Electioneering in historic Old City of Hyderabad: Tradition meets modernity
In the heart of Hyderabad's Old City, a unique electoral landscape unfolds as the election season approaches. The All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslim (AIMIM), a political stalwart in the region since 1969, holds fast to time-honoured campaign techniques in a world increasingly dominated by digital platforms and social media.
HYDERABAD: In the heart of Hyderabad's Old City, a unique electoral landscape unfolds as the election season approaches. The All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslim (AIMIM), a political stalwart in the region since 1969, holds fast to time-honoured campaign techniques in a world increasingly dominated by digital platforms and social media. This traditional approach, emulated by many but mastered by few, sets the AIMIM distinctly apart, especially when it comes to the Old City's vibrant political culture.
Three pivotal components shape the quintessential Old City campaign. Typically, the day starts with a 'padayatra' (foot march) beginning in the early hours and stretching until 10 a.m. Come evening, another padayatra is organised, commencing at 4 pm and lasting until sundown. But the hallmark of these campaigns isn't these marches; it's the intimate street-corner meetings rather than grand public gatherings.
The ‘Jalsa-e-Aam’ (public meeting), a central tool in the AIMIM's campaign arsenal, gained traction under the leadership of Sultan Salahuddin Owaisi. During his era, Owaisi could spearhead up to ten meetings nightly across Hyderabad, but the Election Commission of India (ECI) now sets campaign curfews, requiring these sessions to wrap up by 10 p.m.
The 1994 elections further amplified the significance of the ‘Jalsa-e-Halaat-e-Hazera’ (public meeting on current affairs), a format pioneered by the AIMIM and their arch-rival, the Majlis Bachao Tahreek (MBT). These gatherings, often overflowing with attendees, offer voters both enlightenment and entertainment.
AIMIM leaders seize these platforms to critique their adversaries, enumerate their accomplishments, and strike an intensely emotive chord with their audiences. Spellbinding orations by stalwarts like Asaduddin Owaisi and Akbaruddin Owaisi, interwoven with historical references, humour, and sharp rebuttals, become the session's highlights.
Distinct from its political counterparts, AIMIM invests considerable effort in orchestrating these meetings. The party meticulously selects potential speakers, offering them comprehensive training. Clearing the selection process is no small feat. With an impressive frequency of 8–10 meetings daily, some constituencies like Yakutpura, Chandrayangutta and Charminar witness multiple meetings.
The Party deploys over 50 trained orators with each assigned a specific topic, ensuring the narrative stays consistent. The party's top leaders, Asaduddin Owaisi and Akbaruddin Owaisi attend an average of three meetings daily. The hierarchy is strictly observed, with the most senior leaders taking the podium last.
In a setting where respect is paramount, even the most senior leaders defer to the arrival of prominent figures like Asaduddin Owaisi or Akbaruddin Owaisi. The outgoing speaker, regardless of how briefly they have spoken, promptly concludes their address. Even the order of slogans to be shouted is pre-decided and no one can deviate from them.
In a nod to the digital age, these meetings are simulcast live across platforms like YouTube and Facebook. The eloquence and flair encapsulated in these speeches make them worth revisiting. Yet, for many, the allure of a live event far surpasses a digital rerun.
Situated along key streets in the Old City, these public meetings have evolved into cultural phenomena, drawing vast crowds. The MBT, although following a similar format, hasn't quite matched the AIMIM's magnetic pull. Bar the AIMIM and MBT, other parties fall noticeably short in crowd turnout and speech content.
While these 'Jalsa-e-Halat-e-Hazera' are rooted in electioneering, they've seamlessly woven themselves into the cultural fabric of Hyderabad.