While Andhra parties YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) and Telugu Desam Party (TDP) voted for the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) in both Houses of the Parliament, Telangana CM K Chandrashekar Rao issued a whip and ensured that his Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) voted against it.
The decision of the leaders from the Telugu states has not come as a surprise to anybody, as the reasons behind such assertive stands are more political.
KCR’s Muslim appeasement and Hindu card
Has Telangana Chief Minister KCR gone too far to rub the BJP on the wrong side by opposing the CAB?
KCR has always stood by the Muslims and ensured that religion and caste did not play spoilsport with state politics. With a Muslim population of 12.5 per cent in the state, KCR is obliged to look after the interests of the community. His argument that reservations should be based on population, and the power to enact legislation must be vested with the states, led the Telangana Assembly to pass a Bill in the state Assembly on April 16, 2017, to raise the reservations for Muslims from 4 per cent to 12 per cent in educational institutions and government jobs.
So, much to the consternation of the BJP’s helmsmen, KCR stuck to his guns and voted against the CAB.
While the Muslims across the country have been breathing fire against the CAB (now Citizenship Amendment Act, or CAA), KCR is breathing easy politically. There has been a backlash against CAA in the University of Hyderabad and Maulana Azad National Urdu University in Hyderabad. However, the situation has not slipped out of control — thanks to KCR’s strategic move and the administrative grip in the state. Also, the communally sensitive Hyderabad has not seen any violent protests against the CAA as the Muslims in the region do not doubt the “impeccable” secular credentials of the CM.
While this move has bolstered the morale of the minorities in the state, KCR could not be painted black either by the Muslims or by the BJP and the Hindus.
For starters, he was veering towards the BJP when he abstained from voting during the Triple Talaq Bill. Next, he makes no bones about performing Hindu rituals in full public eye. The Ayutha Maha Chandi Yagam in 2015 and the renovation of historic Hindu temples in Yadadri, Vemulawada and Timmapur costing hundreds of crores of rupees, made the Hindu population in the state hold him dear.
However, he has made it clear who is the boss in the state politically.
So, despite the BJP springing a surprise by winning four seats in Telangana in the 2019 Lok Sabha (LS) elections, KCR has ensured that he establishes that BJP’s victory was more by providence than by design. In the local body and Zila Parishad elections soon after the LS polls, TRS won all the seats. Similarly, the party swept the Huzurnagar Assembly by-polls, sending out a strong message on KCR’s invincibility in the state.
What could trouble Muslims?
The CAA has denied citizenship to Muslims migrating from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.
If one were to examine the impact of the Act based on the official statistics, undivided Andhra Pradesh had a total population of 8,46,80,777 as per the 2011 census. Of these, only 1,71,037 were born outside India.
Are all of them Muslims? No.
Of the migrant population, only 4,288 people had migrated from Bangladesh, a niggardly 43 from Afghanistan and a meagre 1,632 from Pakistan, as per the 2011 census.
Are all of those who migrated into undivided Andhra Pradesh Muslims? No.
Police sources have also indicated that old Hyderabad, Nalgonda, Ranga Reddy and Medak districts together would not account for more than 4,500 to 5,000 migrant Muslims from Bangladesh and Rohingyas from Myanmar.
However, the poor and marginalised would not be able to prove their origin if the National Register of Citizens (NRC) is implemented, and they are asked to show certificates supporting their claim of being natives.
There is every chance of at least 10 times the total number of “migrant Muslims” — which will include about 50,000 local Muslims as well —being denied citizenship or be declared as “non-natives”. This, despite them being residents of Telangana with the state as their domicile.
At least this is the apprehension being expressed by the leaders of All India Majlis-e-Ittehaadul Muslimeen (AIMIM). Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi was one of the petitioners who challenged the validity of the CAA in the Supreme Court, contending that it fails on the touchstone of Article 14 of the Constitution. The apex court rejected the petition and refused to stay the CAA on December 18, 2019.
While KCR was not one of the petitioners, his stand has been the same as those challenging the Act.
However, this stand does not make him inimical to the BJP.
The Jagan factor
The circumstances in Andhra Pradesh are not the same as in Telangana.
While the truncated state has a sizeable Muslim population concentrated around Guntur, Kurnool and parts of Anantapur district, the number of migrant Muslims is negligible. This makes the implementation of NRC inconsequential.
CM Jaganmohan Reddy has sided with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah on this issue. However, to see this as appeasing the Centre, fearing trial in the alleged disproportionate assets case against him, is a red herring. Jagan has been maintaining cordial relations with the BJP since the 2014 elections.
Barring two instances, the YSRCP has always rallied behind every other decision of the Narendra Modi government. One was when YSRCP opposed the demonetisation tooth and nail, calling for Bharat Bandh when the PM announced the same in 2016. Two, was when the party voted against the Triple Talaq Bill in the Parliament, citing that it would have severe repercussions.
While Jagan’s support of the CAA might have brought down his stock among the Muslims across the state, the community accounts for neither large political support or religious compulsions for Jagan for the time being. Nor does the state have as large a Muslim population as its Telugu-speaking neighbour. Jagan is perceiving that strategic support to the Centre on issues like the CAA would come handy when he needs the Centre’s support in extracting maximum benefits for the state, helping him secure his position in the state.
By March next, the BJP would need more numbers in Rajya Sabha.
The YSR Congress would add four more members to its Rajya Sabha kitty by April 2020, and four more (including V Vijaya Sai Reddy) by 2022. These numbers would become important for the BJP that has lost power in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and many other states governed by regional parties.
It is a quid pro quo arrangement between the ruling parties at the Centre and the state without overtly displaying their mutual admiration and camaraderie.
N Chandrababu Naidu is leading a political party which is of no consequence when it comes to numbers in passing a Bill in the Parliament. The BJP has poached four of its “most loyal” Rajya Sabha members, leaving the party with just two members in the Upper House. The abysmal performance in the Lok Sabha polls has reduced the TDP to only three members in the Lower House.
Naidu spared no effort in badmouthing the BJP and cobbled up an anti-Modi brigade with the Congress and a few other parties ahead of the polls in mid-2019. With nowhere to go now, he is trying to cosy up to the very same he spoke vehemently against. He hopes that supporting the BJP in the Parliament would add brownie points to his party in the BJP coterie. Whether his feeble attempts succeed is something that remains to be seen.