Communal politics is old hat in Hyderabad. Every party in power has milked its advantage. But experts fear this time it is much more. Is one contentious issue Telangana being countered with another?
Naresh Kumar | January 7, 2013
Now it seems a fight to the finish. The controversial, firebrand Akbaruddin Owaisi, Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) floor leader in the state assembly and MLA of Chandrayangutta constituency in the old city of Hyderabad, has dared to bare the real face of his party. The aftermath of his communally surcharged address, now a rage both offline and online, seems to clearly indicate its need to go on the offensive, as far as its brand of politics is concerned.
With cases being filed under different sections all over the country, including New Delhi, and as howls of protest from secularists and rightist politicians reach a crescendo, politics in Andhra Pradesh is once again facing a double whammy of communal cacophony and the continuing suspense over the announcement of a separate Telangana.
Communal politics is old hat in Hyderabad, in fact its sustenance in a way for a long time now. Every party in power, be it Congress or Telugu Desam, has milked its advantage. This city, with a Muslim population comprising around 40 percent out of the total 80 lakh, is arguably the urban location with maximum number of Muslims in India. Hence religious campaigning, done religiously every election, is in fact, brazen and accepted as a matter of fact across the political set-up in the state capital.
The walled city has been in the hands of All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) over nearly three decades, posting an impressive growth in the Deccan heartland and lately by winning seven out of 13 assembly seats of the city in the 2009 elections. And of course, the Hyderabad Lok Sabha seat has been with them since the same time, a record of sorts in Indian politics.
Still, this kind of an incessant sniper fire from them, bordering on open warfare and misplaced bravado, which had begun coinciding with the Diwali festival two months ago, is new even to the bigots who have seen nothing of this nature ever. Speculations are that MIM has its own political compulsions, the need to be on guard to adapt to changing equations on the ground with regard to the centre’s impending announcement on Telangana, and above all, fighting fellow Muslim politicians in their own backyard who have kept on a relentless attack on them.
The pace at which the Kiran Kumar Reddy government took up the issue is surely under the scanner. What has come as a surprise, however, is the affirmative action taken on MIM’s hothead, which many see as the Congress party’s signal to keep the hostility alive from its end. Local political sources are busy connecting the dots, starting from the time when the Reddy government and its law and order machinery firmly put down the Bhagyalakshmi temple controversy abutting Charminar, defusing it dexterously. This was followed by the chief minister’s challenge to his newly estranged political partners to try and win the number of seats they did in Hyderabad, without the Congress backing. Clearly, Kiran Kumar Reddy has kept the pressure on, is the popular surmise.
All sections of the state machinery have added to the heat, from the speaker of the legislative assembly to the election commission which may get in into the act, sooner than later. State political pundits fear that one contentious issue – Telangana – is being countered with another by the latest challenger to Congress who has openly identified with its other rival, the formidable Jagan Mohan Reddy and his YSR Congress.
Telangana supporters see a sinister design too. Online discussion groups notwithstanding, the hot topic now is whether the integrationists (named Seemandhra) who are against the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh are also lending their shoulder to the wheel, quite clearly seeing the political advantage of obfuscating the clamour for having two Telugu-speaking states. Though YSRC, during its recent all-party meeting at New Delhi, chose to remain ambivalent on this issue, the people in the know assert that the signals are different.
As a media commentator pointed out: ‘During the June bypolls, the widow of YSR, Vijayalakshmi, went around clutching a Bible in her hand and when a Telugu Desam politician pointed this out, he was countered with an argument that it is a matter of her faith which she is vested with under the laws of the land. Now we have the Islamic counterpart, Akbaruddin Owaisi, their political partner, challenging the law and order authorities to vacate the old city and see what they can do.’ So is Andhra Pradesh readying up to be the next Gujarat? he wondered.
It may be a mere conjecture. Still, there is enough merit in the argument. Every political party in the state has its Achilles’ heel and the chief one among them is the swing in public sentiment which has befuddled even the most experienced. The padyatra of the Chandrababu Naidu team and his Telugu Desam Party (TDP) recently announced proudly that by covering more than 1500 km, it has overtaken the earlier one undertaken by Dr YSR in 2003 (1480 km) which led to the defeat of the former.
Not merely statistically successful, the TDP has enough reasons to believe that the leader’s efforts are paying dividends. In Telangana, where the party has been decimated over the last few years leading to its supporters undertaking mass desertions and the party functionaries switching over to rival parties, this time around the Telugu press has noticed a perceptible change in people’s behaviour. The leading campaigner of the region, Telangana Rashtra Samiti led by the son-of-the-soil K Chandrasekhar Rao, now has new reasons to worry.
Akbaruddin Owaisi, who has kept an independent line of rabble-rousing over the years, has had many such brushes with the law on such kinds of provocative speeches. As a performer in the state assembly, he has quite often been noted for his passionate support of causes which his party believed in, leading to immediate reactions from the BJP MLAs. Enough incidents, where both these have called each other names and questioning each other’s patriotism, have been reported in the local media.
This time around, MIM team is uneasy whether its boss has bitten more than he can chew. Despite the delicate communal equations, the local population has lived amicably during trying times in the past two decades. Though the record of the Congress governments in the past has not been very clean as far as handling of communal riots is concerned, the rule of Telugu Desam was noted for its record of having no riots at all, barring a few minor skirmishes.
In fact, the Congress has openly played appeasement politics in this period and having once supped with the devil, now faces the challenging situation of confronting them from now on. It is an open secret that some earlier chief ministers of the grand old party have been seen turning the other way when parts of the city burnt during some of the worst riots in the ‘80s. And worse, playing a tacit role in keeping the flames burning.
The Delhi high command has not taken kindly to the continued resistance of Jagan Mohan Reddy and his party, which is a real rival on its home turf, which saw them capture power comfortably two times in a row in 2004 and 2009. With MIM now throwing its hat into the ring, it is surely a battle that will have aggression and skullduggery outpacing each other as the nation prepares itself for 2014 elections.
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