Muslims of Telangana: A Ground Report
With the creation of Telangana, the polarisation between Hindus and Muslims has become sharper. The new aspirations of the Muslims for socio-economic benefits and political representations is being viewed by the dominant community as aggressive re-assertion by the Muslims, who were otherwise dormant and subdued in the integrated state of Andhra Pradesh.
This survey was carried out with the assistance of Hyderabad based research Institute, Peoples Pulse. I am thankful to Ravichand for his support. I also duly acknowledge an additional grant for fieldwork from DSA programme at the Centre for Political Studies, JNU. We are thankful to all the respondents who took time to patiently and diligently answer all the queries.
Muslims constitute 12.5% in Telangana according 2001 census (Rao: 2014). However, the question that has gained prominence with the formation of Telangana is whether or not their social, political and economic position would improve, or will it further decline? Several other questions need to be looked into as well. What is the perception of Muslims about Telangana and their own future in this new state? Did they actively participate in the ten year long struggle for separate Telangana, or were they indifferent or even opposed to it? If so, which were the sections among the Muslims that opposed the statehood and why? Is Telangana prone to communal polarisation or has it in course of this movement become more secular and identifies with its composite culture that is often referred to as the Ganga-Jamuni tehjeeb? Does the idea of samajika Telangana subsume the significance that needs to be accorded to this section of the population, or has it neglected the question of Muslims, ignored the possibility of communal polarisation in course of its mobilisation and thereby, willy-nilly, contributed to the age-old anxiety among the Hindu population that continues to suffer with the perception of Muslim `dominance` during the Nizam rule?
To address some of these questions, a survey was carried out by the author with the assistance of a Hyderabad-based research institute, Peoples Pulse, in March 2014[i] in three districts of Telangana that included Mahbubnagar, Nalgonda and Warangal. Purposive sampling method was used, and intense discussions were carried out with a cross-section of the Muslim community. This included leaders of various Muslim organisations such as Andhra Pradesh Muslim Empowerment Forum, ideologues of political parties such as Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM), professional middle classes such as lawyers and doctors, journalists with Urdu and Telugu dailies, businessmen, lower middle classes such as school teachers, those pursuing informal employment and self-employed youth and Muslims that constitute the urban poor. The chairman of the Telangana Joint Action Committee (TJAC) that led the movement for a separate statehood M Kodandram was also interviewed. Though the survey essentially focused on Muslims, a few Hindus were also interviewed.
The survey found that there is a clear polarisation between the Muslims and the Hindus in Telangana. The polarisation has in fact become sharper with the formation of a separate state because of the sizeable and concentrated population of the Muslims. The new aspirations of the Muslims for socio-economic benefits and political representation is being viewed by the dominant community as “aggressive” re-assertion by the Muslims, who were otherwise dormant and subdued in the integrated state of Andhra Pradesh.
Issue of Political Representation
The crux of the problem begins with an intriguing issue of political representation that Muslims see as an immediate panacea for many of the problems plaguing their community, while Hindus perceive this to be an undue assertion and as communalisation of the electoral processes taking “advantage” of their minority status.
The entire argument for Muslim representation is based on the premise that Muslims should get tickets from political parties in constituencies where their population is in a sizeable number, for instance in Bodhan in Nizamabad district where they constitute 39% or Mahabubnagar where they make for about 20% of the electorate. The argument being that Muslims should and rather would vote en-block for a Muslim candidate making his/her candidature viable and bring-in a winnability factor to their candidature. This Muslims perceive is a legitimate way for them to gain political representation when they are in a numerical minority.
However, this strategy of en-block voting is perceived by the majority community as “vote-bank” politics and communal polarisation initiated by the minority community. Hindus that we have interviewed in course of our survey, therefore, have argued that “if Muslims can vote en-block for a Muslim candidate, then what is wrong in Hindus voting en-block for a Hindu candidate”, (that too cutting across caste-lines which is considered to be a “progressive” move and further complicates the issue). The counter-argument to this by the Muslims is that Muslims are willing to vote for all political parties (except the Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP]) when they offer tickets to Hindu candidates, but Hindus are unwilling to vote for Muslim candidates, irrespective of the political party that offers them the ticket.
2009 Assembly Elections ‒ It is this stalemate that has been witnessed in course of the decade-long political movement for the formation of a separate state. In Mahabubnagar district in 2009 Assembly elections, Rajeshwar Reddy, who was active with the BJP, contested as an independent candidate, as the BJP offered a ticket to Padmaja Reddy, while the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) offered ticket to Ibrahim. Rajeshwar Reddy won the elections; he however passed away in 2010, leading to by-elections in 2011. After which, the Congress offered a ticket to an Other Backward Classes (OBC) candidate Muthyala Prakash, while the TRS offered it to Ibrahim and BJP`s candidate was N M Srinivas Reddy.
These elections witnessed a sharp polarisation of votes against Ibrahim and consolidation of Hindu votes for the BJP candidate Srinivas Reddy. The BJP not only campaigned for a separate state of Telangana but also against the “re-assertion designs” of the minority community. The BJP`s Member of Parliament (MP) Hema Malini came to campaign here and argued that “what we are witnessing in these elections is a India-Pakistan Match, now you decide whether you wish to support India or Pakistan”; Pakistan being a veiled reference to the TRS candidate Ibrahim.[ii]
Public processions resorted to slogans such as “Ek do ek do Muslim ko Phek do”(one two, one two, chuck the Muslim). Some of the Muslims we interviewed recollected an incident where “Ma ko Bachao” (save the mother) was painted on a stray cow, which was let loose in the streets. This was again a campaign against beef eating by Muslims. Prior to this, some of the Muslim respondents recollected an incident where in the nearby Hanuman Mandir some unknown people beheaded the statue of Hanuman. Muslims suspect that this was done by Hindus themselves, belonging to the BJP or the RSS, in order to escalate the tensions between both the communities. As a result, the BJP candidate Srinivas Reddy won with an overwhelming majority.
Muslims pointed out that in the by-election for 11seats, which was the high point in the agitation for a separate state, the TRS won 10 seats and the only seat it lost was that of a Muslim candidate. One of our respondent Abdullah, a school teacher, pointed out that even the TJAC, which is otherwise secular, campaigned here for the BJP candidate. The TJAC has its own reasoning that it was important to take the BJP on board since their support was indispensable if the Telangana Bill was to be passed in the Parliament.[iii]
Going Back in History
The defeat of Ibrahim has been resonating across Telangana. In all three districts, Muslim respondents referred to this issue, which is of singular importance in understanding how the electorate is getting polarised across religious lines. However, it is important to understand that this process is historical in nature going back all the way to the fact that Telangana, which was a part of the Hyderabad State, was ruled by the Nizam (Gudavarthy:2014). His rule ended with a bitter conflict that resulted in “Police Action”, in which it is widely believed that about 2-3 lakh Muslims were killed and atrocities were committed by the private militia of the Nizam‒the Razakars. In fact, “The Andhra Pradesh unit of the BJP called upon people of Telangana and political parties there to celebrate 17 September as ‘Telangana Liberation Day’ to commemorate the region’s freedom from erstwhile Nizam rule”. (The Hindu: 2011)
Muslims feel that they belonged to the ruling elite, and that the Nizam was a secular ruler who gave land to the Hindus and made them Deshmukhs and started a great number of institutions such as the Osmania University, Osmania General Hospital, among others.[iv] However, he continues to be vilified as a despot. Muslims would argue that all kings were feudal in nature, but then while the legacy of Hindu kings is positively appropriated and preserved, the Nizam alone is vilified for being feudal. This is squarely because he was a Muslim ruler.
The aftermath of the ousting of the Nizam has witnessed a drastic decline in the social, political and economic position of the Muslims. Urdu was removed as an official language, which made the modern education unavailable for the Muslims. Their percentage came down from 40% in government jobs in 1950 to about 5% in 2010. They earlier owned land to the tune of 35% but now it is less than 4%, after they were displaced from the villages in course of the “Police Action”, and these lands have been taken over by the Reddys and Velemas. Therefore, at the heart of the conflict with Muslims is also the struggle about economic power that was wrested from them by the castes that are now dominant.
Better Opportunities or Futher marginalisation?
Now about 70% of Muslims reside mostly in small towns and cities and are employed as mechanics, artisans, auto and bus drivers, plumbers, tailors, running road side tea stalls, while others with government jobs are mostly school teachers or police constables. Since they do not own land, and the Telangana movement was essentially about land and water and agrarian crisis, its agenda did not directly appeal to Muslims. Hasan Kalim, a school teacher in Nalgonda district sums up this despondency when he says “Aandha ko din kya raath kya, ek hi baath ha”, (For a blind man whether it is day or night, it is the same thing); the plight of Muslims in Telangana is just that. The creation of a new state will not make any difference, as they are way too backward and socially marginalised to benefit from a smaller state.
Subhan, an insurance agent in Mahbubnagar pointed out that “Hindus do not have dignity of labour, if they are educated they remain unemployed and do not work, but even a post-graduate Muslim will drive an auto or work as a mechanic to eek out a living”. In contrast, Hari, a young lawyer pointed out that “since Muslims fend for themselves, they have to be aggressive to survive, and therefore they become very dominating and also courageous”.[v]
Hindu’s believe that after Urdu was removed as the official language Muslims never tried to “integrate” with the rest of the society and never studied in Telugu or in English, and that is the reason they lost out on government jobs, and not because they were ever explicitly discriminated against. Many Hindu respondents argued, “what prevented them from coming out of Madrasa education and adopt modern education. Why are they so prejudiced against Telugu language”? It is this unwillingness on the part of the Muslims that many argue is what makes the majority community suspicious of them. They further believe that Telugu was neglected as a language under the Nizam.
Muslim participation for a separate state oscillated between silent and dormant support among those in villages, to indifference among those pursuing semi-skilled jobs in the towns, to enthusiasm among middle class Muslims in professions such as lawyers and doctors and university and college teachers to opposition by those residing in Hyderabad and those who support the MIM in districts. The popular perception among the Hindus again oscillates between angst that Muslims did not actively support the movement (one of the Hindu respondent Gopal Krishna in fact asked “Did even a single Muslim lose his or her life for Telangana?”), and the possibility that once Telangana is realised, since they are concentrated, they would assert and “dream” about return to the “old times”.[vi]
Muslims on the other hand fear that with the creation of the state of Telangana they become more vulnerable, as there is a distinct possibility of the growth of right-wing forces, including the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the RSS and the BJP.
It is partly true that many of the Muslims, especially those who are politically active do take pride in the leadership of the Nizam, and the fact that he once patronised the Hindus. Md Abdul Hazim, district president of the MIM in Mahabubnagar, argued that “while Nizam gave lands to Hindus, in their rule they want to send us back to either Pakistan or Kabrastan (grave yard)”. He further added, the Hindu rulers give us “either gali or goli (abuse or the bullet)”. He also observed that Hindus had no choice but to choose India as their nation during partition, while Muslims had a choice and yet decided to stay back in Hindustan. “Now who is more patriotic?”, he asked.
Anees Muqthadar, president of the AP Muslim Empowerment Forum in Nalgonda district, made an interesting observation that while the Andhra region has regionalism, Telangana has communalism. While in the Andhra region Muslims are referred to as “sahebl”, in Telengana they are derogatively referred to as “Turkollu” (those who came from Turkey). Economic development in Andhra region has integrated Muslims, and backwardness in Telangana has led to their wide-scale marginalisation.
Anees pointed out that in 2009 assembly elections, 4 Muslims contested from the Congress out of which 3 won, 4 from the Telugu Desam party (TDP) out of which 1 won and 14 from the Praja Rajyam Party out of which none won the assembly elections. However there were only two candidates from the Telangana region who contested the elections, but they failed to win any seats. He observed that after 2009, as they approached the formation of a separate state, parties became reluctant to give tickets to Muslim candidates.
He further observed that in Telangana communal polarisation is near-complete. The Khammam and Warangal districts are the least communal because of the presence of the “Andhra culture” and Left parties, while Mahabubnagar is the most communal. All other districts lie in between with varying degrees of polarisation around specific issues, which are locally relevant.[vii] For instance, in Nalgonda we found that people at large, including the journalists, believe that it is the hub and “hot-bed of ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) activities”. When we cross-checked this with a Muslim Doctor Zakir Hussain, he dismissed it and argued “how can a small town like Nalgonda have such activities, they can easily be caught, but people continue to believe these rumours”.
To check these kind of ISI activities, Hindus, primarily students, launched a “Modi Sena”, along the lines of Shiv Sena.[viii] This polarisation is not merely in elections but on the economic front as well‒where contracts are not given to Muslims, customers do not buy from Muslim owned shops and Anees Muqthadar, said “I have even heard that Hindu and Muslim children sit separately in schools in Nizamabad district”. Earlier, Abdullah, a school teacher, pointed out that “Muslims get naturally ghettoised because they wish to live around a Masjid, where they do namaaz for five times a day, and a Masjid cannot be built next to a temple in a Hindu dominated colony”.
Whereas, Kodandram, chairman of the TJAC, observed that Muslims in the Andhra region got integrated after they lost their distinct identity, including their language‒ Urdu. “How is that less communal”? In fact, he believes that the movement for a separate state has opened up space for dialogue with the Muslims, perhaps for the first time. They took an active part and even took leadership positions. “There are now forums for them to air their views”, reminded Kodandram.
This enthusiasm, however, seems to be limited to middle class Muslims, who do feel that in Telangana they would get social, economic and in due course even political opportunities. For instance, Md Abdul Wahab, a leading lawyer, was worried about the land value in Telangana that was very high, as the rich from Andhra bought up all the land. Similarly, he observed that, “while all the judges are from the Andhra region, all the peons are from the Telangana region in the Courts”. He believed that Telangana will bring better employment opportunities for the next generation, drinking water, water for irrigation, among other things.
Md Wahab felt that people are not communal in their everyday life; it is only during elections that they get polarised. As an example, he pointed out that majority of his clients were in fact Hindus.[ix] However, the gap between the middle class and lower rungs in Muslim society is so wide that it is difficult to say whether those who are enthusiastic should be treated more as middle class respondents and less as Muslim respondents. Or can one reach the conclusion that better economic opportunities, which are what Telangana promises to bring will positively impact the Muslim society by creating a more enlarged middle class among them.
Political Parties and Telangana Muslims
It is important to note that the Telangana issue is visualised quite differently by various political parties. While the TRS and to some extent even the Congress views it as a case of “internal colonisation” by the Andhra capital, the Communist party of India (CPI) sees it as a case of “backwardness” due to uneven growth intrinsic to capitalism. and the BJP views it as a case of small state and cultural assertion against alien-Muslim-rule. All parties are now, after the formation of Telangana, speaking a language of inclusive development. However within this frame, the social section that has received the least attention and has fallen through the cracks is that of Muslims.
While Muslims perceive political representation as the most important solution for them, political parties have become increasingly hesitant as they suspect the winnability factor of a Muslim candidate, and Telangana is witnessing an immediate consolidation and polarisation of Hindu votes wherever a Muslim candidate is given a ticket. In the outgoing assembly with the total strength of 294 members, there are only 11 Muslim members. They include seven from Hyderabad (all from MIM) and one each from Anantapur, Chitoor, Kadapa, and Guntur districts. There is just one Muslim MP (from MIM) out of 42 Lok Sabha members from the state in the outgoing house. (Jafri: 2014)
Telangana Rashtra Samithi ‒ In fact, the TRS supremo K Chandrashekhar Rao (KCR) made a rather uncanny public announcement that no Muslim would be given a ticket from the TRS in 2014 assembly elections as “they cannot win elections”. He added that he could think of giving them tickets in the next assembly elections. Similarly, KCR had earlier announced that a Muslim would be made the deputy chief minister but later retracted his statement. After these announcements and the previous history related to the candidature of Ibrahim, Muslims are suspicious about the TRS and KCR in particular. Many Muslim respondents said that though KCR is not explicitly communal, he is certainly not a “reliable character”. Muslims feel that the TRS will finally go with the BJP, and many cited the instance of Narendra (a former MP with the BJP and a known face of the RSS) joining the TRS. Though it is another matter that the BJP has finally aligned with the TDP, and the TRS and the Congress are fighting the 2014 Lok Sabha elections on their own.
Lok Janshakti Party ‒ Shahadat Ali, who is himself an active member of the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), argued that the BJP is not the only communal party in Telangana. and that all other parties are following “undeclared Hindutva” by denying seats and not helping Muslims win elections. He pointed out that though there is communal polarisation in other states such as Uttar Pradesh, “but how come in every elections not less than 30 MLAs who are Muslims win elections, and in Telangana not even a single Muslim candidate wins”. He felt that the BJP only stokes feelings that exist among the general public and in other political parties. He pointed to how the BJP is now mobilising unemployed youth by organising `Hanuman Jayanthi, and the “Modi phenomenon” is helping them consolidate the Hindu vote.
However, it looked like that the overwhelming majority of Muslims had decided to cast their votes for the Congress, which is what they have been doing in the past; as one of the respondents said voting for Congress “is now a habit for Muslims”. The Congress under Rajshekar Reddy proposed 4% reservations for Muslims in jobs and educational institutions, while TRS promised 12%. Though the Andhra Pradesh High Court struck the proposition down, it is pending before the Supreme Court.
Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen ‒ In all of this, the MIM party stands at the other end of the spectrum. The MIM was the only party, along with the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPM), which explicitly and openly opposed the formation of a separate state of Telangana. The MIM argued all through that formation of Telangana will strengthen the Sangh Parivar. They have a more aggressive posturing towards the majoritarianism of other political parties. One of their supporters Hasan Kalim, a school assistant said, “Muslims have been robbed by the Hindus, so why should Muslims feel if Telangana Hindus are in turn being robbed by the Hindus from the Andhra region”.
MIM has so far exclusively focused on contesting only from the old city area of Hyderabad. In the previous elections it had won 7 seats in the assembly and the leader of MIM Assaduddin Owaisi won 1 MP seat. In the districts, MIM generally supports other political parties such as the TDP or the Congress depending on the situation. Muslims themselves in the district do not vote for the MIM either, because they cannot win seats on their own or because of an overwhelming fear that voting for the MIM invites anger and also possible attack from the Hindu community. One of the respondents said, “If we vote for the MIM in the municipal elections, there is always the fear of Hindu backlash”.
In fact, in the public meeting of the MIM that we attended in course of the survey, Assaduddin Owaisi made an explicit reference to this in arguing that “if you do not vote for the MIM out of fear of the Hindus, then remember tomorrow when the BJP and the Sangh Parivar grows there will be no one to blame except yourselves”. He made a plea to Muslims to overcome their fear. Abdul Shafiq, a junior lawyer, pointed out that by supporting MIM, “we might win a few seats of ward members in the corporation but who will protect us after that”.
While the Hindus pointed out, that it is the MIM which encourages sectarian mobilisation. They often cited the speech by the younger brother of Asaduddin, Akbaruddin Owaisi, who made an inciting speech where he claimed that “if police remain mute spectators, Muslims in India can finish off the Hindus in less than 15 minutes”. Following which, Akbaruddin Owaisi was arrested. Similarly, others pointed out that the MIM does not allow any other political party to campaign in the old city and has a complete grip over the Muslims in this area.
The editor of Siyasat, a popular news daily in Urdu, pointed out that the real reason why the MIM opposed the formation of Telangana was because they have business deals with Andhra politicians, especially land deals. Much of the Waqf Board lands are occupied by Andhra builders and they pay a cut in exchange of that to the MIM. The MIM itself indulges in land grabbing and extends loans to poor Muslims and extracts high rate of interest.
However, Jafri, the ideologue of MIM, pointed out that the reason for MIMs opposition to the formation of the new state was that if backwardness was the reason for the formation of Telangana, then Rayalseema too is backward, and therefore MIM demanded “Rayala Telangana” that also includes sizeable population of the Muslims. Similarly, he also pointed out that as part of de-limitation many of the Muslim dominated areas are being reserved for scheduled castes. The long-term agenda of the MIM is to forge an alliance between the party and dalits and the OBCs so that the hold of dominant Reddy and Velema castes is reduced. Further, he pointed out that the MIM is powerful in Hyderabad and the bifurcation creates a problem for the status of Hyderabad city.
To conclude, the plight of Muslims is rather worrying in Telangana. They are socially ostracised, politically marginalised and economically weak. In spite of this, the majority community continues to perceive them as a threat and as aggressive. In fact, they believe, as one of the Hindu respondent said, “Muslims are quiet because they have been `put in their place`, otherwise they will begin to dominate the Hindus”.[x] Due to this perceived idea, there is no general sympathy for the Muslims.
Various Muslim organisations have therefore demanded “reserved seats” as per their population, on a similar pattern as seats are reserved for the dalits. This they feel is the only way that Muslim leadership can emerge and change the existing plight, the way dalit leadership has done. Through out the survey, many respondents drew parallels between the situation of Muslims and dalits, and even urged for a similar act as the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, in order to prevent the everyday attacks and humiliation of Muslims. Anees Muqthadar said, “as dalits cannot win from a general constituency even today, Muslim cannot win elections from a general constituency”.
However, in contrast to this parallel, Riaz, the general secretary of Mahajan Socialist Front pointed out that “there is a possibility of dalits gradually shifting to BJP. In Mahabubnagar they have already formed BJP Dalit Morcha”. Alongside, physical safety and security remains their primary concern. It is intriguing that none of the respondents referred to either corruption or inflation as a major concern in the forthcoming elections. How democratic Telangana is going to be squarely depends on how inclusive it is going to be towards its Muslim population.
Gudavarthy, Ajay (2014): “Small states, big problems”, The Hindu, 13 March, available at http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/small-states-big-problems/article5774395.ece, accessed on 25 April 2014.
Jafri, Amin (2014): “Hard Choices for minorities in 2014 elections” Times of India, 10 February, available at http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/hyderabad/Hard-choices-for-minorities-in-2014-elections/articleshow/30126219.cms, accessed on 25 April 2014.
PTI (2011): “Celebrate Sept 17 as Telangana Liberation Day, demands BJP”, The Hindu, 6 September, available at http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/andhra-pradesh/celebrate-sept-17-a..., accessed on 25 April 2014.
Rao, CH Hanumantha (2014): “The New Telangana State: A Perspective for Inclusive and Sustainable Development”, Economic and Political Weekly, 1 March, 49(9): 10-13, available at http://www.epw.in/commentary/new-telangana-state.html, accessed on 25 April 2014.
[i] The survey was carried out from 21st March to 25th March, 2014.
[ii] Communal polarisation, some pointed out, sharpened in 1977 when a history-sheeter, Erra Satyam, organised communal riots in Mahbubnagar. It is an irony that the town of Mahbubnagar and its central market place greets with a statue of Erra Satyam located prominently.
[iii] To counter this and organise a show of strength, Muslims organised “Muslim gharjana” in 2012 in Mabubnagar, where it was claimed about 10,000 Muslims took part. This was in support of Telangana, and against the wrong kind of propaganda against the Muslim community.
[iv] Doctor Zakir Hussain claimed that Osmania General Hospital in its hey days before 1948 was ranked 6th globally.
[v] One Muslim respondent thought that if communal riots take place, Maoists will gain ground in Telangana.
[vi] Riaz, General Secretary of Mahajan Socialist party, who is also contesting elections in Warangal, pointed out that 12 Muslim students committed suicide, though it is against Koran.
[vii] Waheeb, a journalist with Etemaad, a news daily close to the MIM, felt that Warangal was less communal because of a large number of Dargahs, ”where Hindus and Muslims even today go together”.
[viii] More recently, a film actor Pawan Kalyan, who had declared support for Narendra Modi, launched his new political outfit by the name, “Jan Sena”.
[ix] In a lighter vein he added that Hindus think a Muslim lawyer will be more sincere in fighting their case, and vice versa. Similarly, Zakir Hussain, a doctor in Nalgonda district, pointed out that large number of his clients were Hindus.
[x] Bhaktha Vatsal, another Hindu respondent felt that “in the old city area, Muslims drive and come in the wrong way, and if you object to that, they begin to abuse you”. This is one of the very popular perceptions about how Muslims in the Old city, near Charminar behave with the Hindus.
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