The BJP is on a casting spree in Telangana. Its pre-election production in India’s youngest state borrows liberally from the events surrounding the liberation of Hyderabad on 17 September, 1948. The kingdom of Hyderabad joined the Indian Union 13 months after India gained independence. This was made possible through ‘Operation Polo’, mounted by the Indian forces that marched into Nizam’s territory.
Taking its hero worship of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel a step further, the BJP is positioning itself as the force that will liberate Hyderabad State, which is pretty much modern-day Telangana, from the rule of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS). In the BJP’s book, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the modern-day Sardar Patel. India’s first home minister was against giving Mir Osman Ali Khan, the last Nizam of Hyderabad, an extended reign. Khan wanted to remain an independent monarch, a proposition unacceptable to New Delhi.
This political posturing features TRS chief and Telangana chief minister K Chandrasekar Rao as the modern-day Nizam, underlining his inclination to live in luxury: the chief minister’s official residence-cum-office built at a cost of Rs 40 crore cited as a case in point. On Saturday, BJP chief Amit Shah pointed to KCR ruling from his palatial bungalow instead of going to the official Secretariat, suggesting a monarch-like mindset. Incidentally, on previous occasions, KCR has admitted to admiration for Mir Osman Ali Khan, refuting the view of many historians that the Nizam was a tyrant.
The third important character in the BJP script is Asaduddin Owaisi, who Shah indirectly called a “modern-day Razakar”. This is a deliberate attempt to sully the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) chief as the man who headed the Razakars, a private militia of sorts, who was a lawyer from Latur called Qasim Rizvi. The Razakars were initially set up as a volunteer force (Razakar means volunteer in Arabic) but under Rizvi, it took to crushing any dissent against the Nizam by the freedom fighters. They wanted the Nizam’s rule to continue and despite warning that it could result in bloodshed, took on the Indian forces between 13 and 17 September, 1948.
Historian Mohammed Safiullah, an authority on the rule of the Nizam, pointed out that the precursor to the modern-day MIM was the Majlis-e-Ittehad Hyderabad (MIH). “It was founded in 1927 as a religious and cultural outfit. The MIH was also a counterpoint of sorts to the Hindu outfits such as the RSS, which was founded in 1925,” says Safiullah.
In 1944, after the death of its leader Bahadur Yar Jung under suspicious circumstances due to poisoning at the age of 39, the reigns of MIH passed on to Razakar leader Qasim Rizvi. After Operation Polo, Rizvi was arrested. He was released in 1957 on the condition that he would migrate to Pakistan. The leadership of the MIH, now rechristened as MIM, passed on to Abdul Wahed Owaisi, Asaduddin Owaisi’s grandfather. This is how the Owaisis and the MIM are linked to the brutal Razakars.
The BJP is keen to take advantage of the MIM leader in the Telangana Assembly, Akbaruddin Owaisi’s recent comment asking why it should be presumed that only KCR will become the chief minister of Telangana and why the post cannot be held by one of them. Though MIM president Asaduddin Owaisi clarified that his party supports KCR, the BJP is keen to exploit Owaisi junior’s desire to be the HD Kumaraswamy of Telangana. The BJP’s messaging is that it is time to dethrone the “new Nizam”, lest his friendly ally “the descendants of the party of the Razakars” rule Telangana.
It helps the BJP cause that 17 September falls in the run-up to the elections in Telangana, when it will be seventy years since the liberation of Hyderabad and assimilation into the Indian Union. Accusing KCR of not celebrating Hyderabad Liberation Day as a State function because of MIM pressure, Amit Shah has promised to do so if the BJP comes to power. In any case, the idea is to make it an election issue. The hope is that the MIM versus BJP polarisation, especially in pockets with a significant Muslim population, will fetch electoral dividend.
But it won’t be so easy. KCR is more Hindu than most leaders of the BJP, given to great belief in astrology and numerology and performing extensive pujas to Hindu deities. And despite Shah’s denials, there is a suspicion that the BJP leadership has struck a deal with KCR, looking at a post-poll relationship in 2019. The BJP’s attack on KCR is seen as a ploy to splinter the Opposition vote, benefitting the TRS in the bargain. KCR would also prefer a reasonably strong BJP in Telangana to act as a foil to the Congress which is the principal Opposition party in the state.