Hyderabad: Behind Owaisi’s ‘anti-Muslim’ branding of Congress candidates

Hyderabad: AIMIM chief and Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi on Tuesday, October 31, attacked the Congress for remarks made by the party’s candidates in the past.

He alleged that the party’s candidate for Sanathnagar, Dr Kota Neelima “wants to use govt money to force Muslim minority women out of burqa/hijab,” and its Nampally candidate Mohammed Feroz Khan has said that “a majority in Nampally are Taiban-style Muslims.”

“…Congress Telangana president is anyway a certified Sanghi. This hatred is dangerous for Telangana’s peaceful atmosphere,” he said in a post on X, targetting A Revanth Reddy for his past association with ABVP, the student wing affiliated with the RSS.

The attack on Congress by the AIMIM chief comes just 30 days ahead of Assembly polls in the state.

Kota Neelima’s remarks from 2019

In his post on X (formerly Twitter), Owaisi was referring to Kota Neelima’s remarks from 2019 on a video posted by Owaisi.

The Sanathnagar candidate for Congress, Kota Neelima, who is also an activist, had responded to a video shared by Owaisi in 2019, highlighting his efforts towards education through the MPLADS funds in which burqa-clad women thanked him.

“Hope you will also take the initiative through your MPLADS to sensitise patriarchal men and rid women of their ghunghat/pardah/hijab,” she had said.

Her remarks, which can be subjected to a deeper debate, were not solely directed against the hijab, but also against the practice of ‘ghunghat‘ and the ‘pardah‘.

Feroz Khan’s remarks from 2021

A video clip of Congress’ Nampally candidate Mohammed Feroz Khan’s interview with a YouTube channel YOYO TV in 2021 is the basis of Owaisi’s remarks against him.

When asked where Feroz was lacking to secure an electoral win against the AIMIM in Nampally, Feroz is heard stating that out of the 2 lakh population of Muslims in Nampally, 1.5 lakh Muslims are ‘fanatic Muslims’ who are of “Taliban style, similar to that of Pakistan, Kashmir style,” adding that they are not “progressive Muslims.”

“I am a progressive Muslim. I have a fight with this fanaticism. This is my minus point,” he added.

Response of the Cong’s candidates

Speaking to Siasat.com, both candidates condemned the allegations made by the AIMIM chief against them.

Kota Neelima’s office alleged that Owaisi made the remarks to help BRS and the BJP contesting from Sanathnagar against her. “She made no anti-Muslim remarks. She is very sensitive to the community’s needs,” her office said.

Feroz Khan said that a small byte was cut ‘conveniently’ to meet AIMIM’s ‘agenda’ and was being circulated online. “They are fabricating my words. I have the full video with me. I will show it to the constituents during my campaign in Nampally and defeat their lies,” he remarked.

Speaking further, Feroz Khan questioned the development that AIMIM did in the constituency. “They have pushed the Muslim community backward in terms of access to basic amenities, education, and career opportunities. Now, they are using such tactics to defame me,” he said.

Race for Sanathnagar, Nampally

Owaisi’s attack on the Congress, in particular, its candidates from Sanathnagar and Nampally, which are two key constituencies in the city of Hyderabad, comes just 30 days ahead of the Assembly polls in the state.

BRS heavyweight and the minister for fisheries, animal husbandry, and cinematography, Talasani Srinivas Yadav is recontesting from Sanathnagar. The party hasn’t yet announced its candidate from Nampally.

Notably, the Muslim voters play a key role in deciding victory in both constituencies. According to estimates, there are about 40,000-60,000 (15-18 %) Muslim voters in Nampally and around 35,000 (14% vote) in Sanathnagar.

Dr Kota Neelima, the Congress candidate from Sanathnagar, is a new entrant into electoral politics from journalism and is actively on the campaign trail. Currently holding the post of general secretary of the state unit, she is married to the party’s national spokesperson Pawan Khera.

The AIMIM, which sees BRS as a ‘friend’ is actively campaigning for Srinivas Yadav’s victory at Sanathnagar, indicating that it wouldn’t field its candidate from the constituency.

The battle for Nampally between Congress’ Feroz Khan and AIMIM goes back several elections. He lost three elections to the AIMIM from Nampally after tough contests in 2009 (as Praja Rajyam Party’s candidate), in 2014 (as Telugu Desam Party’s candidate), and in 2019 (as Congress’ candidate).

He also contested in the Lok Sabha election for the Hyderabad seat and lost to AIMIM’s Asaduddin Owaisi in 2019.

The AIMIM hasn’t yet announced its list of candidates for the upcoming state polls. It has to be seen if the party would give a chance to new candidates in place of its sitting MLAs. Jaffer Hussain Meraj is the party’s sitting MLA from Nampally.

The BJP is yet to announce its candidates for both constituencies.

Telangana is going to the ballot on November 30.