While most of Telangana irrespective of their caste, religion, political affiliation, is supporting the cause of Telangana, one man and one party stand out. It is Akbaruddin Owaisi leading AIMIM who enjoys massive support from Muslims of old city Hyderabad. He has now made his stance clear against separate Telangana after maintaining silence on this matter for many months.
So, why does he stand out? To understand his stance, we should go back in time and open our closets.
A little history
Telangana has too many internal problems. The problem they have with Andhras is just one of them. This is not very similar to India under British. Though India had many internal problems, most of them could be solved only when British left. Telanganas want to get away from the rule of Andhras hoping that we fix many of our internal problems.
Telangana was one of the highly feudal societies in the world. Nehru once referred to Hyderabad state as ‘ancient feudal relic’. Zamindars, Zagirdars, Doras ruled the region with an iron fist. Bonded-labor, slavery, and deep-rooted caste system are endemic to this region. In addition to these problems, Telangana Hindus have a checkered history with Telangana Muslims.
Telangana gets its distinct character because of Nizam Rule and yet its love-hate relationship with Nizam and his legacy hasn’t been exactly romantic. It was mostly tumultuous. The last Nizam was an autocratic and ruthless ruler. His regime instilled and perpetuated the feudal system. His administration grew by taxing its citizens heavily and keeping a close check on its zamindars.
Muslims of Hyderabad State fell into two categories. An extremely small section of foreign origin Muslim rulers accompanied by high caste Hindu converts; and a huge population of Muslims who were converted from lower caste Hindus. Life for these lower caste Muslims was not very different from lower caste Hindus except that they escaped certain harsh treatment from the King in certain cases.
Telangana has a history of many peasant revolts against their Nizams. More than 70 such revolts are recorded. In 1940s, the ordinary men and women of Telangana, including Muslims from villages, took up arms to fight the Nizam. It was backed by communist ideology. Telangana continues to owe its culture to such rebellions. Some of the current ballads still carry the colors and hues from the times of those struggles against Nizam.
After India became independent, there were three kingdoms which had not joined Indian Union. The kings had had not made up their mind. Those were Kashmir, Junagadh, and Hyderabad. Hyderabad was the largest kingdom in India, larger than even the island of Great Britain. The city of Hyderabad was renowned in the world and was considered one of the greatest cities. While Kashmir was predominantly Muslim ruled by a Hindu King, Junagadh and Hyderabad were predominantly Hindu ruled by Muslim Kings.
Whereas it was a foregone conclusion that Kashmir would go to Pakistan because it was predominantly Muslim and it was right on the border, India did not allow Junagadh and Hyderabad to join Pakistan or stay independent. The reasons were two-fold. They were predominantly Hindu, and their kingdoms were surrounded by India on all sides making it impractical to be independent.
Osman Ali Khan, Asaf Jah VII, also known as Nizam of Hyderabad toyed with the idea of being an independent country for almost a year. He wanted to join the Commonwealth without having to join India or Pakistan. Nizam even approached UN to broker a deal so that he could remain independent. Meanwhile, Qasim Razvi, the leader of Razakars, President of Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM), and a strong advisor of Nizam started a campaign to join Pakistan, against the wishes of most Hindus and some Muslims who were keen on joining India. Communist uprising had armed the villagers to take on Nizam. To suppress the revolt from Indian peasants, Qasim Razvi used a 150,000 strong Razakars to brutalize people of Telangana. Razakars went about killing many Hindus in the kingdom, sparing the Muslim population.
Sardar Vallabhai Patel, the Iron Man of India, used the opportunity to send his forces from various directions to annex Hyderabad. It was a swift movement. The forces of Nizam did not stand a chance. The Indian forces defeated Nizam on 17 September 1948, nearly a year after India became independent. On 18 September Nizam succumbed. Nehru left a small pay package for Nizam, who eventually left India for Turkey. Qasim Razvi was jailed. MIM was banned because of its position on joining Pakistan and for creating Razakars.
After integration into India, Telangana Hindus avenged the Razakar brutality by targeting ordinary Telangana Muslims. They went about killing them in various parts of Hyderabad state. These Muslims were mostly converts from lower caste Hindus who were living closely with Hindus. The regions of Sholapur, Karnataka and some parts of Telangana saw extreme brutality. Many of these Muslims fled those regions and took refuge in the old city of Hyderabad. That’s how we got very high concentration of Muslims in the old city of Hyderabad.
After few years, All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) came out of the vestiges of MIM representing the Muslims who are now living in the old city of Hyderabad. Salahuddin Owaisi, son of Abdul Wahed Owaisi who revived Majlis, has slowly transformed this party away from the tarnished image of Razakar carnage and support of Pakistan.
The old city of Hyderabad has become the bastion of Majlis, and AIMIM has ensured this population is kept aloof from mainstream society and politics, thereby ensuring their unwavering loyalty. Salahuddin Owaisi became MP 6 times and his son continues to win. The appeasement and neglect policies of Andhra Pradesh further helped in ghettoization of the old city.
The Hindus and Muslims of Hyderabad did not live in harmony for many decades. Many riots broke out during the first forty years. The last major riot took place in 1990. The most curious aspect of these riots is that they took place mostly during Congress rule and not during TDP rule. Also, after 1990 the riots almost stopped – they didn’t take place even after Babri Masjid demolition.
However, the Muslims in the rest of Telangana do not carry the same aloofness as that of Hyderabadi Muslims. They have remained a part of the mainstream society and politics; and the bonhomie with Hindus prevails. Telanganas continue to celebrate common festivals of Hindus and Muslims unlike in most parts of India.
Telangana agitation: Muslims
AIMIM’s stance on Telangana is shared by the people of old city in Hyderabad. According to a poll conducted recently even before AIMIM made its stance clear, nearly 68% of Muslims living in old city opposed separate Telangana. That opposition could be high now after AIMIM has spelled its stance.
The numbers in entire Telangana show a different story – nearly 85% of Muslims in the region support separate Telangana, including majority support from new city of Hyderabad. In the recent Telangana agitation, many Muslims intellectuals, student groups, political outfits have all professed their support for a separate Telangana, while AIMIM is the only party that continues to stay aloof holding its vote bank close to itself. Also, the fact that BJP endorses Telangana Movement is not something that AIMIM likes and cites it as a reason for the opposition.
It’s funny that while some Telanganas and many Andhras fear that Muslims would dominate in the new Telangana and use it as a reason for opposing its formation, AIMIM has cited the upsurge of Hindutva to oppose separate Telangana.
Status of Muslims in Telangana
As Sachar Committee has reported, it is clear that Muslims in Telangana have been discriminated against like in rest of India. They are marginalized from many spheres. They continue to be the poorest, closer to SC/STs.
It is the duty of all Telanganas to ensure the Muslims of Telangana are better represented, that they join the mainstream, through education and employment. Reservations for Muslims in education and employment as prescribed by the Ranganath Mishra Commission are a must to alleviate the current situation.
Telangana Hindu-Muslim issues
The history of Hindu and Muslims in Telangana is a problem of Telanganas. They have to deal with them on their. People from outside, who have absolutely no clue what this checkered history has been should avoid making vacuous and inane statements. People like Mohan Babu, who are absolutely clueless on the topic, have said that Hyderabad belongs to Muslims and that we should leave the city to them. That foolish actor does not realize one thing. We don’t claim cities to a religion or a caste; we claim it to a region. We don’t say Chennai belongs to Hindus, we say it belongs to Tamils. We don’t say Pune belongs to Brahmins, we say it belongs to Marathas. Here Tamils, Marathas or Telanganas comprise a region, and that region includes all kinds of people, including Hindus, Muslims, lower caste, upper caste men and women.
Andhras and Hyderabadi Muslims
Some detractors have commented that MIM is the only sane voice from Telangana. This comes from Andhras who don’t understand ABCD of Muslims and their lifestyles. Most of Telangana is quite heterogeneous where Muslims live in every village and towns, maintaining their distinct identity, though living close to Hindus. Telangana culture has its roots in Hinduism and Islam.
Why did MIM become so dear to Andhras all of a sudden? That’s because Andhras want to find the chinks in the armor of Telangana agitation. This newfound love is a momentary reaction to find flaws in Telangana Movement, not a real affection to Hyderabadi Muslims or MIM.
Every such word of endearment should be seen with caution. While proposing joint-capital Andhras ask Telanganas to take the old city while they retain the new city. They ridicule Telanganas for the influence of Urdu on their dialect.
It is clear that Muslims of Telangana have lost out in this merger, as much as lower castes of Telanganas. No Muslim of Telangana should trust such overtures of new-found love from Andhras who have a track record of completely suppressing and oppressing Telanganas, and that included Muslims of Telangana.
Political angle: What does Owaisi want?
In the order of preference this is what Owaisi wants:
1. Separate Hyderabad
2. Separate Telangana
3. United Andhra Pradesh
Option 1: If Hyderabad becomes a Union Territory, it is bound to become a state very soon. In Hyderabad, Muslims constitute nearly 40% making it second state in India after Jammu and Kashmir with a substantial Muslim population. In the state of Hyderabad, Owaisi will be the king or the king-maker, the kind of power none of his predecessors or none of Muslims politicians in India have enjoyed so far. Option 2: A separate Telangana would provide more sops, incentives and better representation to Muslims in Hyderabad but it is still not as desirable as option 1. Option 3: It is the status quo and the least desirable option for Owaisi. He doesn’t stand to gain anything from this.
A separate Hyderabad (option 1) is possible only through support of United Andhra lobby. Therefore he supports United Andhra and opposes separate Telangana. To a naive observer, it looks like he is choosing option 3, but he is actually aiming for option 1 knowing very well that option 3 is now invalid. So, if the United Andhra lobby fails and separate Telangana happens, then he will get option 2 without even trying for it.
MIM and Telangana Movement
Though nearly 85% of Muslims in Telangana support the Telangana cause, exclusion of Hyderabadi Muslims is not in the best interests of future Telangana. Keeping old city of Hyderabad aloof from regional politics and aspirations is not in the best interest of Hyderabadi Muslims. Telangana should see an inclusive growth where all people including Muslims of old city Hyderabad are prosperous. We need to create a harmonious society based on inclusive growth.
The current leaders of Telangana agitation should ensure they approach Mr Owaisi and get him to back the movement. They should make overtures to Mr. Owaisi so that he abandons his opposition to separate Telangana to join the movement wholeheartedly.