Hyderabad: With a focus on expanding its presence in the south, the BJP is all set to hold its national executive meeting in Telangana over this weekend.
The meeting is being held in Hyderabad after 18 years and, according to party leaders, validates how serious the top leadership is about its ‘Mission South’ agenda.
Over 300 leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, chief ministers and deputy chief ministers of 14 NDA-ruled states [not all CMs are attending], national committee members, and state party presidents, will all be present for the high-level policy meeting.
PM Modi is also scheduled to address a public gathering in Hyderabad Sunday.
According to a BJP press note, 34 committees have been formed to oversee the arrangements for the events spread over two days.
Ahead of the meeting, party leaders and national officebearers — including Union ministers and MPs — were reportedly instructed by BJP president J.P. Nadda to spend 48 hours in the state’s 119 assembly constituencies as part of ‘Mission Telangana’, and meet the public before the meeting.
The duration had to later be brought down to 24 hours due to some “constraints”, a senior Telangana BJP leader told ThePrint.
“All key top leaders, well known to the public, like Union ministers or key MPs, have been allotted constituencies in and around Hyderabad only because we believe our scope in these areas is a lot more,” the senior Telangana BJP leader said.
“Former MPs or MLAs have been allotted constituencies located further away from Hyderabad. Their duty is to talk to the public, understand what the core issues are and give feedback for us to chalk out our plan,” the leader added.
According to the list, which ThePrint has accessed, Bengaluru MP Tejasvi Surya was sent to Karimnagar, Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting Anurag Singh Thakur to Quthbullapur on the outskirts of Hyderabad, MP Kiren Rijiju to Rajendranagar in Ranga Reddy district, MP Giriraj Singh to the tony Jubilee Hills, and former Chhattisgarh CM and BJP leader Raman Singh to Goshamahal, whose MLA is the controversial BJP leader Raja Singh.
Union minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi was sent to Chandrayangutta, whose current MLA is AIMIM’s Akbaruddin Owaisi, while actor-turned politician Khushboo Sundar was in Charminar.
Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis was tasked with Khairatabad.
“We are also planning to take Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath to the Bhagyalakshmi temple near Charminar,” the BJP leader quoted above added.
The small Bhagyalakshmi temple, located next to Charminar and the Makkah Masjid in Hyderabad, has become a key flashpoint in the city’s politics over the past year and a half, owing to the BJP’s focus on the temple.
“The BJP believes they have the platform to grow in Telangana, which is why they chose this place for the meeting. The Gujarat assembly election is being held end-2022 and Himachal is due for polls too, but instead of choosing a place in those states, the party chose Hyderabad,” said Professor Nageshwar Rao, a senior political analyst.
“That shows the political importance they want to give to this region.”
Among the southern states, the BJP has so far only led a government in Karnataka. However, it has been making inroads in Telangana, as proved by its performance in bypolls and the 2020 Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) elections.
Talking about the BJP’s plans in the state over the weekend, party leader N.V. Subhash said they are “planning to distribute booklets on how people are benefitting via central government schemes and highlighting the unfulfilled promises of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) government”.
“The BJP was not strong here before 2018 but now look at us. Our presence cannot be ignored at all,” he added.
Show of strength
Hoping to mobilise 10 lakh people for the PM’s public meeting on 3 July, party leaders have been asked to gather 10,000 people from each of their constituencies, said the BJP press note. Donations are also being collected from 50,000 zonal, district, and state-level leaders for the event, the note added.
Speaking to ThePrint, a party leader said that the BJP will also be conducting ‘sammelans (gatherings)’ for different linguistic communities in the state.
“There are a number of people from different states residing in Telangana and the BJP will conduct sammelans with such communities from Gujarat, Kerala and Rajasthan, among others. The idea is to connect with them and make them understand what all the BJP government (at the Centre) has been doing for them,” added the leader.
During his visit, Modi will also enjoy Telangana’s traditional dishes, being exclusively prepared for him by a caterer from Karimnagar — G. Yadamma.
In a setback ahead of the meeting, though, four of the BJP’s Greater Hyderabad municipal corporators — Hasthinapuram corporator Banoth Sujatha Naik, Rajendranagar’s Podavu Archana Prakash, Jubilee Hills’ D. Venkatesh, and Adikmet’s Sunita Prakash Goud — joined the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) Thursday. So did Tandur Municipal Council floor leader Sinduja Goud.
Not just TRS, Congress a challenge too
In Telangana, it is not just the TRS that poses a challenge to the BJP, but also the Congress.
The BJP is holding this high-level meeting in the state to create a “perception” that they can emerge as a major threat to the TRS, said Rao. However, he added, it will also be a challenge for them to keep the Congress at bay.
Said a BJP leader on the condition of anonymity: “The Congress’ greatest advantage is that their ground workers are very strong here and they have a good number of popular faces in the party. Their entire cadre has become very motivated after Revanth Reddy’s appointment [as Pradesh Congress Committee president] and that will be a challenge for us.”
Another BJP functionary pointed out that they don’t want to give any space to the Congress in the political set-up. “In West Bengal, too, we emerged as the principal opposition party and we are quite sure of gaining power in future. Telangana is important in our scheme of things as far as our ‘Mission South’ is concerned,” the leader said to ThePrint.
Rao said the BJP’s presence in the state is growing. “We are not concluding that the BJP will come to power in Telangana or when it can come to power, but it’s presence is growing,” he added.
The BJP’s win in the Dubbaka bypoll in 2020 against the TRS was a turning point for the party. What followed next was the BJP’s stellar performance in the GHMC polls the same year — when it won 48 of the corporation’s 150 wards. The TRS won 55 and the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), 44, that year.
Then came its victory in the Huzurabad bypoll in 2021, which had become a grudge match between Telangana CM K. Chandrashekar Rao and the BJP’s Eatala Rajender, the TRS leader’s former aide.
If one were to look at numbers purely, the BJP is nowhere close to competing with the TRS. The BJP has just three legislative members in the 119-member assembly, whereas the TRS has over 100. The BJP has four MPs, one of whom came to power after defeating KCR’s daughter Kavitha in 2019, while the TRS has 16 [including in the Rajya Sabha].
The BJP has been focusing on capitalising on what it describes as growing resentment in the state over KCR’s governance, especially in some pockets, such as unemployed youth and teachers, among others.
To that end, to show how well the BJP’s top leadership aims to be connected to Telangana, PM Modi met Hyderabad municipal corporators in Delhi earlier this month.
However, analysts and insiders said, the BJP has some internal work to do before it can hit out at the TRS or the Congress in Telangana.
The party, they added, must fix internal issues between state leaders.
BJP leaders ThePrint spoke to said there are different ‘factions’ inside the state party. Lack of strong faces, and ground cadre is another challenge for the party.
“This is a big political event for the BJP, and Modi’s public meeting and the party leaders’ actions will lead to a war of words between the TRS and the BJP that will continue over the next one month,” Rao said. “The party plans to use the social demography of the state and also its national heft with Modi’s image.”
(Edited by Zinnia Ray Chaudhuri)