Top New: Without the influence of Hindutva, the Muslim vote in Telangana is now being shaped by socio-economic class.

While the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) may retain its stronghold in the Old City of Hyderabad, there is a noticeable surge in popularity for the Congress and Rahul Gandhi.

“Gone are the days of riots in Hyderabad,” reflected Mohammad Ashraf. “We now coexist happily.”

This wasn’t always the case. Ashraf recalled, “My childhood was marked by the fear of communal violence. However, that era has passed. Things changed when TRS came to power,” referring to the ruling Bharat Rashtra Samithi, formerly known as Telangana Rashtra Samithi. Ashraf’s sentiments are echoed by many Muslims in Telangana, who commend the state’s law and order for its effectiveness in curbing communal violence. Once prevalent in Hyderabad, riots are now confined to the realm of memory. Additionally, the Bharatiya Janata Party plays a minor role in the state, and Hindutva has a limited influence.

As a result, Telangana stands out as a state in India where Muslim politics isn’t dominated by concerns about security. Consequently, the community is rallying around a more commonplace fault line: class.

Economically disadvantaged Muslims often support the Asaduddin Owaisi-led All India Majlis-i-Ittehadul Muslimeen in Hyderabad and the Bharat Rashtra Samithi in other parts of the state. On the other hand, wealthier Muslims are increasingly aligning with the Congress, drawn in part by Rahul Gandhi’s popularity and his emphasis on communal harmony during the Bharat Jodo Yatra.

The Historic District

Discontent simmers in Hyderabad’s Old City, a historic quarter constructed in the 16th century that conspicuously lags behind in the wake of Telangana’s impressive development since the state’s establishment in 2014 following the partition of Andhra Pradesh. Mohammad Adil Amin, who operates a sugarcane juice stall, voices the prevailing sentiment: “There hasn’t been enough development here. Look at other parts of Hyderabad.”

Nevertheless, despite the visible development gap, support for the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen remains substantial among the Muslim majority in the Old City. Syed Sohail, a mechanic, stands firm in his support for the MIM, stating, “We have always voted for the Majlis in the Old City. This time as well, they will win.” Ironically, even Amin, critical of the lack of progress, shares a similar view, asserting, “Majlis will win [in the Old City], there is no doubt about it.”

Yet, a notable undercurrent of resentment against the MIM exists among Muslims in the city, attributing the lack of development in the Old City and attempts to deepen social divisions to the party. Shahebaz Khan, a college teacher, remarks, “The MIM benefits from heightened communal tensions. They have used strong-arm tactics in the Old City to remove rivals and keep the area backward.”

Khan’s perspective is not unique, as a substantial segment of white-collar Muslims in the city express disenchantment with the MIM. Instead, they are increasingly turning to the Congress. Mohammad Ali Gulzar, proprietor of the Mayrose Irani cafe in Hyderabad, notes, “Congress believes in live and let live. They don’t believe in jhagra-fasad, trouble.”

“The Influence of Rahul”

The Congress emerges as the primary contender against the ruling party in these elections. With the Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) having held power for a decade, there is a notable undercurrent of anti-incumbency. Consequently, support for the Congress spans various communities, including a significant backing from the Muslim population.

Rahul Gandhi, and notably his Bharat Jodo Yatra, have played a pivotal role in securing Muslim support. During his journey from the southernmost tip of India to Kashmir, Gandhi placed a strong emphasis on communal harmony. This focus appears to have resonated with the Muslims of Telangana.

According to Syed Taruj, Rahul Gandhi is a “acchha banda” (good man) whose image was deliberately tarnished. “I saw him on his padyatra [Bharat Jodo Yatra],” Taruj remarked. “Even BJP supporters came to see him.”

Taruj, employed with a private firm in Hyderabad, asserts that he will vote for the Congress in this election. “Others talk of division,” he said. “But it is the Congress that stands for development.”

Gandhi’s positive reputation in Telangana extends beyond party lines. Amin, who had previously predicted the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen’s victory in the Old City, also expressed admiration for the Congress leader and his Bharat Jodo Yatra. “He is doing paidal dauras [Bharat Jodo Yatra], asking people about their problems and trying to fix them,” Amin noted.

The vote for rural welfare

Gandhi’s popularity wanes beyond Hyderabad, where politics retains a more localized character, and the Delhi-based leader is less visible. Nevertheless, economic factors, particularly class and satisfaction with welfare measures, become decisive in shaping the voting preferences of Muslims, given the absence of Hindutva influence in most parts of the state.

Mansoorbi, hailing from the Suryapet constituency and belonging to a backward caste of Telugu-speaking Muslims, reflects this dynamic. Despite being landless and selling coconuts in her village, her primary source of income is the old age pension provided by the state government. “I am content with the TRS [BRS] for the financial assistance,” she asserts. “I will cast my vote for them.”

However, in some instances, economically disadvantaged Muslims in rural Telangana express dissatisfaction with being excluded from the state government’s cash transfer initiatives. Mohammad Iqbal, who runs a small general store in Warangal, is critical of the BRS for its shortcomings in welfare delivery and concerns about inflation. “We applied for minority loans but did not receive them,” he claimed, expressing frustration over rising onion prices.

Iqbal even holds the state government responsible for allocating the entire financial assistance for marriages to the bride’s family. “Our samdhans, in-laws, received the entire Rs 1 lakh for Shadi Mubarak,” he lamented. “Nothing came to us.”

A dynamic that is more community-centric or region-specific.

Despite being a staunch Congress supporter, Iqbal possesses limited knowledge about Rahul Gandhi. His admiration for the leader is solely linked to his grandmother, Indira Gandhi, who, even four decades after her demise, surprisingly remains popular in rural Telangana. When questioned about Rahul, Iqbal’s brief comment was, “His grandmother did very good work.”

On the other hand, Mohammed Naseeruddin, who divides his time between his job in Hyderabad city and his 3.25 acres of farmland in Siddipet district, is more closely attuned to Gandhi’s activities. “We all saw his Bharat Jodo Yatra – some people from my village went too,” he shared. “He is popular among my village’s Muslims, and they will mostly vote Congress.”

However, Naseeruddin acknowledges that some Muslims in his village may still lean towards the Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS), driven by factors of class and economic necessity. “Old people who depend on pensions will still vote for KCR,” he explained. “And some households where their boys work with BRS.”

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