Hyderabad: Despite anti-incumbency, Owaisi is frontrunner

Asaduddin Owaisi’s main opponent will be the BJP’s newly minted firebrand K Madhavi Latha.
Hyderabad: Despite anti-incumbency, Owaisi is frontrunner
Illustration: Mandar Pardikar

HYDERABAD : Sitting at a juice shop opposite Mecca Masjid near Charminar on Eid-ul-Fitr day, Noor Mohammed, a businessman and resident of Moghulpura, lamented the lack of basic amenities and civic infrastructure in Hyderabad’s Old City—bastion of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM).

“For two decades, [Asaduddin] Owaisi has been the MP from here. But the dingy lanes, traffic snarls, potholed passages and inundation of streets are testimony to the bad conditions in most areas under the constituency,” Noor remarked, drawing a comparison with Cyberabad and Secunderabad.

Nevertheless, the 52-year-old businessman said the AIMIM supremo wins because he voices the concerns of the Muslim community on a nationwide platform and noted, “Earlier, we have witnessed a period of communal disharmony.”

The Hyderabad LS constituency, which has a Muslim majority, has been an AIMIM stronghold for four decades since Sultan Salahuddin Owaisi first won as an independent in 1984. After six consecutive victories, son Asaduddin took over in 2004. Aiming for a fifth successive term, he began his door-to-door campaign in the constituency on Friday. In 2019, he defeated his nearest rival — the BJP’s Bhagavanth Rao — by over 2.8 lakh votes. Notably, the polling percentage (44.84) in 2019 was the second lowest in the segment since 1957 when it amounted to 41.1 percent.

Six of the seven Assembly segments falling under Hyderabad are represented by AIMIM legislators. One, Goshamahal, is with the BJP, with T Raja Singh winning for the third time in 2023. With Feroz Khan, who contested from Hyderabad in 2019 on a Congress ticket recently indicating that dosti has been forged between the AIMIM and the grand old party — the ruling party in the state is yet to even announce its candidate from the segment — Asaduddin’s main opponent will be the BJP’s newly minted firebrand K Madhavi Latha.

Garbage dumped on roadside at Barkas in the Old City of Hyderabad on Friday  | Vinay Madapu
Garbage dumped on roadside at Barkas in the Old City of Hyderabad on Friday | Vinay Madapu

Madhavi was arguably more popular outside the segment, at least till a recent TV interview. “I came to know about her only from Aap ki Adalat,” said a person at Alijah Kotla, one of the many singing Madhavi’s praises. “She spoke well and presented her views with confidence. I enjoyed listening to her,” said Ronith (31), an IT employee from Gowlipura. Her interview even won Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s stamp of approval.

The 49-year-old chairperson of Virinchi hospitals, who is a trained Bharatanatyam dancer, told TNIE that the entire neighbourhood — Secunderabad and Cyberabad — has gone much ahead. “Hyderabad segment has not even remained stagnant, it has fallen back in time,” she said and asked, “Most of the people here are poor. Is there one thing they are happy about?”

Madhavi, who is making her debut in politics, joined the BJP only after her candidature was announced. Long-time BJP workers are said to be unhappy with her candidature, with Raja Singh not even taking part in the campaign till now.

Situation is favourable for us now, says Madhavi

However, Madhavi said that everyone in the party is cooperating with her. Speaking to TNIE, she said: “You know, women always encounter hurdles everywhere. Situation is favourable of us now. Two days ago, Raja Singh ji also talked about cooperating with us and remarked that the BJP has selected a strong opponent against Owaisi. On the ground, we have not touched Goshamahal (Raja Singh’s segment) so far.”

Majlis Bachao Tehreek (MBT) leader Amjed Ullah Khan lost to the AIMIM’s Jaffar Hussain by a mere 878 votes from Yakutpura — one of the Assembly segments that make up the Hyderabad LS seat — in the 2023 Assembly elections.

He said the Congress has made a huge error by giving a free run to Owaisi. “It is not a free and fair election. You have seen how Owaisi has made adjustments with the Congress after Telangana elections.”

Congress sources told TNIE that the candidate for Hyderabad and two other segments will be announced on Saturday. Sameer Waliullah, the frontrunner for the Congress ticket from Hyderadad, said that the cordial relationship with AIMIM was only to develop the Old City. “The CM had made it clear while laying the foundation of the Metro project. Other parts of Old City such as Musi river need to be improved as well. As most of the MLAs come from the AIMIM, there is no other option for us than to work hand in hand with them,” the Hyderabad DCC president told TNIE, ruling out an alliance with Owaisi.

BJP’s Madhavi Latha poses for a selfie with Muslim women
BJP’s Madhavi Latha poses for a selfie with Muslim women

Criticising the Owaisi-led Majlis, Waliullah alleged that it has been building its own fortress by getting Muslim votes over the years. “The AIMIM teams up with the BJP as a result of which there has been no Enforcement Directorate (ED) or Income Tax (I-T) raids on them. Both AIMIM and BJP polarise Muslims and Hindus, and get them on their side, thus affecting the chances of other parties.”

MBT’s allegation

MBT’s Amjed too levelled the same allegation. “The AIMIM has made an arrangement with every party. It helps the BJP across India and the latter helps it in Hyderabad,” he said.

Calling Madhavi Latha a “dummy candidate”, the MBT leader said, “The BJP is a cadre-based party. This might be the first time a candidate was announced and then that person was made to join the party.”

The former corporator criticised the AIMIM, alleging it only wins because of bogus votes. Notably, Madhavi and Congress’ Feroz Khan have also raised similar concerns, claiming that there are over six lakh bogus votes in the Hyderabad LS segment. “If we had bogus votes, we can continuously win for 4,000 years. But what to do? We don’t have bogus votes. Owaisi has 6,20,000 bogus votes. If you type one EPIC number on the EC website, you may find the same voter ID in two places. In the Charminar area alone, he has 1,60,000 bogus votes,” Madhavi has been quoted as saying.

Questions commitment

Meanwhile, Amjad questioned Madhavi’s commitment in actually resolving issues. “She is only talking big even while knowing that her own party’s government is in power at the Centre. Feroz Khan has handed over the proof too. Why doesn’t the BJP ask the ECI to rectify it?” he said.

The MBT is likely to field a candidate in the coming days.

In response, Madhavi said that people know the ECI is an independent body and criticised the Congress government in the state for not acting on its leader Feroz Khan’s complaint. “We submitted the complaint to ECI and they have also sent the information locally here. It all happens at GHMC level, so why has the Congress not taken any action against it?” she asked.

MIM president Asaduddin Oswaisi during his door-to-door campaign in Hyderabad on Friday
MIM president Asaduddin Oswaisi during his door-to-door campaign in Hyderabad on Friday

While there is a sense of anger about the lack of basic amenities — something Madhavi too has highlighted — there are many, especially Muslims, who praise the AIMIM.

Aftab Ahmed, 38, a shopkeeper at Moghalpura, was all praise for the AIMIM and said that the road outside his shop was widened after its intervention. “This Mir Momin Daira road was widened because of former MLA Mumtaz Khan. In the past, they have provided monthly allowance to Muslim widows,” he asserted.

Sheikh Ghouse, 55, of Khilwat pointed out the huge medical discounts provided by the Princess Esra Hospital, run by the Owaisis. “If there is any political tension as well, the AIMIM comes to the legal rescue of Muslim people,” he added. Syeda Malikka (38), a vendor, noted that the AIMIM distributes rice sacks to people.

Bad roads, a major issue

Rehna Bibi, 40, and her neighbour Sougala Bhagyamma, 65, who belongs to a Madiga settlement near Mir Chowk within the Old City, complained about the condition of the roads and constant inundation in the area but still said that they would vote for Owaisi. In Gowlipura, a predominantly Hindu area near Lal Darwaza, exasperation with AIMIM was palpable. Indira Bai (78), whose ancestors settled in Gowlipura decades ago, said Owaisi should take people of all communities along. “But he only likes Muslims and speaks against Hindus,” she said.

In Alijah Kotla, opposite Masqati Dairy, Masood Masqati was enjoying a cup of tea perched on a chair at his friend Shiva Kumar Goyal’s water supply shop on Eid, a day when most of the shop shutters were down.

Hinting at corruption, 54-year-old Masqati compared the AIMIM to a mobile phone in which only the incoming calls work. “This was not the case when Salahuddin sahab was the MP. But now, it has come down to this unfortunately. MIM sirf apna ullu seedha kar raha hai [The AIMIM makes profit by fooling others],” he alleged.

His friend Shiva Kumar recalled an election some years ago. “I went to cast my vote but the authorities claimed that somebody else had already voted on my name. So, I was asked to vote on somebody else’s name.”

“Even if PM Modi or Amit Shah decides to contest from Hyderabad, they cannot defeat Owaisi,” Masqati quipped, adding that it would happen only if God wants.

“Even if Owaisi files nomination and sits at home, his victory is assured,” Masqati said before bursting into laughter with his friend.

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