CRACKING TE­LAN­GANA

The BJP plans a raid on Owaisi home turf Hyderabad

India Today - - INSIDE - By Amar­nath K. Menon

The BJP pre­pares to storm the Owaisi ci­tadel of Hyderabad

The Hyderabad Lok Sabha con­stituency has been the pocket borough of the Owaisi family and their party, the All In­dia Ma­jlis-e-It­te­hadul Mus­limeen (AIMIM), since 1984. But now the BJP, as in other op­po­si­tion citadels, is mak­ing a con­certed at­tempt to dis­lodge the AIMIM. On the last lap of his three-day tour of the state, party chief Amit Shah im­pressed upon the cadre the need to de­velop booth-level com­mit­tees.

But to mount a se­ri­ous chal­lenge in Hyderabad will re­quire a her­culean ef­fort. AIMIM chief Asadud­din Owaisi and ear­lier, his fa­ther Sul­tan Salahud­din Owaisi, have nur­tured the city for over four decades, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult ground for ri­vals to gain a foothold.

The BJP’s ear­lier at­tempt in 1996, field­ing then party pres­i­dent M. Venka­iah Naidu against Owaisi Sr ended in dis­as­ter. Naidu lost by 73,273 votes and the party has never since made a se­ri­ous bid to breach the Owaisi bas­tion.

But now, with the rul­ing Te­lan­gana Rash­tra Samithi (TRS) in­tent on rais-

THE BJP HAD FIELDED VENKA­IAH NAIDU AGAINST OWAISI SR IN 1996. IT ENDED BADLY

ing the quota for Mus­lims from 4 to 12 per cent with the AIMIM as its ally, the BJP be­lieves there’s a real op­por­tu­nity. Asadud­din isn’t im­pressed. “Why are they wast­ing time look­ing for a can­di­date to fight me?” he asks, sug­gest­ing that Shah him­self “try his luck” and con­test the next Lok Sabha elec­tions from Hyderabad. His fa­ther Salahud­din won the seat six times from 1984 to 1999 be­fore hand­ing the ba­ton to Asadud­din. “The BJP won’t win in a sin­gle assem­bly seg­ment here in 2019,” as­serts the AIMIM chief.

The saf­fron party is count­ing on a po­ten­tial re­li­gious po­lar­i­sa­tion from the TRS’s quota move to im­prove its chances. As ear­lier elec­tions have proved, the BJP only stands a chance in the event of a straight con­test with the AIMIM. That seems a bleak prospect con­sid­er­ing the Congress and TDP are no pushovers in Te­lan­gana. Cur­rently ham­pered by a weak or­gan­i­sa­tion here—the BJP has just 800 booth-level com­mit­tees for the 7,100 polling sta­tions in the Lok Sabha con­stituency—Shah is now set on beef­ing up the party’s pres­ence on the ground.

Yet, the AIMIM it­self is not with­out wor­ries. De­spite the fact that both Asadud­din and brother Ak­barud­din have al­ways been at hand to help their largely Mus­lim con­stituents, the hu­man de­vel­op­ment in­dex for Te­lan­gana’s ur­ban Mus­lims is sig­nif­i­cantly below the state av­er­age. Nearly half—43.5 per cent of the Mus­lims in the state—live in Hyderabad.

Con­scious of the de­mo­graph­ics, chal­lenges and changes, the Owai­sis have ex­panded their dis­course from mi­nor­ity dis­crim­i­na­tion and rights abuses to a cam­paign for equal op­por­tu­ni­ties, im­proved health fa­cil­i­ties and qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion. Even they re­alise that rab­ble-rous­ing and play­ing to the sen­ti­ments of poor Mus­lims will only take them so far.

WE ARE FAMILY AIMIM chief Asadud­ddin Owaisi vis­it­ing his con­stituents

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