On a cool, rain-drenched morning, Murad Nagar in Old Hyderabad is gearing up for the day to unfold. Shutters open, puja bells ring, incense sticks are lit. The sweet lilt of Dakhani or Hyderabadi Hindi, made popular by comedian Mehmood in films, wafts through the wet air, mixing with the complex aroma of haleem being stirred in vats over slow fire. But no one can say the state elections are just a week away. There are no posters, no giant cutouts and no fluttering flags. Has campaigning in the hi-tech city gone completely digital?
“Yes, to an extent,” says Zeeshan, coming out of his shop to see what the fuss was about, to a group of journalists from outside the state trying to gauge the ‘hawa’. “We get all updates on WhatsApp and other apps.” He shows a message from an important ulema on his phone, urging the Muslims to vote for the Congress in 69 seats and the Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) in 40-odd of them, listing all the specific seats. “The Muslims are not supporting parties, but seats in this election,” he says. But do the voters go by what the ulemas ask them to do? “Well, some do, some don’t.”
Zeeshan is 34 years old, enterprising and politically aware. He has gained from the meteoric rise of Hyderabad in the past two decades, though he is not directly linked to IT, pharma or the infrastructure industries. He is the managing director of Texas Overseas Educational Consultants, which runs a popular restaurant called Aazebo on TV Tower Road in nearby Malakpet, a gym on the floor below and on the terrace of the building, and a mini AstroTurf cricket ground.
He says there is some resentment among the Muslims against the ruling BRS on its stand on Article 370 and triple talaq, where it went with the Union government, but feels the party has an edge over the Congress.
That would make K T Rama Rao (KTR), working president of the BRS as well as IT and urban development minister and most importantly, Telangana chief minister and party supremo, K Chandrashekar Rao’s (KCR) son, beam. We meet him at the spacious and airy Pragati Bhavan, the official residence of the chief minister, where he breezes into the large conference room uttering apologies for being a few minutes late. Ten years of uninterrupted rule—are the people looking for a change now, is the BRS looking jaded? “Yes, anti-incumbency is an issue, 10 years is an issue, two-terms in government is an issue. But good governance is also an issue,” says KTR, very articulate with a hint of a New York accent where he has worked, relishing his one-liners.
But what about the late surge in the Congress, which was pretty much written off in the state even six months ago? “Six months ago, they were abysmal, they were gone. Now they are showing some signs of resurgence. As a result, when the expectation is so low and when the base is so low, whatever little upsurge you have looks like you have done something truly outstanding,” he reasons.
KTR laughs off the charge that BRS is the BJP’s B-team, which many allege is the reason why his party has not joined the INDIA bloc. He says they didn’t join the INDIA alliance because they believe a grouping of parties cannot happen with one agenda to remove another party. There should be a commonality of purpose. “It should never be about ‘isko hatao, baad me hum dekhte hain’. It should be for the betterment of India. If we say that we are agreed on these four or five issues and that’s why we have come together, then it’s different. But if you are only saying ek aadmi ko hatao (remove one person, referring to PM Modi), you are unnecessarily making him stronger. So we decided we are better off fighting on our own,” he says, and goes on to ask: “Why should it be either you are with us or against us? Who the hell are you to decide that? Where is it written in the Constitution that you are either here or there? This is the arrogance of both the Congress and the BJP. There are 13 parties in between, which are not aligned to either of the two camps.”
“Everybody knows the BRS is the BJP’s B-team and the AIMIM is its C-team,” says a senior Congress leader touring Telangana who didn’t wish to be named. Many point out that’s why Lok Sabha MP and KCR’s daughter, K Kavitha, whom the Enforcement Directorate had summoned in the Delhi liquor case in September, has not been arrested.
Unlike the Indian cricket team in the World Cup, the Congress may just be peaking at the right time. In its manifesto and campaign speeches by the leaders, the party matches the BRS scheme for scheme, promising more in many cases. In a village in Kamareddy district, about 120 km from Hyderabad, the middle son of a rice farming family, N Lokesh, says all parties have schemes, the BRS has implemented many of them well too, but the youth want more. He says there is joblessness and a certain restlessness among the youth, a sense of being let down by the promised land of Telangana. He has voted for KCR for two terms, but this time he will vote for the Congress, he says.
This is the turnaround the Congress state chief and the party’s CM face, Revanth Reddy, is betting on. “It is the battle between the four members of the KCR family versus the four crore people of Telangana this time,” Reddy asserts when we meet him at his palatial, well-appointed modern house in Hyderabad. “There is only one line in Telangana today. From 1994 to 2004, there was the TDP; from 2004 to 2014, it was the Congress; and, from 2014 to 2024, it is the TRS/BRS. Now it is time for the Congress to stage a comeback. KCR should take rest,” he says.
Revanth Reddy joined the Congress only in 2017 and has quickly risen to be its state chief. Before that, he had been a Telugu Desam Party MLA for two terms. He says in the last 10 years, KCR has alienated himself from the people. He has become a demi-God, which is exactly what the martyrs of the Telangana cause didn’t want their leader to become. Before the partition, they would face taunts from the Andhraites that they are culturally superior; that they taught the Telangana people how to cook; what to eat; what to wear; and, how to behave. The whole Telangana movement was about pride.
“During the Telangana struggle, 1,569 youths died. KCR had promised their families Rs 10 lakh cash reward, a double bedroom house and three acres of land. Till today, they have identified only about 500 people. In these 10 years, you have not been able to identify the people who have sacrificed their lives for Telangana? Those you have identified, you can’t reach their families? This kind of disgrace didn’t happen even in the combined state. We have never been treated worse than this,” says Reddy. The Congress party may have got some last-minute momentum, but the gap in the vote share in the last election, between the BRS’ 47 per cent and the Congress’ 29 per cent, is huge. Is the momentum enough to jump through the 18 per cent void?
“No,” says Asaduddin Owaisi, President of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen or AIMIM, when we meet him at his party headquarters Darussalam in Hyderabad, a sprawling 20-acre complex with a medical college, a 1,800-bed hospital and an architecture school, among other things, with a huge courtyard at the centre, where people can meet AIMIM leaders from 10.30 am to 2 pm every day with their complaints. “The Congress vote share may have risen, but it will not be enough. Wherever there is a regional party, the Muslims are safe. The Congress is no better than the BJP when dealing with Muslims. Only the Congress leaders speak in Shakespearean English and the BJP says it in coarse language. KCR will form the government. The charge that KCR is inaccessible is wrong. He is running a punishing schedule. He watches every move of every MLA. He is aware of everything,” says Owaisi, whose AIMIM supports the BRS.
There is truth in what Owaisi says when one goes to a KCR rally in Parigi town, about 70 km west of Hyderabad. All the roads of the town are overflowing with streams of people in pink scarves, the party’s colour, leading to the rally maidan. Here, the election fever is in full swing; the loudspeakers are blaring the party slogans; and, there are cutouts of their leader. It is KCR’s last rally of the day, but he looks agile and energetic, his speech laced with his typical humour to which the bulging crowd responds with equal gusto. We will know on December 3, if KCR’s magic endures.
Satish Padmanabhan in Hyderabad