- Muslims form 10% of the state population
- 95 of Andhra’s 294 assembly constituencies have over 10% Muslim voters, 65 over 15%
- Traditionally, Muslims have voted Congress; now, they seem inclined to try out the YSR Congress
- MIM’s votebase is in Hyderabad, but its break with the Congress will definitely influence Muslim voters elsewhere
When Asaduddin Owaisi, chief of the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM), set off pre-Diwali fireworks by cutting off ties with the Kiran Kumar Reddy government, calling it “naahel” (inefficient) and “kaahel” (shirking duty), he was not just letting off steam. His words signalled the MIM’s alienation from the ruling Congress, which it has supported since 1998. Muslims form 10 per cent of the state’s electorate and have traditionally voted for the Congress. But Owaisi’s statement that “Jaganmohan Reddy is my friend, and Kiran Kumar Reddy was my friend” is an indication that the MIM now sees the YSR Congress—towards which Muslim voters in the state seem to have been veering in recent times—as a potential ally.
The late Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy (YSR), Jagan’s father and former Congress chief minister, reached out to the minorities with his efforts to create a four per cent quota for Muslims, pro-poor schemes such as Arogyashree and college fee reimbursements. “But now,” says Kosuri Amarnath, a senior political analyst, “Muslims feel that the ruling party is incapable of protecting their interests. In such a scenario, they see Jagan as the true heir of the pro-minority politics his father pursued. It is but natural that the MIM, which considers itself the voice of Muslims, drifts towards him.”
In the June byelections, the YSR Congress swept 15 of 18 assembly seats and one Lok Sabha seat. In places like Anantapur and Kadapa, Jagan’s party won most of the Muslim vote. The YSR Congress polled as much as 50 per cent of the vote, while the Congress and the Telugu Desam got 22 per cent each. “Jagan is a 50-over match player (lambey race ka ghoda), the Telugu Desam and the Congress are Twenty20 players,” says Syed Amin Jafri, an MIM MLC.
But then, does the MIM’s clout extend beyond Hyderabad? The 50-year-old party holds seven assembly seats in the old city precincts of Hyderabad. Only one of the candidates it fielded from the city in the 2009 assembly polls had lost. Owaisi, its chief, is the MP from Hyderabad. But the party is not without ambitions, given that 95 of the 294 assembly constituencies in the state have Muslim voters in excess of 10 per cent and 65 have more than 15 per cent. And of the state’s 42 Lok Sabha constituencies, 17 have more than 10 per cent Muslim voters, seven more than 15 per cent.
The trigger for Owaisi’s snapping ties with the UPA government at the Centre and the Congress government in the state was the controversy over the Bhagyalakshmi temple, abutting the Charminar. The high court had ordered maintaining status quo at the temple, but earlier this month, protests erupted across Hyderabad over a scaffolding and canopy that had allegedly come up at the temple. The demonstrations flared into violence in the city and some other parts of the state. A few MIM legislators and corporators were arrested. Owaisi says he was in constant touch with CM Kiran Kumar Reddy on the issue but it was of no avail. He now says Kiran Kumar is “a worthy successor of P.V. Narasimha Rao, as he is licking the feet of the Sangh parivar”.
Owaisi’s quarrel with Kiran Kumar Reddy also extends to a dispute over a three-acre plot at the Mahavir Hospital in the A.C. Guards area of Hyderabad. The 30-year lease period ended in 2007. Owaisi has been asking the state government to hand over possession of the prime property to the Deccan College of Medical Sciences, run by his family, but Kiran Kumar has refused to clear the file. This has upset Owaisi immensely, according to insiders. Kishen Reddy, MLA and BJP state president, alleges that “Owaisi is resorting to communal blackmailing by creating the Bhagyalakshmi temple issue in order to get possession of the Mahavir Hospital plot”.
But Owaisi says, “Be it in the Old City of Hyderabad, or other places, Muslims and their properties have constantly been targeted. When the Muslim on the street is asking me to withdraw support to this anti-people government which cannot provide them with security, I have no choice but to do so.”
The Telugu Desam, however, sees the Bhagyalaskhmi temple issue as “just a drama engineered by the YSR Congress”. Both the Congress and the Telugu Desam are on slippery ground in the Telangana region. The Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) is the major force there and now it is being asked whether Jagan (strong in Rayalaseema and coastal areas) can tie up with the MIM to emerge as a player in Telangana region. Though the MIM has always opposed statehood for Telangana, it believes the Muslim vote there would go to a secular party such as the YSR Congress. The Congress continues to be seen as a loser.