“Hyderabad does not have riots anymore,” Mohammad Ashraf reflected. “We live happily with each other here.”

It was not always like this. “My childhood was characterised with the fear of communal violence,” Ashraf said. “But now that age is gone. It has changed since TRS came to power,” referring to the ruling Bharat Rashtra Samithi, which was earlier known as Telangana Rashtra Samithi.

Ashraf is not alone. Most Muslims Scroll spoke to in Telangana had only praise for the state’s law and order when it came to communal violence. Riots, once common in Hyderabad, were now confined to memory. Moreover, the Bharatiya Janata Party is a bit player in the state and Hindutva has a minor footprint in the state.

As a result, Telangana is a rare state in India where Muslim politics does not centre around security. The outcome of this is that the community is mobilising around a somewhat more banal faultline: class.

Muslims who are poor tend to vote for the Asaduddin Owaisi-led All India Majlis-i-Ittehadul Muslimeen in Hyderabad and the Bharat Rashtra Samithi in the rest of the state. However, more well-off Muslims are now moving towards the Congress, attracted in part by Rahul Gandhi’s popularity and his strong communal amity pitch during the Bharat Jodo Yatra.

The Old City

Resentment swirls in Hyderabad’s Old City. Built in the 16th century, these quarters have been visibly left behind by Telangana’s remarkable development spree even since the state was formed in 2014 after the partition of Andhra Pradesh. “There hasn’t been enough development here,” says Mohammad Adil Amin, who runs a sugarcane juice stall. “Look at other parts of Hyderabad.”

Mohammad Adil Amin. Credit: Shoaib Daniyal

In spite of this, however, support for the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen is significant among Muslims, who make up a majority of the Old City. Syed Sohail, a mechanic, will vote for the MIM. “We have always voted for the Majlis in the Old City,” he said. “This time as well they will win.”

Ironically, even Amin, critical of the lack of development in the Old City, thinks the same way. “Majlis will win [in the Old City], there is no doubt about it,” he says.

However, there is also significant anger against the MIM among Muslims in the city, who blame it for lack of development in the Old City and attempts to deepen social faultlines. “The MIM benefits from heightened communal tensions,” said Shahebaz Khan, who teaches at a city college. “They have used strong arm tactics in the Old City to remove rivals and keep the area backward.”

Khan is not alone. A significant section of white-collar Muslims in the city are disenchanted with the MIM. Instead, they are increasingly looking to the Congress. “Congress believes in live and let live,” said Mohammad Ali Gulzar, the proprietor of the Mayrose Irani cafe in Hyderabad. “They don’t believe in jhagra-fasad, trouble.”

Mohammad Ali Gulzar. Credit: Shoaib Daniyal

The Rahul factor

The Congress is the ruling party’s principal challenger in these elections. With the BRS spending a decade in power, there is a significant amount of anti-incumbency against it. As a result, support for the Congress cuts across communities and it is not surprising that many Muslims also back the party.

However, Scroll found that Rahul Gandhi and, especially, his Bharat Jodo Yatra has played a significant part in garnering Muslim support. In his march from across the southernmost tip of India to Kashmir, Gandhi placed emphasis on communal amity. This has, it seems, played a part in attracting the Muslims of Telangana.

For Syed Taruj, Rahul Gandhi is an “acchha banda”, good man, whose image was tarnished on purpose. “I saw him on his padyatra [Bharat Jodo Yatra],” he said. “Even BJP supporters came to see him.”

Taruj, who works with a private firm in Hyderabad, claims he will vote Congress in this election. “Others talk of division,” he said. “But it is the Congress that stands for development.”

Gandhi’s goodwill in Telangana cuts across party lines. Amin, who had earlier predicted the MIM’s win from the Old City, also admired the Congress leader and his Bharat Jodo Yatra. “He is doing paidal dauras [Bharat Jodo Yatra], asking people about their problems and trying to fix them,” he said.

The rural welfare vote

Gandhi’s popularity drops outside Hyderabad, where politics is still more local and the Delhi-based leader has less visibility. However, even here economic factors – class and contentment with welfare – decide voting choices among Muslims given Hindutva is absent from most parts of the state.

Mansoorbi is a backward caste, Telugu-speaking Muslim from the Suryapet constituency. Landless, she sells coconuts in her village. However, her principal source of income is actually the old age pension the state government provides her. “I am happy with the TRS [BRS] for the money,” she says. “I will vote for them.”

Mansoorbi. Credit: Shoaib Daniyal

In other cases, however, poor Muslims in mofussil Telangana are also miffed at being left out of the state government’s cash transfer net. Mohammad Iqbal runs a small general store in Warangal and is angry with the BRS for poor welfare delivery as well as inflation. “We applied for minority loans, but did not get,” he claimed, even as he railed against the price of onions.

He even blamed the state government for allocating the entire financial assistance for marriages to the bride’s family. “Our samdhans, in-laws, got the entire Rs 1 lakh for Shadi Mubarak,” he said. “Nothing came to us.”

A more local dynamic

Although a strong Congress supporter, Iqbal knows little about Rahul Gandhi. He likes the leader but only because of his grandmother, Indira Gandhi. Four decades after her death, she is still surprisingly popular in rural Telangana. “His grandmother did very good work,” was his terse comment when asked about Rahul.

Mohammad Iqbal. Credit: Shoaib Daniyal

Mohammed Naseeruddin, who splits his time between his job in Hyderabad city and his 3.25 acres of farmland in Siddipet district, 90 kilometers away, however, closely follows Gandhi. “We all saw his Bharat Jodo Yatra – some people from my village went too”, he said. “He is popular among my village’s Muslims, and they will mostly vote Congress.”

However, some Muslims will still lean BRS even in his village, he contends, based on class and economic need. “Old people who depend on pensions will still vote for KCR,” he said. “And some houses where their boys work with BRS.”