Witches' Brew in Hyderabad - a Sangh Pogrom in the Making
- Hyderabad is the only metropolitan city in India where two out of five citizens are Muslims and the Member of Parliament elected since 1984 has been from an avowedly Muslim party, the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM). It is a city where the Muslims are not just numerically strong but are also culturally and politically assertive. While Hyderabad has had a long history of Hindu-Muslim violence, what has been unique about the city is that the Muslim community has organised itself around the MIM. This has resulted in the violence and aggressive identity politics of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its affiliates being matched by a similar politics by the MIM. The last major incident of communal violence in Hyderabad was in 1990 in the aftermath of L K Advani’s Rath Yatra, where a gruesome “scoreboard” was kept and the number of Muslims and Hindus killed was equalled as the MIM cadre matched the muscle power and bloodlust of the RSS.The Sangh Parivar is assiduously working towards a major communal conflagration in Hyderabad.
A combination of strong action by the governments in power (mainly of the Telugu Desam Party) and the matching of the muscle power of the Sangh Parivar and the MIM, along with the large-scale transformation of Hyderabad’s economic and social networks in the last two decades has resulted in a period of relative communal calm. The MIM strategy seems to be to use its power, both on the street as well as in the legislature, to provide protection to the Muslim community to pursue their lives and livelihoods. The RSS and its affiliates, mainly the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have tried to consolidate the Hindu community behind it to match the MIM while trying to weaken its political base. They have largely been unsuccessful in this. Till now.
There has been a gradual build-up of tension in recent years. The RSS, VHP and BJP have begun Hindu public festivals to often push demands that have led to communal tensions. New festivals, like “Hanuman Jayanti”, have been suddenly foisted on Hyderabad with a large-scale use of saffron buntings and motorcycle rallies by young men waving saffron flags and shouting Hindutva slogans, mainly in mixed Hindu-Muslim residential localities. The MIM has retaliated by organising unprecedented public celebrations of previously private Islamic festivals with similar aggressive public displays. In 2010, there were small riots over street buntings of saffron and green and last year during Bakrid there were attacks where the necks of some Muslim men were slit. The ensuing violence in both cases was thankfully controlled through police action and the intervention of locality elders. More recently, the city has witnessed a series of, apparently unrelated, low-intensity incidents of communal violence and mischief. Some months back beef was found to have been thrown, in quick succession, in a few temples. Soon it was discovered that it was the cadre of the Hindutva organisations who were responsible for this outrage. As this issue subsided, new trouble started with serial thefts of the ornaments of deities in Hyderabad’s old city. In cases which have still not been solved, at least five temples were “burgled” leading to more tension. This was followed by the very open attempt to enlarge the illegal temple which has been built adjacent to the Charminar with the help of VHP and BJP leaders who claimed it was an “ancient” Bhagyalaxmi temple. (A recent set of photographs published in The Hindu shows that there was no such temple in the 1950s/1960s.) Over and above this, there have been frequent instances of arson targeting individual shops, businesses and vehicles, mainly of Muslims, not just in Hyderabad but in other towns of the Telangana region.
This new strategy of low-key incidents kills few but is effective in achieving the political aims of the Sangh Parivar. They spread fear and terror among residents, particularly the Muslims, increase the communal divide and create an atmosphere of distrust among communities, and disrupt the lives and livelihoods of people, both Hindu and Muslim. These lead to frequent, yet sudden, curfews and police blockades and the shutdown of schools and shops. Together these help create an atmosphere where any small incident can blow up into a major communal conflagration. While the MIM has, as yet, not fallen for the bait and generally kept its cadres on the leash, it is a matter of time before either this leash snaps or the MIM leadership itself decides that there is need for some counteraction. Any such action from the MIM or other Muslim organisations would provide an opportunity for the Hindutva forces to “retaliate” and end the fragile communal peace in Hyderabad.
This Hindutva strategy needs to be contextualised in the unsettled political and social conditions in Telangana. The two main political parties – Congress and Telugu Desam – are in crisis and deeply divided. Their respective alliances of castes, communities and social interest groups have unravelled, but there is not yet any clear pole around which they can coalesce. It appears that the Hindutva strategy is to work towards a communal conflagration of such proportions which would sear the social fabric of the region and lead to a polarisation of caste and community alliances along the communal divide, cementing the political ascendence of the BJP in the region, which everyone expects will sooner, rather than later, become a separate state. The ruling Congress, always known for using Hyderabad’s communal divisions for short-term political gains, seems to be deliberately giving space to the RSS, VHP and BJP to stoke the flames, leading to the MIM withdrawing support to the state and central governments. It is unclear what or who in the Congress hopes to benefit from this, but the real danger is that there is as yet no voice, outside of the Muslim community, which is ready to recognise the threat of the Sangh Parivar’s strategy and work towards foiling it.