THE ENEMY OF an enemy is a friend. The BJP and the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen―after having attacked each other for years―seem to have finally found a common enemy: the Congress.
For the AIMIM, the reason is simple. The party wants its ally, the Bharat Rashtra Samithi, to retain power by defeating its principal opponent. The AIMIM and the Congress once had a strong bond, but this was ruptured after power dynamics changed in Telangana post-2014. In recent years, AIMIM president Asaduddin Owaisi has tried to portray the Congress as an extension of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
Owaisi’s party currently has seven MLAs, all from the older parts of Hyderabad. But this time, the AIMIM has said that it will contest two additional seats, leading to allegations that the party is acting as a “vote cutter” to damage the Congress’s prospects. One of these seats, Jubilee Hills, is in the spotlight because of the Congress candidate―Mohammad Azharuddin, the former Indian cricket captain. Jubilee Hills has around 1.2 lakh Muslim votes, which make up almost 35 per cent of the total votes.
In 2014, the AIMIM made a serious attempt to capture this seat, narrowly losing to the BRS. After that, they formed an alliance and, in 2018, the AIMIM did not put up a candidate against the sitting BRS MLA. This time, though, the AIMIM has fielded Mohammed Rashed Farazuddin, which has led the Congress to allege that the AIMIM was trying to split the Muslim vote as Azharuddin could win a large chunk of the community’s vote and spoil the BRS’s chances.
Farazuddin, expectedly, denied the allegation. “It is true that the AIMIM and the BRS have friendly ties, but in this constituency, we are fighting against the BRS,” he said. “I have got the ticket because I have twice served as a corporator and understand this segment well. I have the support of Hindus as well. I am not here to cut any Congress votes because it does not have a vote bank to start with, and Azhar is not even a proper candidate.”
The AIMIM has also been conducting meetings in areas outside Hyderabad, like Zaheerabad, where it does not have any representation. “Earlier, the AIMIM did not openly tell its supporters to vote for the BRS,” said Syed Azmatullah Hussaini, the state Congress’s campaign committee convener. “This time they are doing that by holding meetings in different parts of the state. There have been a lot of changes at the national level in the recent past, and people are now coming together to vote against hate politics. People are updated continuously through social media and understand that the BRS supports the BJP and the AIMIM is with them. In 2018, the BRS got almost 70 per cent of the minority vote, and, this time, we expect the Congress to get that percentage.”
Through its numerous ad campaigns, the Congress has strongly alleged collusion between the BRS, the BJP and the AIMIM. Azmatullah claimed that while the AIMIM was busy trying to divide minority votes, the BJP was doing the same in the Hindu community. He referred to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent meeting in Hyderabad, where he shared the stage with a section of scheduled caste leaders and addressed their followers.
In Telangana, the Madigas are the largest community within the scheduled castes. An organisation, Madiga Reservation Porata Samithi, has been agitating for a sub-quota for years. At the meeting the MRPS organised, Modi assured the Madiga community that he would soon constitute a committee to look into their demand.
The Congress sees this outreach as a desperate step to hijack its core voter base, the dalits. But the party is in a catch-22 situation; it cannot openly support the Madigas’ demand as it could antagonise other dalits nor can it overlook their demand as it runs a risk of losing them to the BJP. “The allegation is that the BJP is not winning the elections anyway, and since scheduled caste voters are moving towards the Congress, which happened in Karnataka, Narendra Modi’s meeting is an attempt by the BJP to turn the dalit vote to its side and indirectly help the BRS,” said former MLC and political analyst Prof K. Nageshwar. “This criticism is gaining political value, especially as it is election time. That is why there are doubts in the minds of people about whether this has been done for electoral benefit or was it indeed a political commitment. Now arises another question: Why is someone sitting in the prime minister’s seat demanding the quota instead of delivering it? Will people accept his stand?”
The BJP is in overdrive to shoot down all allegations that it was working with the BRS and the AIMIM. Its social media teams have initiated a counter-campaign to claim that the AIMIM, the BRS and the Congress were on the same side. The theory of BJP-BRS friendliness started gaining ground after the BJP’s firebrand state president Bandi Sanjay was replaced, slowing down the party’s aggressive campaign. Even a section of the party’s cadre echoes the opinion that the BJP has indeed taken a backseat as it fears that its all-out attack against the BRS might help the Congress win the state, which can have a serious impact on next year’s Lok Sabha elections.
“This is a fictional campaign against us,” said N.V. Subhash, Telangana BJP spokesperson. “If you see, many Congress MLAs have shifted to the BRS in the past few years. The BRS has placed the note-for-vote case of Congress state president Revanth Reddy on the back burner. The BRS is fielding weak candidates against the Congress. It is not us but they who have colluded.”