Hyderabad: If its crushing defeat in the Hyderabad municipal polls was not enough, the Congress has now seen two key defections to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), posing a tough fight to the Sonia Gandhi-led party that is struggling to stay relevant as an opposition in Telangana.
On Monday, the party’s star leader Vijayashanti, actor-turned politician, returned to the BJP, with which she had started her political career in 1998. Joining her was Gudur Narayana, a senior Congress leader who had been with with the party for more than three decades. He moved to the BJP and met national president J.P. Nadda on the same day.
The move came following the party’s disastrous show in last week’s municipal polls where it managed to win only two seats — the same as last time — but saw its vote share fall by 3.7 per cent from 2016 to 6.68 per cent.
On the day of results last week, Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee (TPCC) president Uttam Kumar Reddy submitted his resignation.
Meanwhile, rival BJP increased its strength to 12 times its 2016 tally — from merely four seats to 48, emerging as the key opposition party in the council. Its vote share jumped to 35 per cent from 10.34 per cent in 2016, coming at the cost of all the other major parties.
While the municipal poll results were no less than a roller-coaster for the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) and the BJP, it remained the same old story for the Congress — no progress, lacklustre performance and a gradual collapse.
“It is a replication of what is happening at the national level — general decline and collapse of Congress. They are not able to stem the juggernaut of BJP,” senior political analyst Telakapalli Ravi told ThePrint.
The defections and disunity
The Congress in Telangana is no different from other states. It is troubled with continuous defections and disunity among the top leadership.
The party, which managed to win 19 seats in the assembly polls in 2018, was deprived of the status of main opposition in the state after a dozen of its legislators defected to the ruling TRS. At the time, Congress leaders alleged that Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao had orchestrated the defection and called it “undemocratic” — making it hard for the party to survive. As of now, it has only six legislators in the state.
Veteran leaders such as D.K. Aruna and Sabitha Indra Reddy also left the party.
According to analysts, the inability of the party to keep its flock together is one of the prime reasons why people may have seen BJP as a better alternative or a stronger opposition to TRS.
Earlier, BJP leader Vivek Venkat Swamy had told ThePrint that “a lot of Congress leaders are going to join the BJP in coming days”.
“Even if people vote for Congress and it wins — they (its leaders) are moving to other parties or mainly the ruling party. So, people who wanted to teach the TRS a lesson thought there is no point voting for them (the Congress) — because they will anyway move,” said senior political analyst K. Ramachandra Murthy.
“They preferred BJP over Congress and the saffron party managed to convince people that they can emerge as a strong alternative with enough support,” Murthy said.
The high decibel civic poll campaign in Hyderabad hardly saw any aggression from the Congress. In comparison, the BJP went all out and got its bigwigs such as Home Minister Amit Shah and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath to hold rallies in the city.
“Why could not Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi or even Siddaramiah come to campaign in Hyderabad polls, which got so intense, and especially when BJP got the Union home minister to conduct road shows,” political analyst Professor Nageshwar Rao said.
‘No discussion on reviving party’
It was a similar situation in last month’s Dubbaka bypoll when the Congress easily got pushed to the third spot, with the fight between the TRS and the BJP taking the centre stage.
In a blow to the ruling party, the BJP won the bypoll with a slender margin. The Congress lost 3 per cent vote share and stood at 13.4 per cent as compared to 38.4 per cent of the BJP.
“The only discussion that happens in the office is who will take over as party chief and not on how should the party revive itself,” a senior Congress leader told ThePrint on condition of anonymity.
The party, which ruled the undivided Telugu state for decades, saw a downfall after its bifurcation. In the 2014 polls, the party managed to gain only 11.6 per cent vote share in undivided Andhra Pradesh, thus making way for regional parties.
In the 2018 Telangana assembly polls, the party’s vote share was 28.4 per cent. The subsequent 2019 Lok Sabha polls saw its share going up marginally to 29 per cent.
Over the years, the party failed to highlight the UPA’s role in the separate statehood movement and establish itself as a key opposition.
“After a separate state was announced, KCR stayed in Delhi for nearly 20 days. In that time, Congress did not have any sense to call Sonia Gandhi here and arrange a meeting and take credit for a separate state. They were hoping KCR would join them and allow a Congressman to become a CM — that did not happen,” Murthy said.
The internal tussle
Following the unsatisfactory performance in the 2018 elections, rival factions within the party blamed TPCC chief Uttam Kumar Reddy for the poll debacle, saying he was working as an agent for the chief minister and compromised with the ruling party on the condition of getting away from the scams that occurred during his tenure as housing minister.
The party also faced criticism from its own leaders about handing over the state leadership only to the upper caste ‘Reddy’ community, which has been one of the strongest vote bases of the Congress, especially when it ruled the undivided Telugu state for a decade.
When the party secured only 21 seats in the assembly polls in 2014, then TPCC president Ponnala Lakshmiah (a backward class leader) was asked to resign due to the poor performance of the party. Reddy was appointed in his position, and under his leadership the party showed an even more dismal performance. A dozen of its leaders even moved away to the ruling party.
Yet, Reddy continued to be at the helm of the state leadership, which attracted criticism from its own party leaders.
However, despite the sorry state of affairs, the Congress cannot be completely written off, pointed out analyst Rao, adding that there is a desperate need for the party to revive its leadership and strategies to survive in Telangana.