Hyderabad hadn’t seen a communally charged election campaign in a while. This returned with the BJP’s A-listers descending onto the city, with a symbolic visit to Bhagyanagar temple at Charminar, to campaign for the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) election.
“No election is a small election,” Amit Shah said upon asking why the party was campaigning vehemently in a local civic election.
Hyderabad’s local corporation election saw a line-up of BJPs stars campaigning in India’s IT Hub. It included Home minister Amit Shah, party president JP Nadda, Union ministers Smriti Irani and Prakash Javadekar, UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath, party MP, and chief of the BJP youth wing Tejasvi Surya, and former Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis.
While corporators who get elected work on civic issues such as regulation of land-use and construction of buildings, keep a check on water supply, upkeep of sanitation, and solid waste management, the BJPs campaign rhetoric suggested otherwise. The attempts at communalising a civic election were evident, where the main talking points of the party were: Surgical strikes in Old City, Pakistan, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, renaming the historical city and making it an IT hub.
‘Bhagyanagar’, as the party claims to be Hyderabad’s original name, stems from the fabled love story between Quli Qutub Shah, founder and ruler of Hyderabad, and a dancer named Bhagamati. After the king married her, he built a new capital city, which he named after his queen. He later renamed the city as Hyderabad once Bhagmati was given the title ‘Hyder Mahal’.
“Some people were asking me if Hyderabad can be renamed as Bhagyanagar. I said why not? I told them we renamed Faizabad as Ayodhya and Allahabad as Prayagraj after BJP came into power. Why can’t Hyderabad be renamed as Bhagyanagar?” said Yogi Adityanath.
The Bhagyalakshmi temple which rests alongside Charminar in Old city, was visited by Amit Shah, JP Nadda, and Yogi Adityanath before they started their campaigns. This temple, however, has been flagged as an unauthorised construction by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) for decades now and rests in a communally sensitive area in Old city.
The party also blamed the ‘nefarious alliance’ between Telangana Rashtra Samithi TRS and All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul-Muslimeen AIMIM for the lack of development in the historic city. The TRS, however, denied any alliance with the AIMIM.
The recent Hyderabad floods was another talking point for the BJP, where they claimed to issue Rs.25,000 as part of flood relief measures, as opposed to the state government’s promise of Rs.10,000.
But that was the only valid infrastructure based talking point by the party for the civic elections. It took another communal turn when Tejasvi Surya compared Asaduddin Owaisi, president of AIMIM, to Mohammed Ali Jinnah, founder of Pakistan. “Owaisi is spreading ‘rabid Islamism’. Owaisi is Jinnah’s new avatar, Every single vote to Owaisi is a vote against India.” accused Tejasvi Surya. He added that Owaisi was allowing Rohingya muslims to settle in the city.
Owaisi responded by challenging Amit Shah to provide a list of “illegal” settlers on the voters list. “If there are 30,000 Rohingyas in the electoral list, what is Home minister Amit Shah doing? Is he sleeping? Isn’t this his job to see how 30,000-40,000 Rohingyas are listed? If the BJP is honest, it should show 1,000 such names by tomorrow.” he asked on Monday.
Taking it a step further, BJPs state president Bandi Sanjay said on Tuesday, “If the BJP is elected to power, it will conduct a ‘surgical strike’ in Old city and remove ‘Rohingya Muslims’, and ‘members of Pakistan’.”
The TRS’ campaign was led by its working president and state Municipal Administration Minister KT Rama Rao, who called out BJP for the surgical strike comments calling them ‘divisive’ and attempts to breach peace in the city. “Vote for decisive policies and not divisive politics.” he said.
In the 2016 GHMC body elections, the ruling TRS had won 99 divisions, the AIMIM had won 44, leaving only seven divisions to other parties.
But after BJPs success in the recent Dubbaka bypolls in the state, the party chose Hyderabad to test the waters and work up its space in the Southern city before heading to Bengal assembly polls. Where Muslims form 30 percent of the population and determine 100 of the 294 seats.
Reiterating Amit Shah’s words, that no election is a small election. For Modi-Shah’s version of BJP, each election is a chance to experiment, re-create, and expand.
Almaas Masood is a visual artist and a student journalist from Hyderabad.