TDP’s electoral losses during the last two elections, in 2004 and 2009, were mainly attributed to its failure to secure Muslim votes.

After breakup with BJP Andhra CM Naidu out to woo Muslims ahead of 2019 election
news Politics Wednesday, August 22, 2018 - 16:26

The ruling Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in Andhra Pradesh is doing its best to put up a Muslim-friendly face ahead of the elections, after it parted ways with the BJP. ‘Nara hamara’, meaning AP Chief Minister Nara Chandrababu Naidu is a man of the Muslims, is a catchword promoted in the TDP boardroom in the runup to a state-level convention of Muslims slated for August 28 in AP’s Guntur district.

The convention aims at projecting Naidu as a protector of Muslim interests by trying to pacify their ruffled feelings. The TDP has been blowing hot and cold towards Muslims ever since Naidu took over the party reins from founder and matinee idol NT Rama Rao. He is viewed as anti-Muslims while in the company of the BJP and, in contrast, a secular figure when he breaks ties with the party pursuing the Hindutva agenda.

History reveals that the TDP is certain to face the wrath of Muslims when it aligns with the BJP and gain their support when there is no alliance with the BJP. This is how Naidu oscillates between the two diametrically opposed philosophies since 1995, during his tenure as Chief Minister of undivided Andhra Pradesh and in the successor state.

Muslims play key role

The support of Muslims minorities, constituting 9-11% in AP, is crucial to any mainstream party fighting for power in the state. Surveys carried out by independent agencies during the previous election revealed that Muslims would decide the fate of candidates in 22-25 Assembly segments out of 175 and could influence polls in another 10 constituencies in the four districts of Rayalaseema and another four coastal districts from Nellore to Krishna. The TDP’s electoral losses during the last two elections in succession, in 2004 and 2009, were mainly attributed to its failure to secure Muslim votes.

Muslims used to fondly call Naidu ‘Maulana Chandrababu’ (Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was an icon for Muslims during the freedom movement) for his perceived role as a defender of minorities even while sailing with the BJP-led NDA until 1999. His support to the BJP-led NDA government did not prevent him from seeking the dismissal of the then Gujarat Chief Minister and current Prime Minister Narendra Modi by holding him responsible for the massacre of Muslims during the communal riots in Gujarat.

However, Naidu began to be viewed with suspicion by Muslims after he forged a post-poll alliance with the BJP in 1999. Subsequently, he paid a heavy price by losing Muslim support in the 2004 elections that marked a spectacular comeback by the Congress led by the late YS Rajasekhar Reddy.

During his alliance with the NDA he was accused of executing the BJP agenda by getting the police to raid madrasas – educational institutions of Muslims – on the charge of harbouring Islamic terrorists. This forced all the Muslim outfits to come under a common platform with a single point agenda of defeating the Naidu government. Denying the appeal for 3% reservations from Muslims aggravated their anger further. As a result, YSR became the saviour of Muslims by implementing 4% reservations.

Muslims behind YSR Congress in 2014

Comparing Naidu and his then bête noire YSR from a Muslim point of view, Habeebur Rahman, president of the state branch of the Muslim United Forum from Vijayawada, recounted his experience about scholarships for Muslim day scholars pursuing intermediate. When Chandrababu was CM during 1999-2004, Muslim leaders, according to Rahman, requested him to hike the meagre yearly scholarship of Rs 90 per student, but the plea failed to become a reality. But YSR, soon after he became the CM later, promptly conceded the request and increased the amount to Rs 3,000.

YSR’s contribution to the well-being of Muslims came in handy for his son and YSR Congress president YS Jaganmohan Reddy in 2014 as a majority of Muslims sided with his party. It is a different story that Naidu could script his success story during that period without the support of Muslims by riding the crest of PM Modi’s popularity and the Andhra sentiment.

Lending credence to the fears of Muslims about the BJP’s influence on Naidu’s party, the TDP gave only one Assembly seat for Muslims and lost it in 2014, leading to no representation from Muslims in the first state Legislative Assembly of the bifurcated Andhra Pradesh. In contrast, when Muslims requested Jagan Reddy to allot 10 seats for their community, YSR Congress fielded candidates in four segments and won them all.

Will Naidu win them back?

As the maxim – better late than never – goes, Naidu has begun to woo Muslims to make up for the loss his party is likely to suffer due to Jana Sena leader Pawan Kalyan parting ways with the TDP. The Pawan factor is expected to make a dent in the TDP’s vote bank in the Kapu community and educated youth who contributed to the latter’s winning in 2014.

Naidu’s doles for Muslims include anointment of NMD Farooq as Chairman of the AP Legislative Council, proposal to establish an Urdu university in Kurnool district, and hike in honorarium for Maulvis and Mouzans engaged in non-revenue generating masjids. Besides, word doing the rounds is that Naidu may go in for a cabinet expansion with a representation from Muslims soon.

It is moot, however, whether all these doles will cajole Muslims into owning Naidu as ‘Nara hamara’ in 2019.

Also read: Teacher accused of sexual assault paraded naked, thrashed by mob in Andhra

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