The BJP’s inroads into Hyderabad’s recent civic elections raised eyebrows and there have been a lot of assessments and apprehensions. The incredible victory is significant in the context of the heavy defeat of apparently formidable ruling TRS as well as anxieties of the future of communally-sensitive Hyderabad society. However, there are clear reasons for this growth of Hindutva forces, like disappointment with the ruling dispensation, lack of a viable alternative, and highly charged communal propaganda prior to the election.
For a long time, there has been an impression that Hindutva forces will not be able to gain strength, even a foothold, in South, unlike North India, thanks to the glorious traditions of anti-caste, anti-Brahmin, and Communist influence in this part of the country, coupled with the idea of separate Dravida identity. More so in Hyderabad with its cosmopolitan culture for over four centuries. However, with the Sangh elements gaining respectability with their arrest in Emergency and participation in Janata experiment as well as ever-increasing ongoing communalization of the entire country since the early 1980s, allowed them entry into South. Significantly, Hyderabad with a history of four centuries of Muslim rule, never ever allowed Hindu communal forces in a big way, despite communal flare-ups at times.
Thus the successful journey of the Bharatiya Janata Party in electoral politics, particularly in Hyderabad, should be understood at least at three – historical, political, and socio-cultural levels.
The BJP or its predecessor- Jana Sangh or its earlier form in Telangana Arya Samaj and Hindu Mahasabha were seen as a party of feudal and Marwaris till the 1980s. Only in recent decades, it began cultivating the constituencies of backward castes and aspirants of political power. This political expansion was possible with the overall growth of communal passions in society and culture.
In the recently held elections of Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation, the BJP raised its strength to 48 wards from 4 in 2016. This spectacular victory is followed by an earlier victory in the Dubbak Assembly constituency where a by-election was held last month. In the erstwhile Andhra Pradesh (1956-2014) and subsequently divided states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, the trajectory of Sangh Parivar is worth studying, particularly in the context of the remarkable seat share the BJP secured in 2020 GHMC elections.
The BJP’s predecessor, Jana Sangh never fared well either in electoral politics or in society. In 1962, it contested 70 seats and lost all and in 1967 it secured only three seats. Again it could not win any seat till 1983, by which time its name changed to Bharatiya Janata Party. In the 1983 elections, it gained three seats – one in Andhra (M Venkaiah Naidu) and two in Telangana. From then till the 2014 elections when the state was bifurcated, it had to be content with not more than three seats, or even less in any election. In 2014, for the first time, it got five seats in 119- strong Telangana and four in 175-strong Andhra Pradesh. In the 2019 elections, in Andhra Pradesh, it contested all 175 but could not get a single seat, and in Telangana contested all but one (118) and could win only one seat.
Given this dismal record, the present victory seems incredible.
But, the failure of the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi in keeping its promises and consequent discontent among people, particularly youth, provided fertile ground for Hindutva forces to mobilize new sections into their fold.
At the same time, the TRS with its autocratic and undemocratic policies and actions decimated Congress and almost all parliamentary and non-parliamentary opposition creating a political vacuum. The new rulers, who gained power over the tide of a popular people’s movement for 14 years, successfully scuttled all people’s movements and even disallowed a popular protest place. The BJP, with its financial and political power, could easily enter this vacuum created by the TRS rulers. The BJP could also successfully make use of the MIM (Majlis Ittehadul Musalmeen) factor as some of the leaders of the latter made rabid communal speeches that only match with the BJP.
Thus whatever the BJP gained should be read as a negative vote towards the TRS and MIM but not a positive vote towards the BJP.
Not to leave any stone unturned, the BJP also roped in Union cabinet ministers and chief ministers of other states into the election campaign, making it a high decibel electioneering. Charged idiom like surgical strikes on the old city, changing the name of the city, initiating the campaign from a disputed, fake historical temple abutting Charminar, open anti-Muslim sloganeering, contrasted by MIM’s open anti-Hindu postures, added fuel to the fire.
The TRS also entered this communal campaign with its mouthpiece daily newspaper presenting KCR in traditional Hindu robes with a banner, “this is real Hindutva” (Incidentally, the first digital version of the newspaper had “Hindutva” which was later replaced as “Hinduism” in the print edition!)
Earlier also, the chief minister K Chandrashekar Rao played dangerous tactics of appeasing the central BJP leadership. He was the first person to praise demonetization and the GST bill. In fact, he convened Telangana Assembly on a Sunday to pass the GST bill to become the first state to accept it. He openly boasted that he was more Hindu than even the BJP CMs as he performed more yagas and rituals than them. He offered his chief ministerial official throne to his Hindu guru even before he took it. Caste divisions, discrimination, and oppression increased under his rule to unprecedented levels and there was no official action against the perpetrators.
Apart from this ‘more loyal than the king’ attitude towards Hindutva, he also antagonized several sections of people who fought for separate Telangana with aspirations including water, employment, and fair share in financial allocation. Particularly, educated, unemployed youth were irked by KCR’s attitude towards employment generation.
Though the elections were of a civic body, the entire campaign discussed civil amenities, issues like water, sewerage, roads, transport, and power very less and revolved around communal issues, leaving a number of potential dangers open.
If the entry of Hindutva forces into Hyderabad is any indication, the future of Hyderabad as well as Telangana is frightening.
The author is a literary critic, journalist, public speaker and translator for the last four decades with about 25 books in original Telugu and as many in translation from English to Telugu to his credit.
Views are personal.