In the late 1990s, when SM Krishna and Chandrababu Naidu were Chief Ministers of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, Hyderabad’s effort to challenge Bangalore’s numero uno position in the world of IT was a constant headline in the pink papers.
That rivalry has been revived, but on the political stage. In the run-up to the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) elections, Bangalore (South) MP Tejasvi Surya has logged on to a fierce battle with the MP from Hyderabad, Asaduddin Owaisi, attempting a “hostile takeover”.
Their narrative, bitter, provocative and full of vitriol, has come to define the 2020 HPL (Hyderabad Political League).
Mr Owaisi has often been accused of helping the BJP win seats by playing the role of a vote-cutter. The charge is that his party candidates have cut into the “secular vote” – like in Bihar recently. Even though electoral data does not entirely bear this out, anti-BJP parties led by the Congress are convinced that this strategy results in a win-win for both Mr Owaisi and the BJP.
Even the BJP denies it but to make its mark in Hyderabad, the ruling party is counting on the Owaisi factor.
Tejasvi Surya called the AIMIM MP the “modern-day Mohammed Ali Jinnah” who wished to turn Hyderabad to “Hyderabad of Pakistan”. Mr Surya alleged that Mr Owaisi was relying on the votes of Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Rohingya living illegally in the Old city.
In response, Mr Owaisi challenged the BJP to furnish a list of “illegal” settlers within 24 hours. “These people need to have some biryani which will bring them back to their senses,” he said at a public meeting.
In every campaign meeting, the Hyderabad MP has been exhorting voters in the old city to be wary of the BJP’s designs and ensure they vote for his AIMIM party so that their interests are protected.
Though the BJP is hoping to make inroads in certain wards with a significant Hindu population, taking away votes from the Congress and Telangana’s ruling TRS, the shrill BJP campaign is likely to help Mr Owaisi hold on to his pocketborough.
Though a civic election is expected to focus on roads, water and drainage, a high-profile, divisive campaign this time has brought in social distancing of a different kind.