Hyderabad: Buoyed by its bypoll victory at Dubakka earlier this month, the BJP is now looking to make further inroads in Telangana.
The party late Sunday night appointed national general secretary Bhupendra Yadav, as the state’s election in-charge for upcoming Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) polls.
Along with Yadav, BJP national president J.P. Nadda also appointed Karnataka Health Minister K. Sudhakar, Maharashtra MLA Ashish Shelar and the Gujarat secretary Pradipsinh Vaghela as co-in-charges for the elections.
The GHMC has about 150 divisions and elections are to be held on 1 December. The state election commission notification regarding this was issued Tuesday.
“If the central leadership has roped in Yadav, you can analyse how serious they are about Telangana. The chief minister thought he would catch us off-guard by suddenly wanting to go for GHMC polls but we are prepared,” former MP and BJP leader Vivek Venkata Swamy told ThePrint. “We’ve already conducted a survey to identify the constituencies that need work, we’ve been at it for at least a month.”
The appointments come on the back of the BJP’s stunning win in the Dubakka bypoll, results for which were declared on 10 November. The BJP’s Madhavaneni Raghunandan Rao defeated the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samiti’s Solipeta Sujatha by 1,079 votes.
Although the bypoll win was by a slender margin and doesn’t really help the BJP’s numbers in the Telangana assembly, where it now has just two MLAs in the 119-member assembly, the optics are hard to ignore.
For one, Dubakka is a stronghold of KCR’s Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS). To the east of Dubakka is Siddipet, a constituency held by the state Finance Minister Harish Rao, Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao’s nephew. It is also bordered by KCR’s constituency of Gajwel and Sircilla, represented by his son, the Municipal Minister K.T. Rama Rao or KTR as he is known.
And the importance that the BJP is attaching to the victory can be seen from its activities since. The party’s IT team had organised a preparatory meeting for its ‘social media warriors’ Monday, while recently appointed state president Bandi Sanjay is also planning a padayatra in the constituencies that is likely to begin in a week.
BJP’s expanding footprint
The BJP, which had been a peripheral player in the state since its formation in 2014, managed to make a splash by winning four seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
One of the key seats won by the party was Nizamabad, which was then held by KCR’s daughter Kalvakuntla Kavitha. Another seat was won by G. Kishan Reddy, who is now a union minister.
The BJP has, off late, made it clear that it is looking to unseat the Congress as the principal opposition party and provide an alternative to the ruling TRS in the 2023 Assembly polls.
“We want to create an impression that we are a strong alternative to TRS and not the Congress. Congress is no more a political force in Telangana — we want to show this to people,” BJP MLC Ramchander Rao had earlier told ThePrint.
The Congress has six MLAs and three MPs in the state. And the BJP’s rise has in part been due to the party’s downfall in the state.
While the Congress managed to win 19 assembly seats in the 2018 polls, 12 of its legislators have defected to the TRS. A few veteran Congress leaders have also joined the BJP. But, hardly any BJP leaders jumped ship in the past few years.
The inability of the party to keep its flock together coupled with internal issues among the top leadership, like in other states, is making way for the party’s exit.
“We did not have any defections despite losing elections. Going forward, we are likely to see more Congress workers move to BJP,” Vivek Swamy said.
‘Social media’ and ‘youth’ are going to be BJP’s one of the top focus going forward, according to MP Arvind Dharmapuri. The party even revamped their ‘digital media consulting’ team, said Vivek Swamy.
The strong backlash among the youth, who rallied behind KCR during the Telangana movement, is growing against the chief minister for failing to keep his promise on providing jobs.
Experts and Congress leaders say that KCR also aided the BJP’s growth.
“KCR undemocratically took away all our MLAs & MLCs, so obviously it became a challenge to Congress party,” said the Telangana AICC member Mahesh Konagala.
Senior poltical analyst Prof. Nageshwar Rao said KCR also shared good ties with Prime Minister Narendra Modi between 2014 and 2019.
“Was there even one day (between 2014-2019) when KCR actually fought with the PM for the rights of the state? Central ministers appreciated KCR for his policies and KCR even supported Modi over the controversial demonetisation policy,” Rao said.
“When all the southern states were opposing the 15th Finance Commission recommendations, why did the KCR government not do so?” Rao asked. “What was the result of all this? The BJP won four parliamentary seats in 2019. It does not work if KCR speaks against BJP just before the elections. At least now, the recent bypoll should be a learning point for the TRS.”
Polarisation & AIMIM
The BJP has also stuck to its polarisation strategy, opposing the Telangana High Court’s ban on firecrackers as it “hurts Hindu sentiments” and targeting the ruling party for allying with Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM).
And with elections for the Hyderabad corporation around the corner, the party is keeping up its attack. Last week, party chief Bandi Sanjay alleged that there’s a ‘secret understanding’ between the parties and the TRS is considering handing over the mayoral position to AIMIM. The deputy mayor, usually, is from the AIMIM.
“For me, the GHMC polls are old city vs rest of the city. AIMIM is BJP’s opponent rather than TRS,” Arvind said.
The older part of the city is considered Owaisi’s stronghold. Of the total of 150 seats going to polls in the upcoming GHMC elections, 45 of them are in the old city.
Former TRS MP B. Vinod Kumar, however, told ThePrint that such tactics won’t work in the city. “Telangana is a very progressive state; there has never been a place for communal ideologists,” Kumar said. “Any kind of fundamentalists, be it Islamic or any other, do not have a place in the state.”
‘A target too far’
Experts, however, say the BJP is a long way off challenging KCR, pointing out that the party has only two MLAs and four MPs in Telangana as against KCR’s over 100 MLAs and 10 MPs.
Prof. Rao told ThePrint that judging the saffron party’s performance based on one constituency and expecting it to ‘catapult’ to power in 2023 is too far-fetched. That being said, he further points out, that it cannot be ignored that the saffron party is swiftly expanding its footprint in Telangana.
For senior political analyst Telakapalli Ravi, the thought of the BJP providing a strong opposition to KCR is too ‘premature’ at this point. “Their dreams are riding high because this (bypoll) is a major victory for the saffron party and for TRS it is indeed a jolt,” Ravi told ThePrint. “But this does not mean the BJP will be able to turnaround everything and become a strong opposition to TRS in the state. It’s not so easy, it’s too premature to say that now.”
Both the Congress and the ruling TRS also claim that they are not unduly worried.
“I disagree that BJP can take away the status of opposition- that party does not even have any roots in Telangana,” Congress leader Mahesh Konagala said. “Congress at least was the reason why Telangana could become a separate state. Whatever positions they (BJP) won are purely because the candidates have a lot of local influence than the BJP party’s image.”
“There is no reason to worry. A lot of seats where BJP had a stronghold, TRS won in the past,” former TRS MP Vinod Kumar told ThePrint. “This one victory does not mean anything. Congress is still very much the principal opposition in the state; they have strong grassroots.”