Saturday, February 24, 2024

Telangana Polls: How parties are eyeing to hold the state with highest PCI

Photo: Shaheen Abdulla/Maktoob

In the run-up to the upcoming Lok Sabha polls scheduled to take place by May next year, the environment in India is certainly witnessing a shift in its functional environment. Beginning with the announcement of welfare schemes for the distribution of freebies up to conducting constant political meetings, there are multiple speculations and strategies that would make rounds in every party’s circle eventually hitting the headlines.

With preparations pacing up to prepare a ground for the self across the country, the final round of preparation comes to a halt with five states going to the polls this month. Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Telangana, and Mizoram would see polling happen on various dates, but results are to be announced on Dec 3rd this year. That day can definitely be seen as a deciding factor for assuming and predicting the results of parliamentary elections that are scheduled to be conducted in the next few months. 

Although three out of the five states excluding Telangana and Mizoram are well-known states with ruling governments belonging to national parties, the focus of attraction lies on the locus of the youngest state of India – Telangana which is ruled by the lesser-known regional party Bharat Rashtra Samithi (formerly known as Telangana Rashtra Samithi) with opposition Indian National Congress securing 19 seats while Bharatiya Janata Party secured a sole legislator. However, things started to change shortly thereafter which saw a contrasting rise of the BJP and a steep decline of the INC in the years to come. 

BRS

Founded in April 2001 after a split from the Telugu Desam Party as an organization demanding a separate statehood for the Telangana region of united Andhra Pradesh, the party’s journey was truly remarkable and inspiring. K.Chandrasekhar Rao, its key founding member after being denied a ministry in the then AP’s TDP govt led by N. Chandrababu Naidu decided to form this party on the lines of injustice suffered by the people of Telangana region. This party’s first electoral success was in the 2004 elections when it contested alongside Congress in the UPA coalition and won 26 out of 54 seats while it sent 5 MPs to the parliament. KCR was sworn in as the Minister of Labor in the Manmohan Singh’s ministry during the UPA-1. Upon Congress’s negligence towards KCR’s demand for separate statehood, TRS broke away from the UPA and suffered losses in both elections. 

Despite a downslide in electoral politics in the 2009 elections at both state and national levels, KCR continued his struggle although his steadfastness was often clamped down by the then INC CM Dr. YS Rajashekar Reddy. The unexpected death of sitting CM Dr. Reddy changed the political state of AP and started to face turbulence. Cashing the opportunity, KCR started to implement hard measures and more people joined him in the struggle cutting across party lines and the movement gained traction. Eventually started fast unto death and with his deteriorating health condition and movement picking up momentum, the Congress govt at the center announced the formation of the state. 

It is widely believed that Congress was forced to make this decision to safeguard its ground at least in Telangana as it almost lost itself in AP due to weak leadership at the state level and the emergence of YS Jaganmohan Reddy and his outfit – the YSRCP. After being denied the CM post after his father Dr. YS Rajasekhar Reddy’s death, he floated his own party in a rebel mode and was jailed. Adding to woes, the Congress was also facing nationwide protests such as India Against Corruption led by Anna Hazare and its ministers getting named in various scams. Conjectures include the news of KCR agreeing to a merger into the Congress once after Telangana was created similar to how a star actor turned politician Chiranjeevi merged his Praja Rajyam Party in the ruling INC, however, that didn’t happen. 

With 63 legislators in the region, TRS emerged victorious and after the formation of the new state, KCR was sworn in as the CM. The growth of the state had been phenomenal. With astounding progress in the fields of Pharma, IT, Infrastructure, Irrigation, and Agriculture, the growth was uphill. There were many developmental projects that were completed in record time. With borrowings from the center, the prestigious Kaleshwaram project was completed, and water supply was provided to every household. There were excess savings on electricity and contract farmers were making good grants. GSDP The Per Capita Income of TS is 1.8 times higher than the national average. At 16.3%, the state ranked 3rd in terms of the growth rate of GSDP in 2022-23 while Telangana also has the lowest debt to GSDP ratio of 25.3 per cent. 

With all the indicators soaring to a record new, KCR elevated his aspirations and aimed to enter national politics. He was seen criticizing PM Narendra Modi more often after 2020 and met CMs of various states with the intention of floating a third front and even renamed the party Bharata Rastra Samiti, eroding the founding principle of building on sentiments of Telangana. However, things started to go downhill as his daughter K. Kavita was named in the charge sheet by the ED and increasing allegations of corruption in the Kaleshwaram dam and other infra projects. There were loopholes in these projects TSPSC paper leak and subsequent cancellation of exams only exposed their incompetence. Salt on the wounds was the constant attack by the opposition for promoting nepotism. 

Although KCR’s governance is mostly viewed as a dictatorship, he barely meets his own legislators and is confined mostly to his farmhouse, he’s believed to be a shrewd politician. An astute person whose strategies often left many in their own party baffled and pulled off miracles. There were situations where prominent personalities in the state including All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen chief Asaduddin Owaisi had praised his strategical skills. A citable example of his tactics is containing the defections from his party. At a time when it was widely reported that 50-odd leaders from the ruling TRS may switch over to the BJP close to elections, it was then seen as a formidable force. In an instance where five legislators even agreed to join the party and meetings were on with the people sent by the HM of India, Amit Shah, a clip of the alleged meeting was viral and got telecasted on all news channels, the first of its kind. It was further discussed that KCR set up coverts in the BJP to track the movements of his own party people. Such are his moves, unpredictable. 

Assumption – With a strong anti-incumbency thought, exposure to corruption, and failure to create adequate employment in the public sector, the present ruling BRS is in a state of turmoil. With Congress now standing at the tip of the tongue for many in the state, it is likely to receive tough competition. But with an enormous amount of cash flows to all the houses and KCR’s clever gambits, no surprise even if the BRS clinches the victory. 

Congress

Congress is the only but weak opposition in Telangana which previously was a major party in erstwhile Andhra Pradesh that won 9 out of 13 elections with the opposition being the NTR’s outfit – TDP. The bifurcation of AP resulted in the suicide of Congress in the newly formed AP while it also suffered a major blow in Telangana reducing the tally to 21 and 19 in the 2014 and 2018 elections respectively. Further, 11 more defected in to the ruling TRS, worsening the situation of INC in the state. INC saw its rock bottom when it could win only 2 seats in the Hyderabad Municipal elections and TPCC president Uttam Kumar Reddy who was in charge of Congress since Telangana’s formation resigned. 

With the post of TPCC being vacant for over a year, there were many contenders for that post. However, the surprise pick of an MP from Malkajgiri, A. Revant Reddy was seen as the reason behind the rise of the INC again in Telangana. A sharpest critic of the opposition, an RSS affiliate and active member of the ABVP (student wing of the BJP) during his college days, who was assumed to be very close to TDP’s supremo Chandra Babu Naidu, Revanth Reddy’s inclusion into the party happened in 2017 when speculations were rife about his switch into the BJP from the TDP. It was widely believed that CBN was also responsible for Reddy’s inclusion into the INC during the pre-poll alliance for the 2018 TS elections. With lots of hardliners in the party, Revant Reddy’s sudden elevation as the party chief didn’t go down well within the party seniors and resulted in serious infighting and few defections, however, he remained unfazed.  

Fortunes never seemed to be bettering, let alone becoming worse as INC lost all 4 by-polls held in the state where in 3 of them it was left behind even the until then irrelevant BJP. Their biggest jolt was when one of the star MLAs, K. Raj Gopal Reddy, shifted to BJP after allegedly being awarded a contract of 18,000 crores, was rumored to take along his elder brother K. Venkat Reddy into the BJP as he wasn’t offered the top post.  

However, after assuming the charge, Revanth Reddy was seen working on the ground holding a number of meetings, and press conferences and downpouring criticism on the ruling opposition. He goes on to say in an India Today Conclave that around 200 cases were registered against him by the ruling TRS in the last 9 years. He was previously caught on tape in a sting operation while he was trying to bribe a nominated TRS MLA Elvis Stevenson for his support in the MLC elections at the behest of his then boss and CM of AP Naidu and was jailed for 6 months. 

With an evident increase of mobilization of the cadre, extensive election campaign by the state’s top brass setting aside their personal aspirations, and most importantly Bharat Jodo Yatra and the INC’s win of the K’taka’s state election are tipping points for sudden elevated levels of energy. The win of Karnataka boosted the morale of the party while the anti-incumbency of the ruling TRS, failures of the govt, and most importantly, the announcement of various welfare schemes that paid off for the INC in K’taka are the turning factors. The guarantees in the manifesto and beliefs of people in this grand old party after the above two events increasingly expanded their ground. Further, the trend reversed and more people, from both the BJP and the BRS were returning to the INC fold.

Assumption – Although there are various reports by different organizations that conduct exit polls that predict Congress may emerge victorious in the state election, it is highly unlikely that they can become true. There’s a great chance of seeing a hung verdict due to a presumable neck-to-neck battle in the state, but this can be a huge advantage for Congress with a predominant increase in their vote share. 

BJP

To begin with, the BJP, a party that is irrelevant in entire South India barring Karnataka witnessed a meticulous rise when it stood at second position during the 2019 LS polls winning 4 out of 17 seats outnumbering INC’s tally of 3 surprising their own leadership, while the ruling TRS bagged 9 and 1 stood with AIMIM as always.  

As a major boost, the BJP began focusing on Telangana by strengthening their party structure, mobilizing cadre, and sending heavyweights for a mere GHMC (Hyderabad’s local body) election campaign. Efforts paid as the saffron party won a legislative by-election in September 2020, stood second in Hyderabad’s municipal election in December 2020 by winning 48 wards – an addition of whopping 44 seats into their account and winning their third assembly seat at Huzurabad in a by-poll that arose due to expulsion of TRS’s founding member, a stalwart and sitting minister Etela Rajender who later joined BJP and won in Nov’2021. 

A change in the top leadership contributed a part after Bandi Sanjay, an OBC MP from Karimnagar, was made party president as the predecessor Laxam was made the BJP national president for OBC.  While the only consistent BJP MP Kishan Reddy was promoted as MoS Home, Etela Rajendar was appointed as a chairman of the newly formed Admissions committee to oversee new admissions into the party. 

Although the BJP couldn’t win another by-poll in March 2021, a sitting INC MLA, K. Raj Gopal Reddy from Mungodu in south Telangana, which is INC’s stronghold and where the BJP’s presence is the least switched over and speculated admission of his older brother K. Venkat Reddy an INC MP also into the party. However, things differed, and K. Rajgopal lost the country’s costly by-election till date in October 2022 although BJP increased its vote share while Venkat Reddy continued in his position. 

BJP is now emerging as an alternative to the ruling TRS with a lot of low-level admissions, significant media presence in the state, frequent political gatherings attended by national leaders including the PM, and most importantly feisty irrational, and communal speeches targeting opposition and minorities of the newly appointed state head who was a municipal corporator until May 2019. The most advertised and spoken out point is the arrest of CM KCR’s daughter K. Kavitha in Delhi’s liquor policy case. Kavita is a former MP and an MLC who was defeated by the BJP MP from Nizamabad in the 2019 LS polls. She was summoned by the ED a few times and named in the chargesheet filed by them. 

All was progressing well despite factions in the state unit until the internal cracks became a menace. There was a clear dissident between the new recruits and hardliners. The Operational style of both also differed and caused compatibility issues. There was an issue within the state circuit regarding the functional way of the state chief and owing to all the above, unhappiness among party circles for not bringing the blown trumpet to reality about Kavita’s arrest. The final nail in the coffin was replacing Bandi Sanjay with Kishan Reddy as party head which ended the BJP’s claim of making an OBC the CM of Telangana at a time when INC started to gain hold in the state resulting in its downfall.

Assumption – BJP was a rampantly growing force in the state and their leaders couldn’t stop singing their own praises stating they would come to power defeating the BRS, clearly it subsided. Unintentional application of brakes slowed down its speed and is currently assumed to grab 5-7 seats with a slight increase in the vote share.

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