Telangana: In a high octane bypoll, considered a semi-final before Telangana Assembly polls in 2023, Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao’s Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) managed to get through in a tough fight with Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Meanwhile, the BJP was just 10,113 votes behind the winning party making it a neck-to-neck fight — a warning to the ruling party, say experts.
TRS winning candidate Koosukuntla Prabhakar Reddy won 96,598 votes in the Munugodu bypoll, and BJP’s Komatireddy Raj Gopal Reddy polled 86,485 votes after completion of counting in all the fifteen rounds, according to the Election Commission as of 8pm on Sunday.
Congress, which was in power in the constituency, polled only 23,864 votes, standing far behind. Munugode is a constituency in Nalgonda district. The story will be updated with the final figures post declaration.
The by-poll was necessitated after sitting MLA Komatireddy Raj Gopal Reddy quit Congress and resigned from his post in August. Reddy joined the BJP and contested on behalf of the party.
This is the first poll for TRS after the party was renamed BRS (Bharat Rashtra Samithi) in October, the change is subject to Election Commission approval.
“TRS win is a big boost for the cadre, ahead of the upcoming elections and especially after two humiliating losses. This might dampen the migrations [of TRS leaders] to other parties and will probably reinforce confidence. It is also the first election as BRS, so their victory over BJP might push their confidence that KCR can now expand his national plans,” political expert Telakapalli Ravi told ThePrint.
In Munugode, parts of which still are a vote bank of left parties, both CPI and CPM extended their support to the ruling party TRS. According to CPM leader Julakanti Ranga Reddy, the left parties hold a vote bank of at least 15,000 votes. It was once a Communist stronghold and in recent times Congress had a grip on the constituency through Reddy.
BJP making in-roads
Although the Munugode win is being considered as a boost to the TRS party, which largely banks on KCR’s welfare schemes, BJP’s tough fight cannot be ignored and is teaching lessons to the ruling party, say experts.
“More than BJP, it is Raj Gopal Reddy’s votes that transferred to the party. Reddy and his family have enjoyed popularity in that constituency for years and it is their traction that is helping the BJP. And through Reddy, the party made inroads in the rural segments of the constituency such as Nampally and Marriguda. He kind of enhanced the image of the Lotus symbol in those rural parts. And through Reddy, the rural population (in Munugode) now knows the Lotus symbol quite well,” political analyst Professor Ghanta Chakrapani told ThePrint.
“Given that BJP is a central party and their focus is on the South, particularly Telangana, it cannot be taken lightly anymore.The question now is, in the run up to Assembly polls how many such candidates will they find,” he added.
The BJP’s vote share in Telangana has been on a steady rise over the past few years, since they won their first bypoll in 2020.
For instance, in the Dubakka bypoll in 2020, the BJP secured 38.4 percent votes compared to 13.75 percent in 2018 state polls. In the 2021 Huzurabad bypoll BJP’s vote share shot up, defeating TRS by around 24,000 votes.
Like Munugode, the results in Dubakka and Huzarabad reflect the clout of the candidate over the party itself.
In Huzurabad, BJP’s candidate Etala Rajender, now a BJP MLA, was an ousted minister from KCR’s cabinet. Huzurabad is his stronghold. He jumped to BJP after being sacked from TRS Cabinet.
Dubbaka’s candidate, now a BJP MLA, Raghunandan Rao too was with TRS and has strong traction in his constituency. What also worked well at that time was also growing anti-incumbency for TRS in Dubbaka.
The BJP, in 2020, showed a remarkable performance in Greater Hyderabad Municipal polls winning 10 times more than what it won in 2016.
It’s not been all victories for BJP. In April 2021, they lost terribly to TRS in Nagarjuna Sagar bypoll. While Munugode is another loss they put up a noteworthy fight.
In the run-up to the hotly contested Munugode poll, Telangana witnessed a high magnitude political drama which included three supposed ‘BJP’ agents being arrested by state police for allegedly trying to poach four TRS MLAs. The police caught the agents, in a well-planned trap, in one of the MLA’s farmhouse following a tip off from the legislator. The agents claimed that at least 20 of the TRS MLAs are ready to jump ship.
To prove innocence, BJP Telangana Chief Bandi Sanjay even took an ‘oath’ at state’s Yadadri temple, saying that the party has no association with the entire issue.
KCR goes all out
As part of the election strategy, KCR reportedly deployed at least 80 of his MLAs in the constituency for poll work and campaign in the villages. The Chief Minister, himself took charge of a tiny village named Lenkalapally village in the constituency. KT Rama Rao, IT Minister and KCR’s son, said he would adopt Munugode if the party won.
“I would not consider this as a loss. Against a single man, KCR deployed the state machinery and yet this is the margin they could get. Crores of rupees were distributed by the ruling party, their agents were deployed even on polling day. All his ministers, MLAs were on ground in the constituency. I would consider this as a moral victory for us,” Raj Gopal Reddy said.
Unlike previous polls, BJP’s top brass did not extensively campaign in the constituency. Union Home Minister Amit Shah held a public meeting in August in Munugode, while KCR’s held one in late October.
Analyst Chakrapani pointed out how BJP’s challenge in Telangana is still keeping Congress at bay, before they take on TRS.
“Despite both parties going all out with resources, the Congress candidate still polled around 24,000 votes. This is even after they are struggling with their internal issues in state, it shows that Congress still has a hold in rural areas Congress. That will be the challenge for BJP in 2023 polls before they compete with TRS,” he said.
(Edited by Theres Sudeep)