With the assembly elections in Telangana approaching, the Muslim voters in the state are in a quandary. They have to choose between the ruling Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) and its ally, the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), and the Congress, which is trying to make a comeback in the state.
The Muslim community, which constitutes 13% of the population, has a significant influence in at least 40 of the 119 assembly seats. In the past two terms, they have largely supported the BRS and the AIMIM, which have implemented several welfare schemes for them. However, this time, the Congress is also wooing them with attractive promises and accusing the BRS of having a tacit understanding with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The BJP, on the other hand, is hoping that the Muslim vote will be split between the Congress and the BRS-AIMIM, and thus benefit its prospects. The BJP has been campaigning on the plank of nationalism and development, and trying to polarize the voters on religious lines.
The Congress has promised its Muslim voters in Telangana to increase the budget for minority welfare to Rs 4,000 crore annually, and to ensure fair reservation for all backward classes, including minorities, in jobs, education and government schemes.
It has also announced a scheme to provide financial assistance of Rs.5 lakh to minority youths who complete M.Phil and Ph.D programmes. The Congress has been highlighting the instances when the BRS has sided with the BJP in parliament on issues affecting the Muslim community, such as the Citizenship Amendment Act and the Triple Talaq Bill.
The BRS, meanwhile, has claimed that it has done more for the Muslims than any other party. It has pointed out schemes such as the Shaadi Mubarak, which provides financial assistance to poor Muslim brides, the overseas scholarship scheme for minority students, and the establishment of 204 residential schools for minority children.
The BRS has also relied on the AIMIM, led by the Owaisi brothers, to mobilize the Muslim vote in its favour. The AIMIM has been projecting itself as the voice of the Muslims, and defending their rights and interests.
The election in Telangana is scheduled for November 30, and the results will be declared on December 3, along with four other states Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Mizoram, and Madhya Pradesh.
The outcome of the Telangana assembly election will depend on how the Muslim voters will exercise their franchise. Whether they will stick to the BRS-AIMIM or switch to the Congress?
The BJP, which has a limited presence in the state, will also try to make inroads by exploiting the divisions among the Muslim voters.