The election campaign in Telangana, which votes on December 7, has been more or less been a civil affair until last week. The entry of UP chief minister and poster-boy of Hindutva, Yogi Adityanath, into the campaign threatens to vitiate the discourse, which so far has centred on the achievements or non-achievements of Chief Minister K Chandrasekhara Rao and his party, the TRS. Addressing rallies in Telangana on Sunday, Adityanath said if the BJP is voted to office, Asaduddin Owaisi, the Hyderabad MP, will have to flee the city, as the Nizam had to after Independence. He also claimed the BJP will rename Hyderabad as Bhagya Nagari, after the apocryphal Bhagmati, the dancer who married one of the sultans of the Qutb Shahi dynasty that built the city. Owaisi, thrice elected to the Lok Sabha from Hyderabad and currently the president of All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) president, corrected the UP CM: The Nizam, he said, did not flee the city but was made a Raja Pramukh.
The Owaisi brothers — Asaduddin and Akbaruddin — do have a reputation of delivering edgy speeches during election campaigns. While the AIMIM is only a provincial outfit with national pretensions, Adityanath is the chief minister of India’s most populous state. He ought to uphold the dignity of his office even when he hits the campaign trail. It is, of course, disingenuous of him to make tall claims about his administration, as he did some time ago in Kerala when he asked the state government to learn how to run hospitals from UP. It is far more grievous when he starts to take liberties with local history, deploys polarising rhetoric in his speech and threatens political rivals, as he seems to do in Telangana. It surely doesn’t help the BJP’s cause in states where electoral politics is largely determined by the governance record of the party in office. In Telangana, the ruling TRS and its main rival, the Congress-led Praja Kutami alliance, are sparring over issues like employment, delivery of public services and welfare schemes. Adityanath, who so far has little to boast of as an administrator, has waded in to this debate by raising non-issues like renaming of Hyderabad.
Adityanath could do himself a world of good if he uses these campaign trips to learn how states like Telangana have been successful in improving development indices like in education and health or cities like Hyderabad have nurtured industry and built modern infrastructure. The UP CM should by now know that there is more to governance than cow protection or erasing the contributions of non-Hindu rulers.