The million dollar question is whether, Congress win over Muslims in AIMIM territory, despite the fact that the yatra has been a spectacle that draws large crowds to Charminar in Hyderabad. The answer is still elusive.

The historic Charminar in Hyderabad was bustling with visitors recently. Despite the gloomy weather, vendors were out and about selling Irani samosas and chai, and the Laad Bazaar was as busy as ever.

However, as the hours passed, more people gathered around the temporary stage erected in front of Charminar as part of the Bharat Jodo Yatra, which was being organised by the Congress and had arrived in Hyderabad earlier that day. The yatra led by Rahul Gandhi has already spent a week in Telangana and has previously visited the states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh. 

Soon, cheers of ‘Bharat Jodo’ and the beats of mafsa (a type of rhythmic music unique to Hyderabad) filled the air as Gandhi and his band of yatris, including top leaders like Revanth Reddy and Shabbir Ali, marched towards Charminar – an All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) stronghold – amidst thousands of onlookers and supporters. Gandhi then paid tribute to his father and late prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, who, in 1990, had launched the Sadhbhavana Yatra in Hyderabad at the same iconic spot.

The Congress’ weakening position in the country is mirrored by its performance in Telangana, where the party has been losing MLAs to the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) or the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) one after the other. The party has failed to make an impression since the 2018 Assembly elections in the state, and has managed to come third in the several by-elections that have followed.

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Earlier this year, the Congress decided to strengthen its presence in Old City, setting a target of enrolling at least 50,000 voters as members in the Hyderabad Parliamentary constituency represented by AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi.

Though the Bharat Jodo Yatra managed to be a crowd-puller of a spectacle at Charminar, can the Congress truly gain Muslim trust years after breaking ties with the AIMIM in the erstwhile state of Andhra Pradesh? 

Whether it’s for 17-year-old Syed Ali, who came to Charminar just to get a fleeting look at Rahul Gandhi, or even a staunch AIMIM supporter like Mohammed Nazeer Khan, the Congress is a “good party.” 

“This is Owaisi saab’s (AIMIM MP Asaduddin Owaisi) bastion; I’m also an AIMIM supporter. But the Congress is a good party. I hope that with this yatra, the Congress is able to unite the country. I am sending duas (prayers) to Rahul Gandhi, I hope Allah listens to them.”

The AIMIM, which was a Congress ally for years, severed ties with the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) in 2012 over the arrest of its MLAs and other disagreements with the erstwhile Andhra Pradesh government. The party has since had friendly ties with the TRS, which has been in power in Telangana since its formation in 2014.  

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Mohammed Ahmed and his brother Mohammed Jaffer, who run a 65-year-old bangle shop adjacent to Charminar, said that the AIMIM’s influence in Hyderabad wouldn’t diminish with just a Bharat Jodo Yatra. However, Ahmed added, “If the Congress comes to power at the Centre, things will change. The BJP government is giving us a lot of trouble. The rupee is at its lowest and the prices of commodities are only increasing. But I doubt the Congress can make any difference in Hyderabad – here, it’s AIMIM all the way.”

Meanwhile, speaking about the 2019-20 CAA-NRC protests, which were massive in Hyderabad, Jaffer said, “Though parties like AIMIM and Congress held marches to support our cause, it was a people’s movement. When our Million March (a march taken out in Hyderabad to oppose CAA-NRC) became a success, politicians launched their own campaigns for gains.”

For 61-year-old Hafiza Begam, who travelled to Charminar from Shastripuram for the yatra, Rahul Gandhi could never be as strong as former prime minister Indira Gandhi. “He may not be as bold as his grandmother, but if he manages to unite the country, then things will only change for the better. If I ever get to speak to him, I will ask him to win the next elections at the top!”

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While Rahul Gandhi refrained from making speeches at Owaisi’s Old City, he and newly elected Congress chief Mallikarjun Kharge, who joined the yatra at Hyderabad’s iconic Necklace Road, mounted their attacks on the TRS and BJP. This was the first time Kharge was addressing a political gathering since taking on the mantle of party president. 

“The TRS and the BJP are liars – they say they’ll create employment for the youth with start-ups and other schemes. But they’re only lying and trapping people. If they keep lying for long, the youngsters of this country will rise up – just like you all this evening.”

Gandhi, meanwhile, reiterated the Congress’ allegations that the TRS and the BJP are two sides of the same coin. “The BJP and TRS are working together. Don’t be fooled by their drama before elections. Your chief minister has a direct line with Modiji. If he picks up the phone here, Modiji picks up the phone there. It doesn’t even take more than a second. Then Modiji orders your CM – do this today, do that today,” he said.

Electoral politics and rhetoric aside, the overwhelming support that the yatra has received in Hyderabad indicates that people bear no ill will towards the Congress and may even want to see the return of the party at the Centre. #KhabarLive #hydnews #hydlive