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February 19, 1998


The communal divide cleaves Charminar country

Ch Sushil Rao in Hyderabad

Sonia Gandhi praised Hyderabad for its communal harmony and so did United Front leaders when they held public meetings in the city to launch their election campaign in Andhra Pradesh last month. Hyderabad constituency, however, is witnessing a communal battle royale.

Sultan Salahuddin Owaisi, president of the All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul-Muslimeen, is contesting from the seat for the fifth time in a row. He has won the seat the last four elections, but faces a stiff challenge from his BJP rival, Baddam Bal Reddy, this time.

"The credentials of the candidates do not matter to the electorate, what matters to them is seeing the candidate of their community get elected," says Mazhar Hussain of the Deccan Development Society which undertakes developmental work in the old city area.

The communal divide became more pronounced after Owaisi started contesting elections. In 1984, he bagged 222,000 votes defeating K Prabhakar Reddy, an Independent candidate. In 1989, Owaisi defeated T Krishna Reddy of the Telugu Desam Party by a huge margin. While Owaisi got 403,000 votes, Krishna Reddy got 270,000 votes.

In 1991, Baddam Bal Reddy (BJP) gave Owaisi a scare polling 415,000 votes in 1991. Owaisi got 454,000 votes to squeeze past in the election.

Reddy, who expected to be fielded again in 1996, was disappointed when the BJP opted for its general secretary, M Venkaiah Naidu. 'Salar', as Owaisi is popularly known, trounced Naidu, despite the Muslim votes splitting on account of Mohamed Amanullah Khan an MIM rebel. While Owaisi got 321,000 votes, Naidu bagged 247,000 votes.

This time round, it was a foregone conclusion that the BJP would nominate Reddy to take on Owaisi. Even before the election was announced, Reddy was busy developing a rapport with the electorate in all the eight assembly segments in Hyderabad constituency.

While Muslim voters in Chadrayangutta, Charminar and Yakutpura assembly segments -- who can tilt the balance in anybody's favour -- are solidly behind Owaisi, Reddy is counting on the Hindu votes in Chevella, Karwan, Tandur and Vikarabad constituencies. This time, on account of the alliance with the NTR-TDP, he expects some more votes in his favour.

The Congress and TDP candidates are in the fray only nominally.

A communal divide has not always existed in the constituency. In 1952, Ahmed Mohiuddin (Congress) bagged the seat defeating Makhdoom Mohiudddin of the Progressive Democratic Front. In 1957, Vinayak Rao (Congress) got elected; in 1962, G S Melkote (Congress) defeated his nearest Independent rival V Ramachandra Rao. Melkote won the 1971 election too, defeating Badruddin Tyabji.

Mir Ahmed Ali Khan, fielded by the Janata Party, lost to Congress candidate K S Narayana in the 1977 election. Narayana repeated his win trouncing A Narendra of the Janata Party in the 1980 election.

Since 1984, Owaisi has been the leader of the city's Muslims, though he recently faced a challenge from Amanullah Khan who rebelled against his alleged autocratic functioning and nepotism.

The Majlis Bacho Tahreek which Amanullah Khan formed after he split with the MIM reduced the MIM's strength in the state assembly to just one in the 1994 assembly election. Amanullah Khan threatened to cut Owaisi down to size by contesting against him in the 1996 general election. But the electorate rebuffed him. He even lost his deposit.

Having sensed the mood of the Muslim electorate that they would not risk Owaisi losing the poll, Amanullah Khan has decided not to contest this time. Lest Bal Reddy win the election, he has even lent Owaisi his support.

Though Owaisi has been elected from Hyderabad four times and the Muslim dominated assembly constituencies have sent members of the community to the assembly, the old city is a monument of neglect.

There are sparse civic amenities. The state government has denied funds to the Quli Qutb Shah Urban Development Authority which was formed to develop the old city. Both Hindu and Muslim leaders thrive on dividing the people on communal lines.

Unemployment, poverty, illiteracy are among the several problems that have to be tackled in the Old City. Brides continue to be available for rich Arabs to 'marry' and desert.

"It is legalised prostitution. Many poor girls fall prey to rich Arabs who come here every year to 'marry' them. Many Arabs merely use the girls to satisfy their lust and return with the promise of taking them there later. That never happens and the girls languish," Muslim social workers say.

Despite all the hue and cry about Muslim girls being sacrificed by their families, nothing has been done by the community's leaders to prevent such unfortunate events from recurring.

"During an election, these things do not matter. What matters is the community of the contestant. The contestants do not feel they are answerable to the electorate if they do not work to meet their needs," says Mohamed Farooq, who runs a school.

Despite the competition from Bal Reddy, Owaisi says he is not unduly worried. "My victory is certain," the confident sitting MP told Rediff On The NeT.

From the time he entered the poll arena, Owaisi has never tasted. In 1978 and 1983 he won election to the state assembly from the Charminar constituency by a convincing margin before moving to the national arena.

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