Yogi Adityanath and Asaduddin Owaisi, who are calling each other names in the run-up to the Telangana Assembly elections, have many things in common.
The Uttar Pradesh chief minister and the All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen (AIMIM) leader are both rabble-rousers par excellence. Both their parties have no high stakes in the election, which is chiefly being fought between Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) of caretaker chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR) and the Congress-led alliance called Mahakutami.
File image of Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath. Reuters
Owaisi's party, that won seven seats in the 2014 election, is now contesting only eight of the Assembly's 119 seats. In 2014, the BJP polled seven percent votes and won just five seats in alliance with the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), which is now part of the Mahakutami. All that the BJP, contesting almost all the seats, can hope to achieve in the current elections is to raise its tally somewhat, but has no illusions of coming anywhere near power.
At best, both the BJP as well as AIMIM can aspire to be kingmakers just in case the election throws up a hung Assembly.
The two parties share something else. Owaisi's party is an unofficial ally of the TRS, something both parties admit. The BJP is accused of being a hush-hush partner of TRS, something both parties deny.
The AIMIM is an unabashedly Muslim party despite Owaisi hotly denying it. Thrice elected to the Lok Sabha, Owaisi will lose all political relevance unless he blames BJP for all the evils of India ranging from potholes on roads to polarisation of society. And AIMIM is just the kind of a party that Adityanath thrives on tearing to pieces. Billed as the "star campaigner" " as he was in all recent Assembly elections " the Uttar Pradesh chief minister will face an existential crisis if he fails in his job of shouting abuse at the AIMIM and the parties remotely connected with it, as loudly as his larynx permits.
For Adityanath, attacking AIMIM is fine. He said Owaisi would have to "flee Telangana" if the BJP came to power, to which the Muslim leader said the Uttar Pradesh chief minister must mind his own business in his own state. Owaisi has pretensions to being a gentleman. But his younger brother Akbaruddin Owaisi, who was arrested in 2013 for anti-Hindu hate speeches, suffers from no such qualms. In an election speech in Hyderabad on Sunday, he advised Modi not to behave like a chaiwalla, but act like a prime minister.
#WATCH Akbaruddin Owaisi, AIMIM in Hyderabad: Baat karein ki 'chai chai chai, chai. Har waqt vahi, demonetisation. Ye chai, vo chai, kadak chai, naram chai. Ye Wazir-e-Azam hain ya kya hain? Arey chaiwala tha, ab Wazir-e-Azam hai. Wazir-e-Azam jaisa ban jao. (02.12.2018) pic.twitter.com/t4xA1S103j
" ANI (@ANI) December 3, 2018
The BJP-AIMIM war will go on for some time, but Adityanath has a problem in his Telangana campaign. For the national brand he is for the BJP, attacking AIMIM serves a very limited purpose " if at all it does " in winning a few seats in Hyderabad, where Muslims account for up to 40 percent of the population and Owaisi pulls a lot of votes.
Attacking the Congress is more important nationally, and it comes naturally to Adityanath. Despite Congress president Rahul Gandhi's theatrics over establishing his so-called Hindu credentials, it's not easy for the party to shake off its anti-Hindu image that stuck to it because of the Muslim-appeasement it has been doing in the name of secularism. So Congress is an easy picking for Adityanath.
But Adityanath's campaign can't be complete unless he lampoons TRS and harps on its links with AIMIM. But this won't go too far with voters. The KCR government has been appeasing Muslims and Hindus with equal zeal.
In KCR's dispensation, poor Christians and Muslims get clothes at the time of Ramzan and Christmas. Iftaar parties are thrown in mosques, and Christmas dinners are hosted in churches. Entrepreneurs of minorities get incentives on par with those of SC/STs. Permissions for building Churches have been made easier, while Mauzams and imams get a monthly "incentive" of Rs 5,000. Rs 8.48 crore has been allocated for repairing Mecca Masjid, Hyderabad's historic 17th century mosque.
And yet, KCR has a Hindu image better than that of many BJP leaders in Telangana. The Hindu Mahasabha once said KCR had become an "ideal for the entire country by striving to protect Hindu sanata dharma" in the state.
In December 2015, the chief minister organised a five-day Ayutha Chandi Yagam for world peace apparently on the lines of what the father of Yudhishthira, the oldest of Mahabharat's Pandava brothers, had consummated. This, the Srinigeri Mutt pontiff claimed, had never been done in the last 200 years. Early last year, KCR gifted Rs five crore worth of jewellery to the Tirupati diety.
And Hindus get their own sops. The chief minister has been earmarking generous amounts of money for renovation of the famous Ram temple at Bhadrachalam and Lakshmi Narasimha Swamy temple at Yadadri, and has been giving facelift to hundreds of other ancient places of worship.
Under a "Dhoopa, Deepa Naivaidyam" scheme, his government has raised the money given to temples to cover expenses of poojas and honorarium for priests from Rs 2,500 to Rs 6,000 a month. He has also been doling out money for the upliftment of Brahmins and priests, besides financially supporting programmes that supposedly promote Hindu culture.
There is no way Adityanath can make any headway by doubting KCR's Hindu credentials. The issue of 12 percent reservations for Muslims that the TRS government has mooted and which Adityanath raises has no meaning. Both BJP and TRS are aware this is almost an impossible thing do in view of the Supreme Court ceiling on total reservations. Harping on the state government's reluctance to celebrate 17 September, the day Hyderabad was freed from the Nizam's rule, as a Liberation Day too cuts little ice with voters.
By bashing Owaisi and getting bashed by him in return, Adityanath will achieve little for his party, and even less by calling KCR pro-Muslim. If Adityanath wants to convert his decibels into votes, he must look at some other place some other time.
The author tweets @sprasadindia