Telangana Election: Why Owaisi Stepped Up Support for BRS, Criticism of Congress

Asaduddin Owaisi is campaigning for BRS in a number of seats and has labeled Telangana Congress chief as 'RSS Anna'.

Hindi Female

(This story was originally published on 23 November. It has been republished from The Quint's archives.)

This ongoing election in Telangana has become one of the most challenging electoral battles for All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen president Asaduddin Owaisi.

The challenge isn't so much in the seats that the AIMIM is contesting - ground reports suggest that the party is well placed in most of the seven seats it had won last time in Hyderabad's Old City.

It is the bigger picture in the state that has become the main challenge for the AIMIM - party wants to ensure that the Bharat Rashtriya Samithi (BRS) gets a clear majority in Telangana.

This election is also witnessing some of the most bitter exchanges between the Congress and the AIMIM.

On one hand Telangana Congress chief A Revanth Reddy accused Asaduddin Owaisi of having "khaki knickers under his sherwani", Owaisi responded by reminding Congress of Reddy's past - in his initial days, he was part of the RSS' student wing Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad.

Owaisi also flagged how some Congress leaders - like MP unit chief Kamal Nath - openly support the Ram Temple in Ayodhya.

Both these factors are manifesting themselves at the constituency level as well.


Owaisi's Rallies in Support of BRS

One of the most interesting aspects of Asaduddin Owaisi's campaigning in these elections is the considerable time he has spent addressing rallies in seats where the AIMIM hasn't put up a candidate and is supporting the BRS.

The messaging in these seats is interesting. For instance, in his rally in Vikarabad, Owaisi highlighted the work done by the BRS government for minorities and gave data on how many beneficiaries from the minority communities benefited from the state government's schemes.

In Musheerabad, he began his speech by emphasising on communal harmony and mentioned how the AIMIM had taken the initiative to postpone the Milad-un-Nabi procession this year so that the Hindu community's Ganpati procession isn't disturbed.

Asaduddin Owaisi is campaigning for BRS in a number of seats and has labeled Telangana Congress chief as 'RSS Anna'.

Asaduddin Owaisi with KCR


In Khairatabad, he spoke about how both the BJP and Congress played a role in passing the UAPA and warned people not to support these parties as the law is being used to unfairly jail Muslims.

In at least two speeches, he appealed to the people of Nizamabad, Nirmal, Adilabad Town, Mudhol, Koratla, Goshamahal, Musheerabad and Karimnagar town to unite their votes and stop both BJP and Congress and accused the two parties of having a direct 'deal' in these seats.


Why Has AIMIM Intensified Support for BRS and KCR?

In an interview to The Quint, Owaisi said "A third party is important and beneficial for minorities and Dalits".

The belief is Muslims will be able to benefit most if there is a strong competition between 'secular' parties' and there is an effective Muslim political voice present as well.

It is to keep this competition alive that the BRS' win is important, from the AIMIM's perspective.

There is another aspect to this as well and that lies in the nature of the BRS.

The BRS leadership deals with the AIMIM as a partner and not a political untouchable like secular parties of the north.

This was evident when Telangana CM K Chandrashekhar Rao addressed a press conference in Lucknow where he had gone to express support for Akhilesh Yadav.

On being asked about Owaisi, KCR had said, "Telangana ka beta hai woh (He is a son of Telangana)...He believes there should be a national level Muslim political voice like Ibrahim Sulaiman Sait believed. I don't see anything wrong with it".

The other angle is how BRS sees Telangana itself. Its perspective is that of regional pride and doesn't see Telangana from the prism of competing visions of Indian nationalism.

For instance, unlike the BJP and even to an extent the Congress, the BRS doesn't speak about the Nizam period in negative terms and acknowledges that the period contributed to what Telangana is today.

Many AIMIM supporters feel that anti-Nizam discourse can potentially be weaponised against Telangana's Muslims and a party with a less polarised view of that period of history is most suitable.

There is also a perception in the party that whenever Congress comes to power in a state, sooner or later the BJP is bound to become stronger as the focus on national narrative increases at the expense of regional politics.


A Bitter Campaign at the Local Level

The bitterness of the Congress-AIMIM is most evident in the Nampally constituency. According to sources in the Congress Hyderabad unit, the party sees Nampally as one seat where it has a chance of upsetting the AIMIM, compared to the other seats held by the latter.

The Congress candidate here, Feroz Khan, has made a number of controversial statements during the campaign.

Congress' Feroz Khan is facing flak for calling a section of Nampally's electorate as possessing a "Talibani" or fanatical mindset.

Owaisi was quick to take on Khan and accused him of speaking the RSS' language. "They are insulting Nampally's Muslims," Owaisi said, addressing a political meeting in support of AIMIM candidate Majid Hussain, a former mayor of Hyderabad.

43-year-old Majid Hussain is a rising star in the AIMIM. He had managed the party's 2020 Bihar campaign, in which it won five seats in the Seemanchal region.

AIMIM supporters accuse Feroz Khan of trying to consolidate Hindu votes in Nampally by inciting hatred towards a section of Muslims and having a "deal" with Hindutva organisations.

Not far from Nampally lies the Jubilee Hills seat. Here the Congress is accusing the AIMIM of splitting Muslim voters to help the BRS.

The Congress candidate here is former cricket captain Mohammad Azharuddin. Though a former MP from Moradabad in UP, Azharuddin is contesting from his home state Telangana for the first time. He had contested from Tonk in Rajasthan in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections but lost.

AIMIM has fielded Mohammed Rashed Farazuddin, corporator from Shaikpet ward in Jubilee Hills.

In this intense competition with th AIMIM, The Congress secured the support of former AIMIM candidate from Jubilee Hills Naveen Yadav, who had contested on the Majlis ticket from here in 2014. He contested as an Independent in 2018 after the AIMIM announced support for BRS (then TRS) on seat.


Congress and AIMIM: From Allies to Enemies

  • The Congress and AIMIM weren't always at loggerheads.

  • When undivided Andhra Pradesh was mostly a two-way contest between the Congress and the Telugu Desam Party, the AIMIM often leaned towards the Congress.

  • Relations between the two parties were particularly good when YS Rajasekhara Reddy was the chief minister from 2004 to 2009.

When YSR passed away in 2009, Asaduddin Owaisi gave a moving tribute to him, saying "When YS Rajasekhara Reddy became CM, Muslims of Andhra Pradesh for the first time felt that one of their own has come as the head of the government".
  • Owaisi also recounted that when he was a young MLA taking on the then TDP government in Andhra Pradesh, YSR would always give him encouragement even though they were from different parties.

  • According to Owaisi, the AIMIM supported the Congress in 2004 and 2009 because "YSR always kept his word".

  • It is after YSR's tragic death in an helicopter accident that matters went south for the Congress in Andhra Pradesh. First it mismanaged relations with YS Jaganmohan Reddy and then the Telangana agitation. These two developments eventually led to a split in the Andhra Pradesh Congress and the bifurcation of the state respectively.

  • It during this churn that Congress' ties with AIMIM took a turn for the worse, especially during the tenure of N Kiran Kumar Reddy.

  • During Kiran Reddy's tenure, AIMIM MLA from Chandrayangutta Akbaruddin Owaisi was arrested over an alleged hate speech case. The Kiran Reddy government was also seen as going weak against Hindutva outfits over the attempts to construct a temple at the Charminar.

  • The AIMIM withdrew support from Reddy's government over this issue and called Kiran Reddy a Hindutva CM.

Kiran Reddy left Congress and formed his own party in 2014. He dissolved it and rejoined Congress in 2018. He left Congress and joined BJP earlier in 2023.
  • Since their break-up in 2012, Owaisi has become a bitter critic of the Congress, accusing it of not doing enough to defeat the BJP and helping to pass the UAPA Amendment that is now being used against minorities.

  • Congress, on the other hand, has been calling AIMIM the "B-Team of BJP" and accusing it of putting up candidates to cut Muslim votes.


What Explains Congress' Aggression Towards Owaisi?

Last year the Congress extended the route of the Bharat Jodo Yatra in Telangana to include Hyderabad city and the party hopes this could help it consolidate Muslim votes across the state.

The Congress' strategists want to replicate the Karnataka model in Telangana. This includes not just welfare schemes and a focus on OBC and Dalit votes, but also minorities.

In Karnataka, the Congress managed to secure over 80 percent of the Muslim votes and ate up the entire Muslim support base of the JD-S. The party believes that it would need to repeat that performance in Telangana.

Asaduddin Owaisi is campaigning for BRS in a number of seats and has labeled Telangana Congress chief as 'RSS Anna'.

Hyderabad: Telangana Congress president A Revanth Reddy weaving public meeting at Indervelli Adilabad district in Hyderabad, on Monday, August 09, 2021. (Photo: IANS)

It is with this aim in mind that the party has come up with a 'minority declaration' - something that the party hasn't done in any state so far.

This is easier said than done. Unlike Karnataka where the Congress' main rival is the BJP and the JD-S is present only in one region, in Telangana the party is up against the BRS which enjoys sizable support among Muslims besides being an ally of the AIMIM.

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