CAA notification, TDP-BJP alliance spark debate on ‘lesser evil’ among Andhra Muslims

The Muslim community, comprising around eight-and-a-half percent of the population in Andhra, has a say in the outcome in at least 15 Assembly constituencies.

ByBhaskar Basava

Published Mar 20, 2024 | 6:45 PMUpdatedMar 21, 2024 | 3:48 PM

Muslims in Vijayawada

Allahu Akbar, Ashhadu alla ilaha illallah…, the Adhan wafted over the multistorey buildings of Labbipet in Vijayawada.

The faithful, who had responded to the muezzin’s call, poured out of the mosque into the stifling heat after the Tarawih. As they gathered in front of the mosque, their chatter became louder.

Ramzan, the ninth month in the Islamic calendar, observed by Muslims worldwide as one of fasting, prayers, reflection, and community, has been witnessing serious debates on politics this year in India.

Andhra Pradesh is no exception, the topic of discussion outside the white-coated Labbipet masjid revealed. On 11 March, the day before Ramzan, the Union government notified the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, a controversial set of rules, kept in abeyance for four years.

The notification issued ahead of the general elections left many, specifically the Muslims, worried. The concern was evident as the talks outside the Labbipet mosque veered into the CAA and the stand of the major political parties in Andhra Pradesh’s bipolar political landscape, dominated by castes and families rather than religion as a whole, unlike north of the Vindhyas.

On 14 March, the YSRCP’s candidate for the state Assembly in Vijayawada East, Devineni Avinash, attended the prayers, and appealed for votes outside the mosque, adding fuel to the debate.

Both YSRCP and the Opposition TDP had supported the CAA in Parliament. The TDP entered into a pre-poll alliance with the Jana Sena Party-BJP combine in the state, and is contesting the simultaneous 13 May elections to the Assembly and Lok Sabha as part of the saffron party-led NDA.

The Muslims, meanwhile, are a confused lot. They now have to choose the ‘lesser evil’ in the world’s largest democratic exercise. The debate outside the Labbipet mosque was on the party they should support two months later.

Also Read: YSRCP opposes CAA in current form, seeks amendments to address concerns of Muslims: MLA

Choosing the ‘lesser evil’

Shaik Baji has been closely watching the political appeals for the past few days. He felt the politicians would not get a better opportunity than now to woo the Muslim community.

Vijayawada East YSRCP MLA candidate infront of Masjid addressing a press conference.

YSRCP’s Vijayawada East Assembly candidate Devineni Avinash interacting with the media in front of the masjid. (South First)

The 42-year-old voter opined that the Muslim community would have split if the TDP chief N Chandrababu Naidu had not joined the BJP alliance. He said the community would now back the YSRCP.

Baji justified his view. Though YSRCP and Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy — a Christian — has a friendly relationship with the BJP, he did not encourage Hindutva politics.

Additionally, he claimed that Jagan has been a victim of the Hindutva propaganda. The TDP and other parties targeted the chief minister for not practicing Hinduism, which garnered him sympathy.

Though the YSRCP had supported CAA in Parliament, Baji said Jagan’s welfare schemes would give him an edge over Naidu.

Abdul Gaffari disagreed. He stated that apart from the “one jewel volunteer system” and “door delivery” promised in the YSRCP’s Navaratnalu manifesto, the party has no moral ground to seek votes.

He felt that to uplift Andhra Pradesh, the Centre’s support was essential. “It is why Chandrababu Naidu went for the alliance,” he asserted.

He said many schemes aimed at the Muslim community — such as the Ramzan Tohfa (ration during Ramzan) and Shadi Tohfa (₹1 lakh for weddings) — were not properly implemented by the incumbent government .

Baji could not accept Gaffari’s argument. However, both agreed on two issues: Earlier, the policy for aid to study abroad included many universities, and funds were directly transferred to students. However, only the top 50 foreign universities were now included, making it tougher for Muslim students to secure seats.

Another issue highlighted was the Minority Corporation funds, which both believed were being diverted to the welfare schemes.

Shaik Usman said 80 percent of Muslims hold white ration cards, making them eligible for welfare schemes such as Amma Vodi’s ₹15,000 financial assistance and ₹3,000 pension.

Baji and Usman said Jagan ensured a corruption-free system for selecting beneficiaries for pension and financial assistance, by crediting the benefits directly to bank accounts.

As the debate progressed, it became clear that the opinions were divided, with both YSRCP and TDP getting support.

Also Read: People from Tamil Nadu planted bomb in Bengaluru cafe: BJP leader Shobha Karandlaje

CAA in Andhra’s political landscape

Not surprisingly, the CAA became a topic of discussion among Muslims during this Ramzan.

A circulation in WhatsApp group against TDP.

A WhatsApp message in circulation against the TDP. (Sourced)

The YSRCP that initially supported the CAA took a U-turn and opposed the Act in its current “discriminatory” form. The TDP, on the other hand, saw nothing wrong.

The remarks of both parties were being widely circulated on WhatsApp groups. One message read: “Boycott the party that supports anti-Muslim bills.”

A WhatsApp group purportedly of Muslim intellectuals exhorted to shun the NDA. “Wake Up Muslim Brother! A vote for any NDA (constituent) is a vote for the BJP, which is a religious party,”  it said in a message.

Incidentally, most people gathered at the Labbipet masjid did not see the CAA as an imminent threat, since cases of people lacking relevant birth or supporting documents were rare in Andhra. Other issues such as the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) and the cancellation of four percent of reservations for Muslims were seen as immediate threats posed by the BJP-led Union government.

Unlike in Karnataka and Telangana, where prominent leaders reportedly delivered hate speeches, the BJP leaders in Andhra Pradesh have been softer and did not indulge in communally charged speeches.

However, it did not translate to Muslims aligning with the BJP or its partners.

According to CSDS Lokniti data, the TDP, when it contested the 1999, 2004, and 2014 polls in alliance with the BJP, it secured a vote share of 28.2 percent, 34 percent, and 33 percent, respectively, while the Congress secured 60.9 percent, 64 percent in 1999 and 2004, respectively.

In 2014, following the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh and several Congress leaders joining the YSRCP, the newly formed party secured 66 percent of the vote share.

In 1996, 1998, 2009, and 2019, when the TDP contested alone, it secured 36.7 percent, 46.6 percent, 24.8 percent, and 46 percent, respectively. The Congress won 56.7 percent, 46.4 percent, and 50.7 percent, while the YSRCP got 49 percent of the vote share in 2019.

The data showed that the TDP secured fewer votes when it contested the polls in alliance with the BJP. But whenever there was no alliance, its vote share almost equalled that of the YSRCP.

According to Dr Afroz Alam, a Political Science professor at the Maulana Azad National Urdu University, the trend reflected the minorities’ political mindset. They were against TDP’s alliance with the BJP.

Dr Alam said that while Jagan seemed to be consolidating the Muslim votes with his welfare schemes, it did not mean that the community would completely ignore the TDP, which is in alliance with the BJP.

However, Dr Alam felt that the besides the anti-BJP narrative, local political factors, and socio-economic aspects would also reflect in the Muslims’ voting behaviour.

“Considering both regional parties’ bonhomie with the BJP, the anti-BJP narrative may not matter much this time. The community will vote based on the candidates,” he said.

He added that strong, familiar NDA candidates would get the Muslim votes.

(Edited by Majnu Babu)