Telangana: In a “state” of communal conflicts

By Mazher Hussain,

Recurrence of communal riots in Hyderabad has become part of electoral package with conflicts engineered during the year preceding elections to polarize communities and reap electoral benefits. Most conflicts occur in areas with a history of communal discord but facilitate communal polarization to varying degrees in other places in the vicinity. It is generally rare for communal violence to break out in areas without previous history of communal tensions.

Some places in Andhra Pradesh other than Hyderabad also witness occasional conflicts but most of these are located in the Telangana region, a few in Rayalaseema and negligible in Coastal Andhra. The extent of social, cultural and linguistic integration between Hindus and Muslims in Andhra region is the prime reason for the absence of any serious discord. On the other hand, in Telangana, there is marked disparity between Hindus and Muslims linguistically, culturally and socially and little interaction between them, especially in conflict prone areas. Stories of atrocities committed by the Razakars during the rule of the last Nizam (that covered only the Telangana region) still come in handy for Hindutva outfits to communalise people in the region. Muslims in Telangana too have memories of atrocities committed on them in the wake of Police Action in 1948 and a sense of their general disempowerment thereafter.

Contrary to the expected pattern, communal conflicts in Andhra Pradesh have started from as early as 2010 and not a year before the 2014 elections. Though these are mostly in Telangana region, one is amazed to find communal violence also taking place in cities and towns without any history of communal tensions. Examples are Sangareddy, Karimnagar, Kamareddy and others. The design appears clear: a long term plan to polarize Hindu and Muslim communities in as extended an area of Telangana as possible for maximum electoral benefits during the 2014 General elections.

A similar situation was witnessed from late 1960s to mid-90s in Hyderabad where communal conflicts and riots had become regular phenomena. The general talk and allegations have been that Majlis Intehadul Muslimeen (MIM) was responsible for most of these conflicts and BJP (and its earlier avatar, Jana Sangh) accounting for the rest, purely for electoral benefits. The fact is MIM certainly made phenomenal electoral gains during this period and continues to benefit till date from no representation till early 1960s to as much as 45 Corporators and their Mayor, seven representatives in the State Assembly and one Member of Parliament at present. Similarly, BJP also gained by bagging the MP seat from Secunderabad thrice and winning some MLA and Corporator positions in the city.

BJP: New political hopes, new social costs

Now BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) in association with a plethora of Hindutva outfits seems to be embarking on the strategy of communal polarization for electoral gains covering the entire Telangana regions while MIM had restricted itself only to the old city areas of Hyderabad. This is the reason why riots are being witnessed even in cities and towns without any history of communal conflicts. A variety of instigations are being attempted consistently like damages to Ganesh statues, targeted attacks on youth of a particular community leading to one death; assaults on businessmen transporting cattle that led to killing of four during 2012; throwing animal flesh in both Mandirs and Masjids (non-discriminatory!) to instigate riots, conflicts over religious flags and buntings etc. The latest and potentially the most dangerous is the controversy over the Bhagyalaxmi temple that is constructed abutting Charminar, a historical monument. According to police investigations, members of Hindutva outfits were found to be responsible for most of these instigations.

BJP was always a bit player in Andhra Pradesh and presently has only 3 MLAs in the State Assembly. But by providing unequivocal support to the strong sentiment for a separate Telangana (in a situation when Congress is ambiguous about the issue) and creation of communal conflicts in as many places as possible, BJP seems to be trying to achieve electoral gains in the region on the basis of garnering support from votaries for a separate Telangana along with polarization of Hindus and Muslims just like it gained in Karnataka on the basis of strong support from the Lingayats supplemented by communal polarization through sustained attacks on churches and Muslims in different parts of Karnataka. In such a situation, riots in many different places in Telangana are to be expected in the run-up to the 2014 elections and perhaps even beyond.

Majlis: The Catch 22 situation

Though Majlis gained from polarization of Muslim vote, it soon realized that it cannot go beyond winning 4 to 5 Assembly seats only on the basis of Muslims and started actively reaching out to garner votes of dalits and Lambadas (a tribal community). By making a Dalit the Mayor of Hyderabad in mid-80s and by giving tickets to Dalits and tribals to contest Corporation elections, Majlis was successful in mobilizing some dalit and tribal vote and was able to gain 2 to 3 additional seats in the state assembly and 4 more Corporator positions in Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC).

Most of the so-called Hindu – Muslim riots are actually riots between Muslims and dalits or backward classes. With the increased dependence of Majlis on the Dalit and tribal votes to improve its tally in the assembly and GHMC, any riot now becomes counterproductive for Majlis. No wonder Majlis has been showing remarkable restraint even under most extreme provocations from BJP and its allies during the last 3 years. However, with continued provocations of increasing viciousness by the Hindutva forces, if Majlis keeps silent for long, then it could earn the wrath of the Muslim community and lose its hold and the vote. In such an unenviable catch 22 situation two different trends seem to be emerging within Majlis.

The first one is of taking on the Hindutva forces. The provocative speech by Akbaruddin Owaisi of MIM at Nirmal on 20 December 2012 is a manifestation of this confrontationist trend that seems to be emerging and could lead to tensions and further the interest of the BJP. The other is the prevailing approach of ignoring the provocations and alliance with other communities for greater electoral gains. But given the fact that communal conflicts are an electoral forte for the BJP, provocations from the Hindutva forces could continue and spread eventually forcing Majlis to give up on the prospects of increased electoral gains and act to retain its core Muslim vote. In such a situation, it would be prudent to be prepared for a bumper harvest of conflicts- irrespective of whether Telangana is formed or not and also beyond 2014 elections.

Onus on people

Given the uncertain political scenario in the state due to a variety of factors, the government seems to lack the required will to effectively check trouble mongers, as is evident from the spate of incidents occurring regularly for the past three years. In such a situation, it appears that people will have to come forward to prevent violence or face consequences.

Even though political interests instigate conflicts, but riots do not happen and cannot continue till common people get carried away and engage in targeted violence against members of other community. Hyderabad also suffered for years from bouts of such mass hysteria but after so many riots, killings and loss of property, members of the public from both communities in Hyderabad have begun to understand the role of political parties and are no longer becoming easy prey. Consequently communal riots in Hyderabad have come down substantially.

How frequent and deadly will the conflicts be in Telangana region and for how many years will depend on how soon the people of the region realize the role of political interests in keeping the conflicts alive by using common people themselves as their cannon fodder. It took the people of Hyderabad over 30 years to gain this realization.

Mazher Hussain is Executive Director of COVA, a national network working on issues of communal harmony in India and peace in South Asia.