As a child, Sayyad Akhtar lost strength in one leg to polio. Life has been tough for him and he was neutral to elections in the past. But Akhtar is sure that he would go and vote for “KCR” — Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao — in the state polls. The only reason: he started getting a monthly pension of Rs 1,500 under the Aasara scheme launched by TRS government.
Akhtar takes no time to list a series of “good steps” for which he is going to vote for TRS. “Streetlights, hospitals and roads are in order,” he said. Another reason he cited is something that a number of people from the minority community have pointed out. “He helps minorities.” His friend Sayyad Amir added, “This area used to see a lot of clashes between Hindus and Muslims. We did not have any such incident in the last four years.”
Swearing loyalty to KCR, whose government has set up more than 200 residential schools for minority students and introduced a monthly aid of Rs 5,000 for imams and mouzams, Akhtar, Amir and Rafi Mohammad in Nizamabad town admitted that they don’t want their Chief Minister to join hands with BJP ahead of Lok Sabha polls.
According to some political observers, it is this feeling among the minority community that prompted KCR to dissolve the assembly nine months ahead of schedule. TRS leaders, however, argue that an early election has given them the opportunity to talk about the “good work” they have done — something they say would have been submerged in a slugfest on other issues if the state polls were held along with the general election.
Muslims account for nearly 12.68 per cent of the state’s population and the community’s votes will play a key role in at least 24 seats. Apart from significant presence in Hyderabad and surrounding areas, Adilabad, Mahabubnagar, Nizamabad, Nalgonda, Ranga Reddy, Medak and Karimnagar districts have significant Muslim population. In some constituencies like Bodhan, Muslims account for 40 per cent of the electorate.
Goodwill over populist schemes, AIMIM’s declaration of support and dwindling support for main opposition Congress among Muslim urban youth could be advantageous to TRS. But a section of the community remains upset over the TRS government’s failure to fulfill the promise of 12 per cent reservation for Muslims. Congress still has significant support in the community in rural areas and in constituencies where the TRS organisation is not very strong. With TRS repeating almost all sitting MLAs, Congress could be the first choice for minority voters in some areas, political observers pointed out.
Not every Muslim is bothered about KCR’s future plans. “We should not worry too much about what he does in Delhi,” Shakeel, a friend of Akhtar said. M A Osmani, a senior citizen from Malakpat constituency, is confident that if KCR takes any such step, it would be for Telangana only.
Malakpet’s AIMIM MLA Ahmed Bin Abdullah Balala, who is seeking re-election, preferred to leave it to the TRS leadership. “KCR is an intelligent man. He will not dig his own grave,” Balala said. While he lauded KCR for his government’s work, Balala admitted that joblessness is an issue. “Youth want jobs. Instead of giving one lakh or two lakh rupees to Muslim institutions, what needed to be done is set up small IT units that provided jobs.”
In Malakpet and other constituencies around Hyderabad, where AIMIM won seven seats in the 2014 state polls, the party draws support from Hindus too. Among those outside Balala’s office are Suman and Vinod, who are observing the 41-day abstinence before visiting Sabarimala. Suman said, “I work with Balala and he is gem of a person. I will vote for him and leave for Sabarimala the next day.”
AIMIM’s stand has made the TRS camp more confident. To make things easier for TRS candidates, AIMIM has not fielded many candidates outside Hyderabad area. AIMIM, which contested 20 seats in 2014, is contesting eight this time. Of them, seven are in the old city and fall in Hyderabad Lok Sabha constituency, currently held by party chief Asaduddin Owaisi.
The perception about Congress among the urban Muslim youth has not been encouraging. What added to its woes is the squabble over seat distribution that led to a few Muslim leaders quitting the Congress. Abid Rasool Khan, former chairman of State Minorities Commission who was state Congress vice-president, and Khaleequr Rehman, national coordinator of the party’s minority department, joined TRS earlier this week. Congress leaders claim these leaders did not have mass appeal.