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Understanding a Murder Attempt

The recent murderous attack on Akbaruddin Owaisi, leader of the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen in Hyderabad has exposed the fault lines in the Muslim community in the city. How these divisions are addressed will decide the fate of minority politics in the only metropolitan city of India with such a large Muslim population.


of the family gained many prizes and

Understanding a Murder Attempt

awards in the Nizam period and after. After the “Police Action” (the sending of the Indian army into the erstwhile Nizam M A Moid state in 1948) these Arabs lost their jobs

The recent murderous attack on Akbaruddin Owaisi, leader of the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen in Hyderabad has exposed the fault lines in the Muslim community in the city. How these divisions are addressed will decide the fate of minority politics in the only metropolitan city of India with such a large Muslim population.

M A Moid ( is at the Anveshi Research Centre for Women’s Studies, Hyderabad.

yderabad is going through an interesting and important phase after the murder attempt on Akbaruddin Owaisi on 30 April 2011. Akbar is the son of late Salahuddin Owaisi, and is a member of the Andhra Pradesh Legislative Assembly (MLA) and floor leader of the All India Majlise-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM for short). He and his elder brother Asaduddin Owaisi, member of Parliament from Hyderabad, lead the MIM.

Akbar was shot at and stabbed by a group of assailants after he completed a padyatra in his constituency of Chandrayan Gutta around 11.30 a m. He is now recovering from multiple bullet and stab injuries to his vital organs.

The Principal Actors

According to some news reports Akbar was attacked because he was trying to get back government land encroached upon by Mohammed Pahelwan and his family. Akbar’s intention was to fulfil his election promises, which included establishment of hospitals, residential schools, a Road Transport Authority centre, training institutes, houses for the poor, etc, in his constituency, while in the same instance to also punish Pahelwan who had helped MIM’s opponents with money and influence.

Mohammed Pahelwan is the fifth among six brothers of the Yafai family. Yafai is a Yemeni Arab tribal surname and Pahelwan’s ancestors came to Hyderabad for jobs and joined the Nizam’s army. They were famous for their loyalty and physical strength. They were allotted lands in present-day Barkas area, which falls in Chandrayan Gutta constitu ency, and a nearby village, Maheswaram.

According to an estimate there are Arabs from 52 tribes settled in Hyderabad. These tribal families specialise in particular skills and knowledge. For example, some are good farmers, some traders, some horse trainers, some expert in the use of weapons, some wrestlers. Mohammed Pahelwan’s family tradition was wrestling and members

may 21, 2011

and status since the Nizam’s army was disbanded and suffered hardships because of unemployment and poverty. They were often discriminated against and mocked at because of their extensive illiteracy, crude ways and old modes of conduct. After the Police Action a substantial numbers from them became violent petty criminals. They became so notorious that Barkas became a feared and avoided island of trouble for the citizens of Hyderabad. As a reaction to this growing criminalisation, the government established a Central Reserve Police Force barrack in the area to act as a deterrent.

In the post Police Action period some of these families sold their lands because of unemployment and others acquired it, sensing some business opportunities. They also started encroaching on lands which came to be vested with the government as a consequence of the implementation of the Jagirdari Abolition Act. These lands were either Nizam government land, land assigned to meet the Nizam’s personal expenses (sarf-e-khas) or land belonging to some nobles. The government did not take possession of it since it was barren and useless and the common people did not take interest in it because they are scared of these violent gangs. This situation created confusion and in return helped certain families like the Pahelwan’s family to encroach on these lands.

From the States

This week sees the launch of a new section “From the States”. The section will have short reports and comments sourced from the states and union territories.

We hope to offer our readers thick descriptions that provide insightful observations on events and trends which often do not get “national” attention and are yet important for understanding ourselves.

Beginning as an occasional section, we eventually hope to make it a weekly column that will include contributions from all states, especially those which often get little journalistic or research exposure.

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Economic & Political Weekly


In recent months Akbar started focusing on these encroached lands and put pressure on the government to repossess them. Pahelwan has claimed that all the land he possesses is legal and Akbar’s demands are merely to take revenge.

Another fact contributed to the attack on Akbar. The Yemeni Arabs of Barkas were brought into the MIM by its former leader Amanullah Khan and have remained attached to him. Later, when Khan left the MIM and formed the Majlis Bachao Tehreek (MBT), they became its strong supporters. Akbar has, over the past few years, skilfully weaned them away from the MBT and brought them back into MIM’s fold. This was obviously not liked by the MBT and its staunch supporters like Mohammed Pahelwan.

The attack on Akbar generated widespread concern and sympathy. Akbar is fairly popular in his constituency and among MIM supporters, especially among the youth. Born in 1971, Akbar, a dropout medical student, became MLA in 1999 when he defeated Amanullah Khan in his stronghold of Chandrayan Gutta. He steadily and effectively dismantled the support and sympathy for Amanullah Khan. This obviously infuriated Amanullah and his three sons. Initially, Akbar was considered a spoilt, carefree, irresponsible and maverick young man who was fond of worldly pleasures. He was mocked at by his opponents because of his effeminate looks and his love affair with a Christian girl whom he married secretly. However, in the recent past he has managed to change his public profile and today he is compared to his father in public speaking ability and his leadership and organisational skills are respected.

Questions and Pressures

With the attack on Akbar the situation has

become challenging. The MIM is unsure of how to respond to this attack. Until now, the MIM has avoided open confrontation with its political opponents. It is now tempted to

reverse this stand. However, strong action would lead to a loss of the Arab community’s support and would increase the chances of factional violence. On the other hand, a section of the MIM perceives this as a good opportunity to root out the armed, anti- social elements of Hyderabad’s Old City.

The descendants of the Arabs in the Old City of Hyderabad too are under pressure.

On the one hand they support the MIM in opposing the goonda elements in their own community, but on the other, the unity of their community is important for them. So what should they do: take sides with MIM or with their own community? It is reported that all the tribes decided, in a joint meeting, that if the MIM attacks them or follows a policy of revenge, they will then stand by each other.

The ruling Congress Party too is in a fix. The MIM is pressurising the administration to act against these land-grabbers. If they do, it may lead to violence and create law and order problems. However, if the government does not act to help the MIM consolidate its support, there is the danger that it may not support the Congress in the next elections. On another register, the lower levels of the administration appear to be in favour of the Pahelwans since they are known to treat them well and are a dependable source of regular alternate income. The government personnel on the ground often manipulate official records at the behest of the Pahelwans, of course for a consideration. The loss of the Pahelwans’ power will be a personal financial loss to such officials, so there is a likelihood that they may not cooperate in measures which aim to curb the power of the Pahelwans.

Support for MIM

The MIM has a very large degree of support of people in Hyderabad’s Old City, and in recent times this support has gone beyond merely Muslims to encompass sections of other communities too. There is now a widely held belief that the MIM is trying to develop the Old City, but these Pahelwans and other similar anti-social elements are an obstacle. People often express their strong disgust for these goondas and ask for their power to be eliminated. Various stories about how these Pahelwans, rowdies, moneylenders and anti-social elements make the lives of the poor miserable are legion in the Old City. However, there is clearly support for these Pahelwans too. Their supporters ask why the MIM, which supported and used these same goondas for advancing their political grip on the Old City, has now turned against them? What about those goondas who remain staunch MIMsupporters? Would the MIM act against those party functionaries who are invol ved in many questionable land deals and other settlements?

The Urdu press of Hyderabad too is divided on this issue. The editors of the two largest Urdu dailies, the Siasat and the Munsif, are under attack by the MIMbecause their current stance favours Pahelwan and they campaigned against the MIM in the 2009 elections. The MIM is saying that the editors of these newspapers are morally responsible for the attack on Akbar since they gave credibility and encouragement to these Pahelwans by making them look respectable with their coverage in their newspapers. On the other hand, these two

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newspapers accuse the Itemaad (the MIM organ) of bias in favour of its own party and of presenting only one side of the picture. The situation is interesting since both groups are accusing each other of bias while practising it themselves. It seems as if they feel that it is not the time for self-correction.


This attack on Akbar exposes the clash of two legitimacies which are sparring for support in the Old City of Hyderabad. It also raises several questions.

For some years now the MIM has been trying to build its legitimacy through developmental work and electoral support of a public beyond only the Muslims. The Pahelwans, many of them part of MIM’s own past, are intent on holding on to older forms of political power based on land. They are trying to prove that they are not land-grabbers but legitimate owners of land and that they are being victimised by the MIM. The recent developments also show a crisis among the Muslims of Hyderabad as they come to terms with a city which is rapidly changing. Which Hyderabad do they want to live in? The old Hyderabad with its familiar evils or do they want to take a chance to “improve” the Old City? Do these developments also indicate that the MIM is trying to redefine its role in Hyderabad, changing itself and its own image? Is there also a class division emerging in the vision of the Muslim community in Hyderabad, with the MIM giving representation to the poor Muslims while the Siasat and Munsif, representing the aversion of Hyderabad’s elite Muslims towards the party? What is the future of the Arabs and similar communities in Hyderabad? It must be remembered that while they came for service to the Nizam state many centuries ago, in the recent past they have been on the margins of society and other than their semi-legal/ illegal land and muscle-power “business” have few avenues for work and status. How will the larger Muslim community in Hyderabad, and the MIM as their representative, deal with them? Will they remain constant outsiders?

The battles over land are not going to melt away with this attack on Akbar. The Pahelwans are not going to withdraw from the encroachments. It is likely that for some this struggle will include prolonged legal battles, gang wars and intracommunity tensions.

Finally, there is the larger question of Andhra and Telangana politics. The people in Hyderabad from the Andhra regions have a strong bias in favour of the MIM which has not supported the demand for a separate Telangana. On the other hand, those opposed to the MIM, whether its political parties like the MBT, papers like the Siasat or local strongmen like Mohammed Pahelwan, all support separate Telangana. The MIM not only defends united Andhra Pradesh, it opposes the use of the term “settlers” for the people coming from Andhra. While at the formal level the MIM remains supportive of the Congress, it has not campaigned against Jaganmohan Reddy, the son of the former chief minister, Y S Rajasekhara Reddy, to show its gratitude to the late chief minister. These linkages will also affect, and will in turn, be affected by the struggle for supremacy in Hyderabad’s Old City.



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may 21, 2011 vol xlvI no 21

Economic Political Weekly

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