Hyderabad: When Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao held a meeting last week to discuss the 1 December Hyderabad municipal elections with leaders of his party, Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), the attendees included a guest — Hyderabad MP and All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) chief Asaduddin Owaisi.
They have never officially been in alliance, but the two parties have been known to share a friendly relationship since the state was formed in 2014. This friendship has now emerged as a key campaign plank for the BJP as the party — buoyed by its win in the Dubbaka bypoll this month — looks to unseat the TRS from the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC).
With days left for the election, the BJP has been referring to the AIMIM’s “terror links” and alleging that the TRS, in a “secret understanding”, is considering making an AIMIM leader the next mayor, and giving Hyderabad’s control to the party.
While the TRS has denied any alliance with the AIMIM and vowed to defeat the party, the latter has lashed out at what it describes as the BJP’s bid to communalise local politics.
In 2018, before the assembly polls, Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao aka KCR said the TRS and the AIMIM (also referred to as MIM) are friendly parties and the contest between both could be “friendly”.
“When we formed the government, there were attempts to destabilise it. Asad Owaisi got to know in Delhi, and called me, saying he would stand by me and support me. He did this without even me requesting him for anything,” KCR said at a press meet in September that year.
At the time, Owaisi had denied the prospect of an alliance with the TRS but hailed KCR’s leadership, especially the absence of communal tensions on his watch.
Speculation of an alliance was further fuelled by Owaisi’s brother, MLA Akbaruddin Owaisi, when he reportedly cited the then Karnataka government — where the Congress’ junior alliance partner Janata Dal (Secular) had the CM’s post — to claim the MIM had a shot at the CM’s chair in Telangana too. However, Owaisi later said in an interview that his brother was quoted out of context.
Even so, both the Congress and the BJP made this alliance a part of their campaign. The election was subsequently won by the TRS in a landslide victory.
Examples of TRS-AIMIM bonhomie have emerged several times in the months since. It is primarily seen in the AIMIM’s silence at times when the TRS government has come under the scanner for governance-related issues. For example, during the early days of the Covid pandemic and last month’s Hyderabad floods.
Owaisi has always been in support of the anti-BJP, anti-Congress ‘federal front’ that the chief minister has been planning for the past two years. This August, when two masjids were demolished along with the Telangana Secretariat to construct a new, vastu-compliant building, the two parties managed to resolve the issue amicably.
Incidentally, at one point or the other, both the TRS and the AIMIM have faced allegations of being the BJP’s B-team outside Telangana. In the most recent instance, the allegation was lobbed at Owaisi when his party contested the 2020 Bihar assembly polls. The party won five seats in the election.
‘Both have something to gain’
Analysts say both parties have something to gain from an appearance of closeness.
“The AIMIM is purely opportunistic. Whoever is in power, they become friends with them. Owaisi never supported the Telangana agitation but is now close to KCR. How? Previously, he was close to (late former CM of united Andhra) Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy, (TDP leader and former CM) Chandrababu Naidu etc,” senior political analyst Professor G. Haragopal said.
“To avoid getting into trouble with the police and other things — Owaisi’s party is always friends with ruling parties,” he added.
For the TRS, the advantage is maintaining a rapport with the Muslim community, analysts say, pointing out that Hyderabad has seen communal harmony over the last six years. But, talking openly about the alliance may mean handing out ammunition to the BJP, they add.
“Obviously, the TRS will deny the alliance, else it would be giving more power to the BJP to talk about this alliance. The ruling party can go ahead and openly talk about it but they do not appear to have the conviction to do it or to say they want to work for the betterment of minorities,” Haragopal said.
Possible hidden equations
It is believed that Owaisi’s presence at the TRS meeting may have been meant to carve out another unspoken seat-sharing pact that the parties are accused of.
In the 2016 elections, the TRS won 99 of the 150 GHMC divisions, with the AIMIM securing 44, leaving only seven for other parties.
Speaking to ThePrint, a TRS leader on the condition of anonymity said that their equation with the AIMIM is “purely a political workout”.
“It is obvious that in areas where the AIMIM has a strong hold, the TRS has fielded candidates who had nil political significance and it’s likewise from the AIMIM,” the leader added.
For instance, in 2016, the AIMIM won the Chawani division with 74 per cent of the total votes, while the TRS managed to secure 8.5 per cent. At Talabchachalam, the AIMIM secured 82.5 per cent of the votes, while the ruling party got 3.5 per cent.
The situation is the same in areas such as Pathergatti, Tolichowki, Sulemannagar, Sashtripuram etc, where the AIMIM defeated the TRS by a vast margin. All of these areas fall under the older part of the city (also called Old City), which is Owaisi’s bastion. In at least seven wards in the Old City where the AIMIM won, the TRS could not get more than 10 per cent of the votes.
In the Barkhas and Chandrayangutta wards, which are part of the assembly constituency represented by Akbaruddin, the TRS candidate got 18 per cent of the vote share.
Similar was the situation in areas considered TRS strongholds.
“Basically, TRS fields candidates in certain old city areas where the Hindu population is significant and wants those votes in their pocket and not in BJP’s. So, that would obviously help the AIMIM,” a political observer from Old City who wished to be unnamed, told ThePrint.
Earlier this month, BJP MP Dharmapuri Aravind told ThePrint that, for him, the upcoming polls are “old city vs rest of the city”. “For the BJP, the AIMIM is a bigger rival than the TRS,” he said.
On Thursday, BJP state president Bandi Sanjay alleged that the AIMIM has links with terrorists, saying at a press meet in Hyderabad that “anyone who’s close to the AIMIM is also the same”.
He said the chief minister is a friend of the AIMIM and “so the agencies should keep an eye on him”.
The TRS, meanwhile, has vehemently denied any alliance with the AIMIM. On the same day as BJP’s press meet, Municipal Minister K.T. Rama Rao, who is also the CM’s son, told media that the party will defeat Owaisi’s team in the polls. “We will defeat AIMIM and get at least 10 seats in Old City,” KTR said. In 2016, the TRS had won five of the 45 seats in Old City.
A senior AIMIM leader, not wanting to be identified, said the “BJP wants to communalise the scene and hasn’t been able to succeed”.
“The TRS-MIM relationship has been there for the past six years and it is there for people to see. The BJP harped on this issue before the assembly elections also and they gained nothing out of it. We will not let these communal tactics take shape,” the leader added.
Analyst Haragopal agreed. “This is part of BJP’s politics and their attempt to use the communal card. So, obviously, the TRS-MIM friendship is something they will definitely talk about because it suits their communal agenda,” he said.