BJP tones down its anti-minority rhetoric for alliance gains in Andhra Pradesh

The saffron party keeps quiet on its usual criticism of Muslims, so it does not upset the voters its alliance partner TDP is wooing desperately.

Published : May 09, 2024 20:26 IST - 5 MINS READ

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Jana Sena party President Pawan Kalyan and TDP President N. Chandrababu Naidu during an election roadshow in Vijayawada.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Jana Sena party President Pawan Kalyan and TDP President N. Chandrababu Naidu during an election roadshow in Vijayawada. | Photo Credit: PTI

As the fourth phase of the elections draws near, the communal campaigns of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, leave Andhra Pradesh’s Muslims unscathed. In this poll-bound State where both Assembly and Lok Sabha elections are scheduled for May 13, the allegations of the right wing about Muslim assaults on Hindu lives have no place in rallies or speeches of the BJP’s star campaigners.

In the neighbouring State of Telangana, Modi falsely claimed that the Muslim quota had been allocated out of the rightful share of Dalits, Adivasis, and Other Backward Classes (OBCs). He added that till he is alive, he wouldn’t let Muslim reservations continue.

The BJP is in alliance with the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and Jana Sena Party (JSP) in Andhra Pradesh. the BJP’s lack of cadre, electoral representation, or significant leadership in the State has pushed the leaders to step back from their primary poll plank of communal rhetoric against Muslims. Meanwhile, TDP supremo N. Chandrababu Naidu promises to retain a 4 per cent reservation for Muslims. Naidu also promises Muslims several welfare benefits, a bone of contention for the BJP elsewhere.

‘Not responsible’

When asked about this inconsistency, Naidu’s son and TDP general secretary, Nara Lokesh, told Frontline that he is “not responsible” for statements made by BJP leaders outside the borders of Andhra Pradesh. Lokesh claims that “TDP does not divide society based on religion, caste, and region.” The remarkably comprehensive alliance (TDP-BJP-JSP) manifesto, however, has dodged mentioning the 4 per cent reservation promise.

Nara Lokesh in Vizianagaram.

Nara Lokesh in Vizianagaram. | Photo Credit: The Hindu

After five years of subdued responses on several issues concerning Andhra Pradesh and minorities, the final week of election campaigns saw a few Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party (YSRCP) leaders, including the incumbent Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy, finally question both Modi and the BJP. In a recent campaign speech in Nellore, Jagan claimed he would fight for reservations, come what may. Poll observers and voters feel it is too little, too late.

Also Read | ‘TDP does not divide society based on religion, caste, and region’: Nara Lokesh

Abdul Hafeez Khan, a YSRCP leader and sitting MLA of Kurnool, calls the TDP’s politics cheap and duplicitous. “While their (TDP) allies have targeted, marginalised, and discriminated against Muslims, TDP keeps seeking minority votes,” Khan told Frontline.

According to government data, Muslims constitute 7.4 per cent of the total population in Andhra Pradesh. The Srikrishna Committee Report (2010) estimated that Muslims constitute a higher share of the total population in the Rayalaseema region (12.5 per cent) than in coastal Andhra (4.5 per cent). Proportionate to the population, Muslims should have had at least 12 MLA candidates from each party (Andhra Pradesh Assembly, 175 seats; Lok Sabha, 25 seats). The TDP has fielded three Muslims from Assembly constituencies and none from Lok Sabha constituencies; the YSRCP has seven Muslim MLA contestants and promised one Rajya Sabha seat. Andhra Pradesh hasn’t had a Muslim MP since the bifurcation in 2014. All four sitting Muslim MLAs are from YSRCP.

Muslims are said to have a numerically significant vote-share in about 15 constituencies, where their vote would be the decisive factor. Thus, over the past couple of weeks, a good part of the political discourse has been about the Muslim vote.

The dominant discourse

The role of clerics, announcements in mosques about who to vote for, unfamiliar Muslim organisations declaring their allegiances, influential families joining various parties, the All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) leader and sitting MP of Hyderabad Asaduddin Owaisi extending his support to YSRCP, have dominated the discourse.

Frontline spoke to Muslim voters and leaders from constituencies in Rayalaseema, Guntur, and Vijayawada to understand what is driving the community’s voting choices. As it turns out, Andhra Pradesh’s Muslims are neither rallying behind YSRCP nor abandoning the TDP to align with the BJP. The factors influencing voters include the political history of the candidate, welfare schemes offered by parties, the incumbent’s performance, the prevalent backwardness in the region, unemployment, inflation, the approachability of the candidates, and the limited choices that confront voters.

Also Read | ‘Due to BRS’ misgovernance, Telangana is a bankrupt State’: Mallu Bhatti Vikramarka

Campaigning in the constituencies with a significant number of Muslim voters began early in April, during Ramadan. Skull-cap-wearing Hindu politicians, across parties, organised and attended Iftar parties. Several TDP leaders began talking about communal harmony following the announcement of the alliance with the BJP in March.

In the Kurnool Assembly constituency, the incumbent MLA is Hafeez Khan. YSRCP replaced him with a former IAS officer, Imtiaz Khan, who, while enjoying goodwill among some sections, isn’t a seasoned politician. Imtiaz Khan is pitted against TDP leader T.G. Bharath, who is a known face in the region. Bharath appears to have worked to better his relationship with both Muslim elites and backward caste Muslims. A considerable section of Muslim votes seem to be in his favour in Kurnool.

However the trust deficit with TDP among Muslims is apparent in constituencies where the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) alliance chose to field BJP leaders: the Rajampet Lok Sabha constituency and Assembly constituencies such as Vijayawada West or Adoni. The lack of choice is helping YSRCP mobilise Muslim votes in such constituencies..

The Kadapa Assembly constituency is witnessing a contest between Amzath Basha from YSRCP, Madhavi Reddy from TDP, and Afzal Khan of Congress. Basha, one of the five deputy Chief Ministers in Jagan’s cabinet, also held the minority welfare portfolio but is grappling with anti-incumbency and allegations of ignoring his constituency and the Rayalaseema region. The Muslim vote in the Kadapa Assembly is thus expected to be fragmented, whereas the Hindu votes are mobilising in favour of TDP. Despite their claims about not stoking religious sentiments, local TDP leaders in Kadapa leveraged the Hindu-Muslim binary.

When asked if the BJP’s threats of CAA-NRC, Uniform Civil Code, and the revocation of 4 per cent reservation are a concern, several voters across constituencies said the YSRCP leaders began spotlighting these issues only towards the last week of campaigns. There is growing hesitance among voters who remember that the TDP didn’t put up a strong fight against the BJP in the past, even when they were not in an alliance. It is to be seen if YSRCP leaders are able to win over these voters.

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment