Hyderabad, Nov 29: The election campaign for any municipal body in the country has not been so shrill as it has been for Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC), which is all set for polls on Tuesday.
The campaign saw a bitter war of words with leaders of the main contenders for power engaged in no-holds-barred attack on their opponents.
With central leaders and top leaders of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) too plunging into the electioneering to take on both ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) and its friendly party Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM), the Hyderabad civic polls have turned into a high-octane battle.
Upbeat over the victory in the Bihar Assembly elections and in bypolls in various states including Dubbak seat in Telangana, the BJP has entered the fray firing on all cylinders.
For the saffron party, elections to the 150-member GHMC is not merely a ‘gully’ election but a semi-final in the run-up to the 2023 Assembly battle. Claiming to have emerged as the main opposition party replacing the Congress, the BJP is aiming for power in Telangana to begin what its leaders call saffronisation of entire south India.
With a considerable support base among the urban electorate, the BJP hoping to reap rich dividends in a municipal body with over 74 lakh voters, covering 24 Assembly segments and five Lok Sabha constituencies. With Secunderabad Lok Sabha seat already under its belt, it is looking to cement its position further.
What made the GHMC polls fiercer is the history and unique character of Hyderabad, the fastest growing metropolis and a leading information technology destination. With sizeable Muslim population, the city is considered stronghold of the MIM, which is trying to expand its base across the state.
The MIM is also buoyed over its impressive performance in recent Bihar elections, where it won five seats. The party, which is holding the Hyderabad Lok Sabha seat for nearly four decades, expanded itself in recent years to increase its tally of Assembly seats in Hyderabad to seven. It also established itself as a force in Maharashtra by winning Aurangabad Lok Sabha seat and a couple of Assembly seats.
As the BJP entered the GHMC fray with full steam amid the MIM’s plans to have pan-India presence, the campaign saw many fireworks. Both the sides attacked each other, using some harsh words, calling names, throwing barbs and challenges.
The rabble rousers had a field day during the 10-day electioneering as they went all out to ensure polarization of votes. They used words like “surgical strikes, razakars, terrorists, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Bin Laden, Babar and biryani” to attack each other.
Perhaps the most controversial comment came from state BJP chief Bandi Sanjay Kumar, who is also a member of Parliament. “If BJP wins GHMC polls, surgical strikes will be carried out in the old city to drive out Pakistani supporters and Rohingyas,” he thundered at an election rally and even alleged that illegal immigrants have been enlisted as voters.
MIM chief and Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi hit back. “If there are illegal immigrants here, what was Home Minister Amit Shah doing. Was he sleeping?” he asked.
Amit Shah, who joined the campaign the last day, launched a counter attack on Owaisi and asked him to give in writing that Rohingyas should be deported. “When we take action, they raise hue and cry. Didn’t you see in Parliament. Let them give in writing that Rohingyas and Bangladeshis be deported. Merely speaking in elections will not work. People know who take their side when we talk of deporting them,” he said at a news conference.
BJP youth wing President Tejasvi Surya called Asaduddin Owaisi a new Jinnah and said MIM wants to turn Hyderabad of India into Hyderabad of Pakistan. “A vote to MIM is a vote against India and every good thing that India stands for,” he said.
BJP chief J.P. Nadda called MIM party of ‘razakars’, a reference to volunteers of the Nizam who had opposed then Hyderabad state’s merger with the Indian Union.
“Remember razakars and what they have done from August 15, 1947 to September 17, 1948. What was the situation then,” Nadda asked while slamming the TRS for its friendship with the MIM.
Owaisi responded to BJP leaders by saying the ‘razakars’ who wanted to go with Pakistan have left and those who stayed back rejected Jinnah and choose India as their land.
The war of words did not stop at that. The BJP also brought Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath to campaign. He raked the issue of changing name of Hyderabad.
“Some people ask whether the name of Hyderabad be changed to Bhagyanagar. I say why not. When Faizabad can be renamed as Ayodhya and Allahabad as Prayagraj, why can’t Hyderabad become Bhagyanagar,” he asked.
The comments added more fire to the campaign. Owaisi, who has been addressing at least three election meetings every evening, flayed Yogi for his remarks.
The MIM chief said Hyderabad’s name will remain but those speaking about changing it will change their names.
“You will be renamed, but Hyderabad will never be renamed. Your generation will end but Hyderabad will remain Hyderabad. Have you taken a contract for this renaming every place? Ask them who made Taj Mahal, they will say we will rename. Now tomorrow maybe they will say Charminar was built by them, he said.
Asaduddin Owaisi’s younger brother and MIM leader in Telangana Assembly Akbaruddin Owaisi was also bitter in his attacks on the opponents. He challenged Telangana government to demolish samadhis of former Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao and former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. T. Rama Rao on banks of Hussain Sagar lake if it was sincere in removing encroachments on lakes and tanks in the city.
At this, the BJP state chief warned Akbaruddin Owaisi that if samadhis were demolished, BJP workers will pull down MIM headquarters ‘Darussalam’. Police booked both the leaders for their comments.
The visit by BJP leaders to the temple abutting Charminar was also symbolic of the fact that the saffron party was challenging MIM in its stronghold. Amit Shah too visited the temple, which was the flashpoint of communal clashes in the past.
The MIM had won 44 seats in 2016 elections but the landslide victory by the TRS, which bagged 99 seats, deprived it off the role of kingmaker which it traditionally enjoyed in the municipal body.
The BJP, which had to contend with just four seats in previous election, has emerged as the main challenge for the TRS. The leaders of the two parties were also locked in bitter exchange of words.
While the BJP targetted the TRS for family rule and its friendship with MIM, the ruling party trained its guns on the saffron party for its divisive politics. Highlighting the peace and harmony that prevailed in Hyderabad and the development it witnessed during last six years, the TRS appealed to people to choose between decisive government and divisive politics.
“Only we are talking of development. Others are talking of destruction. Hyderabad should not suffer in the hands of mad people, be it BJP or Akbaruddin Owaisi and company,” said TRS Working President K.T. Rama Rao.