By Ayub Khan
December 12, 2009
As the Telangana cauldron boils over moves are already afoot to paint the dispute in communal colors and make the region's Muslims the proverbial sacrificial lamb. The mainstream media has been a party in this mis-characterization of the entire Muslim community as opposed to the the separate state. The two most widely repeated allegations are : 1)The Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) is stridently opposed to the concept of a separate Telangana; 2) Telangana Muslims have not played any role whatsoever in the movement for separate state. However, an analysis of the historical and contemporary trends reveals that both these assertions are incorrect.
Since the amalgamation of the erstwhile Hyderabad state in the Indian union in 1948 and the its subsequent breaking apart in three linguistic states the Muslims of the region have suffered the most. They were resigned to their fate and accepted the new regional configuration. They sought to protect and advance their interests in the existing framework. In this endeavour sections of the leadership sought support in all political and social organizations which appeared to be non-communal.
The Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen once it was revived after a nine year hiatus in 1957 declared itself neutral when the first signs of the Telangana issue began to be observed during the 1960s. The party did send some signals that Muslims could be worse off in a separate state due to the communal character of some of the leaders of the separatist movement.
However, it announced that the party would give political support to anyone who would support its 14 point charter which included: the appointment of a committee to enquire into Muslim backwardness; an assurance that no changes will be made in the Muslim personal laws; recognition of Urdu as the second regional language; representation of Muslims in services proportionate to their population; allotment of houses to constructed by the State Housing Board on the basis of Muslim population, etc.
With no overtures coming from the Telangana movement leaders the MIM made a demand, praised by political scientists as a brilliant one, that in the case of separation Hyderabad and Secunderabad should be constituted as a Union Territory.
The Majlis' cold stance over Telangana is also related to the personal antipathy between it’s and the movement's leaders going back to the 1950s. Dr. Chenna Reddy, the erstwhile Congress chief minister and at one point Telangana movement leader, had been instrumental in weeding out Muslims from the state services and had uneasy relations with the Muslim community. Their relations were further worsened when the movement agitation turned into communal conflagrations in which the Muslims faced the brunt.
Since the revival of the movement under the banner of Telangana Rashtriya Samiti in 2001 the MIM has once again repeated its earlier stance that it would remain neutral in the issue and would offer support provided that Muslim interests are protected. Their overtures did not get a positive reply from the TRS and the late Sultan Salahuddin Owaisi said that Hyderabad be turned into a Union Territory and Warangal, the capital of Kakatiya Dynasty, be made into a capital of Telangana.
In the current scenario MIM's stance is that the party would remain neutral in the dispute and would be willing to offer any support only if there is a clear cut offer for Muslim development and the protection of the sectional interests of the community.
Muslim Support for Telangana
Distinct from the MIM stance there has been a parallel historical trend in the Telangana region Muslims who support bifurcation. The All India Majlis-e-Tameer-e-Millat under the leadership of the late Khaleelullah Hussaini and Ghouse Khamooshi believed that Muslims would indeed be better off in a separate Telangana state. Speaking in 1970 its then Secretary Tahir Ali Khan told a German scholar, 'I can't speak to a minister from Andhra, he does not speak our language.'
Politicians like the Congress' M.M. Hashim, a close confidante of Chenna Reddy, former MP and home minister, also urged the Muslims to support Telangana. 'We must not make the mistake of remaining aloof...We must fight for Telangana,’ he had said in 1970.
Consequently, a section of Telangana Muslims always remained wedded to the concept of a separate Telangana.
While the issue remained forgotten during the 1980s and 1990s it was Muslim leaders like the late Amanullah Khan, who quit MIM and formed the Majlis Bachao Tehreek, who kept it alive by speaking out for separate statehood in public forums. The Majlis Bachao Tehreek now supports separate Telangana.
At the revival of the movement since 2001 many Muslims joined the party. This is evidenced by massive support shown towards its leaders like Nayeeni Narasimha Reddy who was elected from the Musheerabad assembly constituency. TRS chief K. Chandrashekhar Rao’s numerous promises to the Muslim community also had a brief spell on the community. He promised to make Urdu a second language and gave adequate representation while allotting tickets. He did appoint one Muslim Al Attas to the legislative council but otherwise did not keep his promise of giving adequate tickets to the community. Doubts about the party's sincerity were further raised over the inclusion of communal minded elements in the party. One particular prick in the eye was Ale Narendra, the MP from Medak, who had many a part to play in the stoking of communal violence during the Ganesha festival riots. He later quit the party and was elected on the Congress ticket. Another eyesore was a party general secretary who was the Hyderabad pranth chief of RSS and has never actually quit the Sangh. Apart from hi profile leaders several other RSS and VHP activists are members of the TRS.
Despite the obvious unease a section of the Muslims have remained with the TRS. When a hunger striking KCR was hospitalized a delegation of Muslim leaders comprising Iqbal Ahmed Engineer (columnist and intellectual), Mushtaq Malik (Tehreek Muslim Shabban), leaders from the Jamaat-e-Islami affiliated MPJ, etc. visited him and offered their solidarity to the separate state cause. They later organized a protest in the city centre of Charminar. Several such demonstrations, organized by Muslims, were held in all ten districts of Telangana.
When the separate state of Telangana is carved out, whenever that is, the Muslims would be at a demographic advantage. Their proportion will increase to 12.43 % from 9.16 % in a United Andhra.
Census of India, 2001
While Telangana Muslims gain demographically the same would not be true for Andhra Muslims. Their numbers would reduce to 7%. Since there is no emergent political leadership among Andhra Muslims how they will fare in a new Andhra remains to be seen. Their security in the coming months and years of heightened tension remains an issue of concern. There is a high chance that might be targeted as they are an easy scapegoat.
In terms of political representation the number of Muslims in legislatures is also expected to grow. The relevance of MIM would also grow given the importance of small parties in small states as experienced by Jharkhand in this fast paced era of coalition politics. It currently has seven MLAs and one MP. Other parties like Majlis Bachao Tehreek might also be able to make some progress in winning assembly seats.
The gains in terms of representation might be offset by the chance that a separate state gives to BJP. In the present assembly there is only one BJP MLA. In a separate Telangana their numbers might also increase especially if KCR forms a coalition with the NDA---an idea which he is not averse too.
Leaving apart the representation gains there are number of questions which need to be answered. What will be the status of Urdu in Telangana? Would it be given a second language status? What would happen to the reservations currently offered to the state's Muslims?
Even more importantly: what would happen to the communal peace? The relative peace of the last two decades has largely been due to the availability of jobs and the good economic scenario. In the separate state there is a chance that there will be a capital flight both by the Andhras and the MNCs. Historical experience has shown that the potential for violence is most potent in times of economic downturn.
The writer is a Phd candidate in Political Science at a Canadian University