Muslims in Andhra Pradesh are likely to throw their weight behind the ruling Congress party in the elections to parliament and the state assembly.
Muslims, who constitute up to 10 percent of the state's 55 million voters, may sail with the Congress in a majority of the constituencies, members of the community interviewed by IANS said.
The four percent reservations provided by the government in government jobs and educational institutions, scholarships for students and other schemes may help the Congress to get many Muslim votes. The community plays a decisive role in 50 of the 294 assembly and in 15 of the 42 Lok Sabha constituencies.
Analysts say that the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) has not succeeded in winning back the trust of the minorities despite snapping ties a long time ago with Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The resentment against the TDP is believed to have played a key role in the party's drubbing in the 2004 elections, which it hfought in alliance with the BJP. The TDP was virtually wiped out in the Telangana region, where Muslim voters make up a significant chunk of the electorate.
The continuing credibility crisis vis-a-vis TDP chief N. Chandrababu Naidu and the seeming failure of superstar Chiranjeevi's Praja Rajyam to reach out to the community are also likely to help the Congress.
"The Congress government has done some good work. It was better than the previous TDP government," said Abdul Sattar, a hotel owner in Muslim-majority Kohir town in Medak district.
"Like the other sections of the population, Muslims also benefited from free electricity to agriculture, rice at Rs.2 a kg, housing, pension and health insurance schemes. The continuance of this government will help the poor," Sattar told IANS.
Muslims, like other voters, are not ready to believe the TDP's promise of free colour television and payment of Rs.1,000-2,000 per month to poor and middle class families.
"There is no guarantee that Naidu will implement these promises after coming to power because he did nothing during his nine-year rule," said M.A. Toufeeq, a farmer.
"During TDP rule it was impossible to get a ration card. This government has issued ration cards to all and is supplying Rs.2 a kg rice. This is important for poor people like us. What will we do with television?" asked Abdul Subhan, an auto-rickshaw driver in Zaheerabad town.
Many Muslim religious and social organisations are backing the Congress, as they did in previous polls. Even the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM), which has its stronghold in Muslim-majority old city of Hyderabad, wants Muslims to vote for the Congress in the rest of the state.
"We are asking Muslims to vote for their friendly party. We need not name that party. They know it," said MIM president Asaduddin Owaisi, who is seeking re-election to the Lok Sabha from Hyderabad.
MIM, which is strongly opposed to the TDP for the latter's support to the BJP-led NDA government despite the Gujarat riots, is not fielding candidates outside Hyderabad to prevent any division of Muslim votes.
MIM, which hopes to increase its tally in the assembly from five to seven this time, has no formal alliance with the Congress but is believed to have a secret understanding with it.
The Jamaat-e-Islami, a religious and social organisation, has also declared its support to the Congress in 37 Lok Sabha and 267 assembly constituencies.
In the rest, it is backing either the TDP or its alliance partners Telangana Rastra Samiti, Communist Party of India or Communist Party of India-Marxist.
"We are supporting secular and good candidates who are in a strong position to defeat candidates of the fascist parties," said Malik Motasim Khan, head of the Jamaat's Andhra Pradesh and Orissa zone.
However, Muslim groups are not supporting Congress candidates in some constituencies.
For instance, they are against sitting Congress legislator in the Mudhool assembly constituency in Adilabad district, alleging that he was involved in last year's communal riots in Bhainsa town.
The delimitation of constituencies has strengthened the position of Muslim voters in some constituencies. Muslims now form 70 percent of the electorate in the Hyderabad Lok Sabha constituency, which MIM has represented since 1984.
Muslims are 30-90 percent of the voters in eight assembly constituencies in Hyderabad. They are over 15 percent of the electorate in 40 other assembly constituencies.