Telangana chief minister KCR’s approach to secularism has been lauded by many as a bold and refreshing change from the Hindutva politics that has dominated India in recent years. KCR has demonstrated that it is possible to be secular and still be a successful politician. He has done this by focusing on the needs of all people, regardless of their religion.

One of KCR’s most notable secular initiatives is his government’s decision to increase the amount of money given as a gift to newlyweds from all religions. This was a welcome change from the previous government, which only gave gifts to Hindus. KCR has also made it a priority to ensure that all people have access to education and healthcare, regardless of their religion. He has also worked to promote interfaith dialogue and understanding.

KCR’s approach to secularism has been met with some criticism from those who believe that he is only pretending to be secular in order to win votes. However, his actions suggest that he is genuinely committed to secularism. He has not hesitated to take on the Hindutva brigade, and he has been willing to make tough decisions in the name of secularism.

KCR’s example shows that it is possible to be a successful politician in India without resorting to Hindutva politics. His approach to secularism is a model for other politicians in India and around the world.

On the other hand, despite the BJP and the Hindutva brigade painting welfare measures as ‘Muslim appeasement’, Chief Minister KCR has demonstrated that there is nothing religious about a healthy, secular model of welfarist governance.

A decade of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rule has propelled India down the path of majoritarianism, with constitutional values given the go by, to transform the country into a  de-facto Hindu Rashtra. With the ideology of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) clearly impacting the functioning of the Modi-led Union government, Muslims have been reduced to second-class citizens and face the wrath of Hindu nationalists. The increased instances of mob lynching of Muslims by Hindu vigilante groups, vandalising of Muslim properties in BJP-ruled states, and the systematic targeting of Muslims through public as well as policy means expose the hollowness of Prime Minister Modi’s slogan ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’.

With the public sphere becoming overtly communal, Muslims have become political outcasts that even the so-called secular parties – that have relied on the Muslim vote for decades – are now shying away from openly embracing them. The BJP promotes the rhetoric that the Congress and other ‘secular’ parties have pandered to Muslim interests for political gains. Any policy measures taken to uplift any section of the Muslim community have been termed ‘appeasement’ politics, invariably helping the BJP in consolidating the Hindu vote. Many ‘secular’ parties have thus been checkmated by the BJP strategy, making them apprehensive of extending any welfare policies to help address genuine problems of the Muslim community.

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In such a vitiated political environment, the Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) government in Telangana has for the last 10 years ensured welfare of Muslims besides politically empowering them. Despite the BJP and the Hindutva brigade trying their best to paint such an approach as ‘Muslim appeasement’, Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao (KCR) has demonstrated that there is nothing religious (and no appeasement) about a healthy, secular model of welfarist governance.

Muslim welfare

It was well documented by the Sachar Committee that Muslims lag far behind in education and other socio-economic indicators, including high incidence of poverty in the community. Despite this staggering marginalisation of Muslims, there have been hardly any specific measures by the Modi government in the past decade to uplift the community.

The BRS government, however, did not fall for the communal rhetoric of the Hindu nationalist BJP and has shown courage in calling a spade a spade when it comes to addressing the backwardness of the Muslim community. While the erstwhile undivided Andhra Pradesh government allocated a mere Rs 36 crore towards minority welfare, the Telangana government earmarked a whopping Rs 1,030 crore for the welfare of Muslims after assuming power in 2014. The budget allocation went further up to Rs 2,200 crore in the last budget presented to the outgoing Assembly. Since the formation of Telangana, a staggering Rs 8,581 crore has been spent towards the welfare of minorities.

In contrast, the BJP-led Union government has cut down the budget for the Minority Affairs Ministry by 38%. The budget estimate has come down from Rs 5,020.50 crore in 2022-23 to Rs 3,097 crore for 2023-24 fiscal. It remains to be seen how much of this budget will be utilised when one considers that the revised budget for 2022-23 was Rs 2,612.66 against the estimated budget.

Even worrisome is the trend when it comes to educational and skill development schemes for minorities. The pre-matric scholarship was cut down by 69.6% to approximately Rs 900 crore while the merit-cum-means scholarship was slashed by 88%. The BJP government also slashed the allocation to educational schemes available for madrasas by 93%. The Maulana Azad scholarship for higher education was simply done away with in 2022, depriving minority students who want to pursue higher studies. Ironically, this budget cut impacted Muslim women the most, flying in the face of PM Modi’s much-publicised slogan ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao.’

Two years after the formation of Telangana state, the BRS (then named TRS) government carried out a study on residential schools in the state and found that the Muslim students lag behind even students from Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe communities. Even the Sachar Committee report underlined that the dropout rate among Muslim students is much higher; 25% of Muslim children aged 6-14 have either not attended school or dropped out. To rectify this long standing problem, the Telangana government started 205 residential schools for Muslim students, as a result of which the enrolment of economically backward Muslim students has risen significantly.

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The Telangana government recently extended the Rs 1 lakh financial aid scheme for Backward Classes (BC) to poor Muslims. Besides this, the Shaadi Mubarak scheme that provides Rs 1 lakh for brides has proved beneficial for poor Muslim families that bear the brunt of social norms that push them into a debt trap owing to the wedding expenses.

The Telangana government has delivered substantially on a number of indicators that the Sachar Committee pointed out, bringing about a positive turnaround in the Muslim community.

Political empowerment

Muslims remain politically marginalised in India. Their representation in Parliament is on a steady decline. The BJP does not have a single Muslim member in the Lok Sabha. At present, the Union government does not have a single Muslim minister. The story is no different in BJP-ruled states. It is the compulsion of the majoritarian Hindu nationalist politics of the BJP that even ‘secular’ parties have shied away from giving Muslims their due share.

Scholars like Anne Phillips suggest that the political ‘presence’ of marginalised groups is essential in legislatures as it not only empowers them but also enhances the democratic process. The BJP ignores Muslims while the ‘secular’ parties, such as the Congress, have only used Muslims for tokenistic purposes by mostly appointing Muslims as Minority Affairs ministers. The BRS, here too, has proved to be an exception.

In its first term, the first BRS government appointed Mahmood Ali as the deputy chief minister of the state holding important portfolios, including revenue. In the present political scenario, it was indeed rare to see a Muslim hold a key political position in a state. In the BRS’s second term, Mahmood Ali was made the home minister.

The Sachar Committee report had recommended that Muslims be given relevant reservation in government services, after systematically studying the backwardness of Muslims all across India. The Congress government did not follow it up with positive legislation beyond constituting state-level committees to assess the state-wise trend of Muslim backwardness. The BJP, on the other hand, rejected the Sachar Committee report. In contrast, immediately after forming the government in Maharashtra in 2014, the party nullified the reservation provided to Muslims in education that had been upheld by the Bombay High Court.

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KCR, in his first term, passed a Bill in the state Assembly to raise the reservation for Muslims in state employment to 12% from the existing 4%. The reservation was envisioned to include backward Muslim caste groups in the BC list.

Security and protecting cultural diversity

While north India is grappling with instances of communal violence, mob lynchings, and targeted killing of Muslims by BJP-affiliated Hindu nationalist groups, Telangana has not witnessed any major communal flare-up in the past nine years of the BRS rule. Muslims, who constitute about 13% of Telangana’s population, are free to practise their faith without any impediment.

The Union government introduced the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) that discriminates against citizens based on their religious identity. Scholars of constitutional law have called out the intentions of the BJP in enacting communal legislation that intends to disenfranchise Muslims. The Telangana government was one of the first in India to pass a resolution in the state Assembly to oppose the CAA. By doing so, the BRS stood behind the beleaguered minority community.

More recently, the BRS opposed the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) bill that was introduced by the Union government to bring in equality in personal laws. Although the UCC is being pushed as progressive legislation by the BJP, the intentions of the Hindu nationalists are malicious as they inch close to imposing Hindu cultural practices on minorities. The BJP’s vision of ‘one India, one law’ goes against the spirit of pluralism. Democracies survive when the cultural differences amongst communities are positively valued. The BRS’s opposition to the UCC stems from the liberal democratic position that the cultural practices of minority communities are to be respected and protected.

It is well-known that CM KCR is a devout and overt Hindu, who performs large-scale Hindu rituals and yagnas. Despite wearing his Hindu-ness on his sleeve, he has been equally vocal about being tolerant and respectful towards religious minorities.

In a marked difference to his predecessors in undivided Andhra Pradesh, KCR speaks to the members of the Muslim community in their own language, in chaste Urdu. It has been his long-time habit, since the days of the Telangana movement, to have a Muslim colleague by his side to tie a sacred datti to his hand before he delivers a speech or ventures out on an important mission. His presence at the Iftar and Christmas celebrations, organised by his government, is a testament to his commitment to protect the Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb that is integral to Telangana. ■ #hydnews #khabarlive #hydkhabar

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A senior journalist having 25 years of experience in national and international publications and media houses across the globe in various positions. A multi-lingual personality with desk multi-tasking skills. He belongs to Hyderabad in India. Ahssanuddin's work is driven by his desire to create clarity, connection, and a shared sense of purpose through the power of the written word. His background as an writer informs his approach to writing. Years of analyzing text and building news means that adapting to a reporting voice, tone, and unique needs comes as second nature.