On 18 December, the Deccan Chronicle reported that the Telangana Rasthra Samithi was set to elect the mayor and deputy mayor of Hyderabad without the support of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen. The elections to the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation, or GHMC, which were held on 1 December, saw major gains by the Bharatiya Janata Party and considerable losses for the TRS. Of the 150 wards, the BJP, which previously controlled only four wards, won 48. The ruling TRS’s tally came down from 99 in the previous body to 56, while the AIMIM retained its tally of 44 wards. The Congress, once a dominant force in the city and state, was reduced to two seats.
Senior TRS officials have claimed, in multiple interviews, that their losses were due to the BJP running a highly communal campaign. Their eschewing of AIMIM support for the mayoral election follows the claim that the latter is communal too. Several experts told me that the TRS is reluctant to seek the AIMIM’s support because it would present an opportunity to the BJP for further polarisation on communal lines. However, several analysts and residents I spoke to said that the TRS’s loss was also because of the party’s failures to address civic-issues, along with a centralisation of power within the TRS. This gutted the efficiency of the local government and led to the BJP’s emergence as the primary opposition, even as the TRS had defanged the existing opposition by engineering mass defections.
The 2020 urban-body polls in Hyderabad were among the most communal in its history. The BJP’s campaign was deeply Islamophobic, including several speeches by their state and national leaders which openly alluded to violence against Hyderabad’s large Muslim population. During the campaign, Bandi Sanjay, Telangana’s BJP chief, called for a “surgical strike” on the old city—a Muslim-majority part of Hyderabad—ostensibly to root out Rohingya refugees, some of whom stay there. Ajay Singh Bisht, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh commonly referred to as Yogi Adityanath, campaigned in the city, too, and asked for Hyderabad to be renamed “Bhagyanagar.”
Residents of several parts of the city, particularly areas with sizable Muslim populations, told me that the BJP had campaigned on a purely communal plank. “Communal feeling has increased, not very openly, but among the youth,” Mohammad Munnawar Chand, a resident of the Bholakpur locality in north Hyderabad, told me. “Asaduddin Owaisi frightened the Muslims saying the BJP is coming and the BJP too polarised a section of Hindus. As a result, the TRS seat share decreased.” But the rise of communal tensions alone does not explain the scale of TRS’s loss, particularly in areas where the communal aspect of the campaigning was less virulent.
The GHMC is the largest urban local-body in Telangana. In the 2016 elections, the first since the formation of Telangana, the TRS launched a high intensity campaign to sweep the body aiming to answer the question, “Who does Hyderabad belong to?” This was because significant sections of the city—geographically and socially—did not support the demand for Telangana’s statehood, making the city an outlier in the political messaging central to the TRS. Muslims, represented largely by the AIMIM in the city, were in favour of a united Andhra Pradesh.