18 nov 2011
HYDERABAD: Nowhere have the Muslims felt more at home in India than in Hyderabad. This is not just because of sheer numbers – 40 per cent of the city’s population is Muslim (around 27 per cent in Greater Hyderabad) – but also because a culture that is a synthesis of local and traditions derived from Islam dominates the region. But in the aftermath of the integration of Hyderabad into India it was not like this. The years that followed 1948 were years of confused identity for the Hyderabadi Muslim. Many migrated to Pakistan, other affluent sections to UK, USA and even Canada. A large number of those who stayed back withdrew into their own shell, losing confidence in the process, regressing economically and perceiving themselves as second class citizens. Over time they realized that the traditions of secular India were strong and so was the case in Andhra Pradesh. For them the problem was now of coping with the Telugu culture. Used to Urdu/Dakhni, biryani and Irani chai they knew nothing of idli, vada, sambar and dosa (this was of course true of all the local Hindus as well). Although overrun by an outside culture, the Muslims bore it stoically without any murmur. This was helped not the least by the fact that the outside culture did not swamp overnight. It was gradual and even the migrants themselves (especially those of the second generation) picked up the local culture and became part of the Dakhni milieu.
When the first Telangana movement happened in 1969, the local Muslim stood neutral seeing it as a battle of Telugus. This was not a battle they had any stakes in, they felt. Ironically, it was after the Telangana movement that things started looking up for the Muslim masses though it had nothing to do with regional aspirations. Rather the Gulf boom – which resulted from the rise in global oil prices from 1973 onwards – opened up the doors for fresh opportunities for the Muslims. This came with apron strings – more money but broken families, marriages of young girls with Arab sheikhs etc but it resulted in some sort of boom for at least sections of the community, with jobs and more incomes for many. The Middle East connection continues.
A lot of water has passed through the Krishna and Godavari in these intervening years between 1969 -2011. Muslims are now actively debating whether it is in their interest for status quo to continue in Andhra Pradesh or not. There are no clear answers. A large section feels that Telangana would help to propel Muslims to a better economic status: if not anything then for the fact that in percentages they would be higher in numbers than in present day Andhra Pradesh. This would give them better leverage in political decision making than before and this would lead to economic empowerment. At present Muslims of Hyderabad and Telangana can create no common platform with Muslims in the rest of Andhra because there is nothing in common with them other than religion. Most Muslims who live in Andhra region are Telugu speaking unlike the Hyderabadi Muslims or those of Telangana origin. A few years ago some astute political pundits in the community realized that Muslims would gain by seeking a separate state of Hyderabad. In an independent Hyderabad they would be the largest single political force because of sheer numbers. In India’s electoral system of first past the post, 30 per cent is enough to sweep you to power. But soon the idea was given up because of the realization that this would lead to religious polarizations: with Muslims gaining power, a countervailing Hindu power would also gain strength. This would lead to tensions in day-to-day life and communal problems and it would be a case of perpetually living on the edge. Hyderabad incidentally has been free of major communal riots since 1989. As a result of this rise of Hindutva power, Muslims could potentially be worse off. In fact in the last two years, there has been an exacerbation of tensions in the old city of Hyderabad but things at present are under control The Muslims may have given up the idea of Hyderabad as a separate state, but many aof them favour Telangana seeing in the dismantling of Andhra Pradesh that great opportunity. There is no leading group of Muslims that have been fighting for Telangana but the pleaders include Zaheed Ali Khan, the owner of an Urdu newspaper Siasat who had contested the last Lok Sabha polls from Hyderabad. Many other educated sections of Muslims support him -directly or tacitly. More than Telangana their concern seems to be focused on change: the old city of Hyderabad and even newer sections of the city are dominated by the Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) which controls Hyderabad’s Lok Sabha seat and seven assembly seats. MIM has had an alliance with the Congress, but many critical of the party feel that the leading lights now control a large economic activity in the city and perpetuate things as they are. And this is the status quo they want to change. They feel that with Telangana, new alignments would emerge and large sections of Muslims in the old city whom opportunities have bypassed will benefit and get out of the ghetto mentality. The Jamait Islami Hind (JIH), a national organization has also been active in propagating the cause of Telangana.
But the MIM has been chary of endorsing the idea of Telangana. MIM’s boss Assaduddin Owaisi strongly believes that creation of Telangana would enable Hindutva elements to gain strength and lead to perpetual communal problems. This would make life for the common Muslims difficult especially in rural areas and he cites instances of some recent riots to make his point. Many others who are on the same wavelength as Owaisi agree. They point out that just because Muslims are in large numbers Hyderabad they have become victims of propoganda and the city is portrayed (demonised) as a terror hub. Every terror attack in India is pereceived to have emanated from Pakistan or Hyderabad. This bias was seen in its extreme in the Mecca Masjid blast case, where Muslim youth were nabbed for bombing the historic mosque. Later the plot was found to have been executed by Hindu fundamentalist forces but the youth were let off only after bearing harassments and torture.
However, lately Owaisi seems to be under pressure to take a pro-Telangana line or at least not take an anti-Telangana stand. To confuse the issue he has said that his party would not be against a new state that would amalgamate Telangana and Rayalaseema. Politically that would be difficult but MIM’s argument is that districts of Rayalaseema were originally ceded by the Nizams to the British. So the culture of the Muslims in these districts is the same as that of those in Hyderabad.
In conclusion, in the ultimate analysis Muslims of Hyderabad are divided: they are still not on the same page on whether they want a new state or not. But, yes, like everybody else they want a better deal in life and are hoping for the best.
Kingshuk Nag, TNN Nov 11, 2011