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Telangana Election: What is Congress' Strategy With the 'Minority Declaration'?

The 'BC Declaration' (for backward classes) was released by Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah.

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(This story was originally published on 18 November. It has been republished from The Quint's archives.)

Taking a leaf from the Karnataka Congress' success model in the May Assembly elections, when nearly 90 percent of the Muslim community voting in favour of the party enabled it to return to power, its party unit in Telangana is doing everything to replicate it in the southern state, which goes to the polls on 30 November.

The 'Minority Declaration' released by the Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee (TPCC) on 10 November and the 'BC Declaration' (for backward classes) released the next day by Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah are seen as steps in this direction.

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Importance of the Muslim Vote: What do the Numbers Say?

The emphasis on having separate mini manifestoes for the Muslim and Backward Classes voters stems from historical data that the ruling Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS, earlier Telangana Rashtra Samithi) won the 2014 and 2018 Assembly polls with solid backing of the Muslims (around 75 percent).

The party was helped in this by the All India Majlis-e- Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) President and Hyderabad Lok Sabha constituency MP Asaduddin Salahuddin Owaisi. Telangana was carved out of Andhra Pradesh in 2014 and the state goes to the hustings for the third time now.

Muslims are present in considerable numbers in almost all districts of Telangana but are predominant in Hyderabad, Ranga Reddy, Mahabubnagar, Nalgonda, Medak, Nizamabad, and Karimnagar districts.

According to the Telangana Social Development Report of 2017, 1.73 million Muslims reside in Hyderabad alone, making up a fourth of the city’s population and and of the 43.5 per cent strong Muslim population. The city has 24 assembly seats, of which the outcome in 10 can be swung by Muslim voters. According to the 2011 census, Muslims account for 12.75 per cent of the population, the second highest in the state.

In 2018, only one BRS Muslim candidate from Bodhan in Nizamabad district, and seven AIMIM nominees from Bahadurpura, Charminar, Chandrayangutta, Karwan, Malakpet and Yakutpura (all Assembly segments of Owaisi's parliamentary constituency in Old Hyderabad city and one from Nampally in Hyderabad city) won their seat. Besides, Muslim votes are the deciding factor for candidates' victory in 40 of the total 119 Assembly seats and BRS has got a prop up here.

Considering all these factors, election strategist for the Congress, Sunil Kanugolu, submitted a report to the Congress high command in June 2022, stating that the party should go all out to woo minorities if it wants to come to power. The Muslims will not vote for the BJP and the choice for them is between the BRS and the Congress. This is the right time to get the Muslims back into the Congress fold, the report is learnt to have said.

Kanugolu is said to be the person who came up with the five guarantees for the Karnataka Congress, which became a game-changer for the party and the six guarantees announced by the TPCC are also his brainchild.

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Using the Discontent Against BRS

Professor Afroz Alam, Department of Political Science, Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad, speaking to The Quint, said that Muslims may vote in larger numbers for the Congress party this time because they are now aligned with the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. In 2024, there is hope among the electorate that the BJP can be ousted from power and for this to happen, the Congress has something to offer in an organised manner, he maintained.

According to Alam, the situation in Telangana is not like Karnataka, where the other party was the BJP and many wanted to defeat it. Here, the BRS as a regional party has a track record of maintaining communal harmony in the state. There is only discontent, that is, whether one did or did not get the benefit of schemes.

"There is no en masse shift of Muslim voters in favour of the Congress, but the party is making its presence felt in Telangana state.The only drawback with the Congress is that it became active quite late, unlike in Karnataka where the party was active for three years. The Congress was not visible on the ground, but after the Karnataka elections, it realised that the discontent against the BRS government can be appropriated in their favour," he stated.

According to political observers, Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao's welfare scheme to provide financial assistance to backward classes and religious minorities in June 2023 and the 100 per cent subsidy loan scheme, a one-time aid of Rs 1 lakh to each member of the backward classes, and Muslim or Christian beneficiary families, are his plus points.

Comparatively, the Congress Minority Declaration has hiked the minority welfare budget to Rs 4,000 crore along with a dedicated minority sub-plan. The declaration also promises a provision of Rs 1.60 lakh to newly wed couples of Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and other minorities. Besides that, there is also a monthly honorarium of Rs 10,000 to Rs 12,000 to priests from all religions.

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What Does the Declaration Say?

The BC Declaration promises an increase in reservations based on the caste census and the BC Commission report, within six months of assuming power. It also promises to increase the BC reservation to 42 per cent from the existing 23 per cent in local bodies with community specific promises for communities like Mudirag, Gangaputra, Yadav, Kuruma, Goud, Munnur Kapu, Padmashali, Vishwakarma, and Rajaka.

By getting the BC Declaration launched by Siddaramaiah, who is the face of the backward classes in Karnataka, the Congress is trying to woo this section. "There are 140 sub-castes of other backward classes in Telangana, who make up for 56 per cent of the total population. They are fragmented, if they unite, then the OBCs can bring to power or pull down a government," sources said.

Notwithstanding the sops launched by the BRS government, political analysts point out that Muslims feel betrayed on the 12 percent reservation.

Chandrasekhar, who is popularly called 'maamu', promised this in Shadnagar during the 2014 elections. The perception is the 12 percent reservation assurance was only a gimmick by Chandrasekhar, who was aware it would not stand the scrutiny of law or get the Centre's approval. Incidentally, the BJP, which is not much in reckoning in the Telangana polls has said it would scrap the existing four per cent reservation to Muslims if it comes to power.

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Muslim Vote Based on Beneficiary Model

After coming to power in 2014, the BRS government constituted a Commission of Inquiry to study the socio-economic conditions of the Muslim community. Comprising development economist Amir Ullah Khan, academician Abdul Shaban, and headed by former civil servant G Sudhir, the commission’s report released in 2016 made a case for reservations to Muslims.

The Commission noted that in the Telangana government’s 23 departments, the share of Muslim employees was about 7.36 per cent. This was not in proportion to the state’s Muslim population of 12.36 per cent and also referred to the low representation of Muslims in the bureaucracy.

The failure of the Chandrasekhar government to fulfill the assurances made in 2014 of reclaiming encroached wakf property, along with the failure to give judicial powers to the state's Wakf Board and a 12 per cent reservation to Muslims in educational institutions and government jobs has irked the them, said Mir Ayoob Ali Khan, Consulting Editor of Siasat.com (a web portal). "And for the first time, TPCC President A Revanth Reddy is taking on Owaisi as never before for helping the BRS, resulting in the Muslim votes getting fragmented, he added.

The AIMIM, which traditionally used to contest seven seats in the Old Hyderabad city has now fielded in two more — Jubilee hills against former cricketer and Congress candidate Mohammed Azharuddin and a non-Muslim, Swamy Yadav, from Rajendranagar constituency in Rangareddy district. The AIMIM has announced support for the BRS in other seats. The Congress has put up a strident attack on Owaisi accusing him of fielding candidates in Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Bihar and other states only to benefit the BJP.

AICC Secretary in-charge of Telangana polls Mansoor Ali Khan said that the Congress secured just 18 per cent of the Muslim votes in the 2018 Assembly polls. "If we garner 50 per cent of the votes this time, the party will be through. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi's Bharat Jodo Yatra to make it an inclusive India and with most promises of the BRS government for the minorities remaining unfulfilled, there's a tilt in favour of the Congress,'' he added.

To buttress its statement that Owaisi enters the poll fray only to divide Muslim votes, the Congress has criticised him for fielding a candidate from Jubilee Hills against itself but refraining from contesting against BJP candidate T Raja Singh in Goshamahal, which is an assembly segment of Owaisi's Hyderabad Lok Sabha seat.

Muslims don't vote en bloc with any party and their preferences change from urban to rural settings. Voting is based on the beneficiary model, that is, whether they have benefitted from the government schemes or not. It also depends on the chemistry of the candidates in the respective constituencies, and many times Muslims have voted for a BJP nominee.

In Telangana, there is an extraordinary party switch and nobody is bothered which party the candidate used to be in, Alam concluded.

(Naheed Ataulla is a senior political journalist based in Bengaluru. This is an opinion article and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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Topics:  Telangana   KCR   BRS 

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