human rights or whatever people stand for. Why, because SC had not called for a penal provision or it has not called for the legislation to be made.
Third point is that the proposed Bill of the BJP Government is against the fundamental rights of the Constitution. Article 14 and 15 is Right to Equality and against discrimination. Because, if Mr. Niranjan is charged under a crime or similar crime and if you are convicted by courts of law, you will get one year of sentence. And if I am charged under the present Bill, I will get three years of imprisonment. This is against Right to Equality.
Fourthly, this Bill in Section 3 says that even if a Muslim gives a triple talaq, the marriage is not void. If the marriage is not void, what are you arresting me for? I have not committed a crime.
Fifthly, if I am sent to prison and I am told to pay subsistence allowance to the woman, which right thinking person, who is in prison, would give subsistence allowance?
Sixthly, the Bill says that you must give allowance, maintenance; all these things happen only after divorce takes place. You are saying the divorce has not happened. So why should I pay maintenance allowance?
The seventh point is that if the court convicts me, the Bill says that marriage is still in existence and why are you putting this woman to hardship that she has to wait for three years and when this man comes out, she will be holding a garland and saying ‘Baharo phool barsao mera mehboob aya hai?’
And the last point is that if there is any violation of SC order then it is a sentence, which is contempt of six months. If anyone gives a triple talaq and the marriage is not void, that means marriage is still in existence.
So, if this Bill is made law, what would this man, who is a buffoon, do? If any Muslim man does it, he is a fool. What will he do? He will go to the court and say, Ok Sir, I didn’t say it three times, I have said only once. He will wait for 90 days and then talaq happens. You create more injustice and in a criminal law, evidence is very important. So, who will come up for that poor woman and stand up in court and say, yes, I heard this man say talaq, talaq, talaq. Rs. 50,000 crore was the loss of 2G, you cannot prove that loss and this government expects that a woman will get justice in a far-flung rural area in the court.
So what we have been consistently saying is that marriage in Islam is a contract, it is a civil law. It cannot be turned into a criminal act and you can ask me, then what about law? There is already a law, you have Section 125 CrPC (Criminal Procedure Code), you have Domestic Violence Act, 198 CrPC. Everything is there, you use it, who is stopping you?
SOM: Since you have explained so elaborately, then why is it that the Muslim women are so gung ho about this, telling that at last they have got victory?
Owaisi: Triple talaq is a social evil, we are not denying it. This has to go, it will definitely go. Because if someone tells me that by making law social ills of society has gone away, I don’t agree with that. We still have law against child marriage. 2011 census says that more than a crore non-Muslim child marriages took place. Who is to be blamed for that?
We have made laws that we will give capital punishment if a woman is raped and murdered. Has that stopped? It has not stopped. Now, we have made laws that if a small child is raped, capital punishment will be given. Will that stop? The problem is that man has become an animal, so how do you control that criminal mindset of a man? It is fine that you make laws, but you still have to reform the society.
Now, if you create criminal provisions, I remember in England, at one point of time there was capital punishment for pick-pocketing. At Trafalgar Square in England, there was public execution of a pick-pocket. In that public execution many people lost their wallets. So what to do? This Bill has lot of legal lacunae and lot of weaknesses.
SOM: Was it really a good idea to break AP into Telangana and Andhra Pradesh though you as a Telangana man have all the advantages with Hyderabad remaining with you?
Owaisi: It is a fait accompli; there is no point in answering that question.
SOM: General elections are just approaching. How do you read the mood of the nation?
Owaisi: You see, to beat the BJP, the Congress has adopted Hindutva itself, not soft, but the real Hindutva. You don’t fight your opponents on their strong points. You drag them out of their houses or strong fort they live in and then defeat them.
The Congress party has now adopted Hindutva and that will not be enough. You are playing on the strong points of BJP. So you expose them on employment, economy, demonetisation, on the terrorist incursions, attacking army camps. You question them and expose them on no normalcy in Kashmir. These are the themes which you have to expose them. But you cannot become a ‘B’ team of Hindutva and expect to win.
SOM: But does the hope rest only on the Congress to fight the ruling party in the next election?
Owaisi: I am of the opinion that regional parties will play a very important role in the next government formation.
Note: When we see Congress President Rahul Gandhi’s temple-run during the just concluded Karnataka Assembly elections (which he lost) and his visit to Manasarovar, it looks like he is becoming the ‘B’ team of Hindutva as Asaduddin Owaisi has said towards the end of this interview. — KBG, Editor-in-Chief.