By Our Correspondent
NEW DELHI – The Muslim community in Andhra Pradesh continues to face challenges on the crucial fronts of education and employment after the state’s bifurcation in 2014, in which the Telangana state was carved out with the Muslim-majority Hyderabad as its capital. Though Muslims constitute 9.56% of the state’s population, their share in the political power, development resources and the governance structure remains negligible almost a decade after the state’s formation.
Ever since Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy came to power in May 2019, Andhra Pradesh has been witnessing the signs of religious polarisation, where the Opposition Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and Bharatiya Janata Party have tried to gain from the consolidation of the majority community. The TDP, headed by former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu, responds urgently to the issues raised by the Hindu community.
Though this may be an attempt to consolidate Hindu votes against Reddy, who is a fourth-generation Christian, the TDP was earlier know for its secular credentials. In the 2019 State Assembly election, the party was seen as polarising the Muslim minority votes against the BJP, with which it had severed relations in March 2018. The TDP was earlier a part of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
According to the political observers in Andhra Pradesh, the TDP believes that the Dalit-Christian voters, who were traditionally with the Congress, have shifted towards the YSR Congress Party and are unlikely to shift to the TDP in near future. That is why it wants to attract the majority community voters to itself and ensure that they do not go to the BJP.
The Opposition parties have attacked the YSR Congress Party government over reports on hiking the price of the Tirupati laddu, expanding the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam Board, push English medium as mandatory in government schools and attempts by some to spread Christianity at Tirumala.
All India Congress Committee (AICC) member K. Sivaji has slammed the State Government for failing to protect the interests of the Muslim minorities who are being attacked by the BJP members with alleged tacit support of the ruling party. Sivaji said in Vijayawada recently that Chief Minister Reddy was bowing to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his political survival.
Sivaji, who is a senior Congress leader from Andhra Pradesh, said the minorities were safe under the Congress rule at the Centre, but the BJP-led NDA government had been targeting and assaulting the Muslim minorities ever since it came to power. Recalling that the Congress, under the leadership of Sonia Gandhi, had extended reservation to the Muslim minorities, he accused the YSR Congress Party of indulging in double standards by playing into the hands of the BJP and trying to use Muslims as a mere vote bank.
Sivaji pointed out that Muslims in Karnataka had taught the BJP a lesson by voting the Congress to power. Muslims in other southern states should take a cue from Karnataka and empower themselves politically for their own welfare, he said. The Congress leader also said that the YSR Congress Party government was trying to strengthen the BJP government at the Centre by implementing its agenda in the state.
A repeat of Karnataka poll verdict in Andhra Pradesh is sure to overthrow the YSR Congress Party government in the next year’s Assembly elections, as the Muslim minorities were closely watching the political developments, according to the Congress leaders in the state. TDP state general secretary Mohammed Nazeer has also alleged that the YSR Congress Party government has cheated the Muslim community by promising to double the benefits under various schemes given to minorities but failing to implement them.
In its state-specific survey for Andhra Pradesh, the Sachar Committee, which studied social, economic and educational condition of Muslims in India, had found that while the trend of Muslims with regard to poverty was on the decline, the share of Muslims in public employment and education had not increased much. There is a problem in the definition of poverty in Andhra Pradesh, where historically rural poverty is lower than the urban poverty. This is due to the presence of Muslims in the peripheral urban areas.
Sachar Committee Member Abusaleh Shariff said the Muslims dwell in relatively large proportions in urban areas of the state, such as Rayalaseema, and the status of Muslims had not improved considerably in employment. “Higher level of education is accessible only to a few. Any more investment in the education sector will benefit only those who have already benefited earlier,” Shariff said.
Experts have called upon the State Government to estimate the share of flows to minority community beneficiaries in major programmes. The Chief Minister’s awards can be given away annually to the best universities which have diversity of students and similar awards may be given to non-government organisations, individuals and institutions for helping the minorities.
The Muslim literacy in the urban areas of Andhra Pradesh has not increased because the schools are not within the walking distance for the poor. As most of the Muslims are artisans, the State Government should start occupation-based training programmes for them. There is also an urgent need to start community polytechnic colleges for masses, according to the experts.