Cliffhanger in Telangana, India’s youngest State

In Telangana, the ruling Bharat Rashtra Samithi is banking on welfare and developmental schemes and the charisma of CM K. Chandrasekhar Rao to clinch a hat-trick, while Congress is relying on ‘six guarantees’ to propel it to power; BJP is hoping to capitalise on anti-incumbency sentiments

October 27, 2023 06:44 pm | Updated October 28, 2023 11:43 am IST - HYDERABAD

Bharat Rashtra Samithi president and Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao addresses a rally. The BRS (earlier known as the TRS) is trying to fend off a spirited challenge by a resurgent Congress.

Bharat Rashtra Samithi president and Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao addresses a rally. The BRS (earlier known as the TRS) is trying to fend off a spirited challenge by a resurgent Congress. | Photo Credit: PTI

As Telangana heads for the third Assembly election of its short electoral history, the ruling Bharat Rashtra Samiti (BRS) is looking for a perfect hat-trick to retain power, while the main Opposition Congress is still dreaming of ruling the State whose birth it facilitated in 2014. For the BJP, dependent on its central leadership, this election will test whether it has been able to make any significant inroads into the State.

Almost three crore voters are gearing up to exercise their franchise in 119 constituencies in a single phase poll slated for November 30.

High stakes battle

The stakes are high for the three major parties, with the BRS (earlier known as the TRS) trying to fend off a spirited challenge by a resurgent Congress. Trying to emulate its success in neighbouring Karnataka, the Congress is focussed on taking its slogan of ‘six guarantees’ for welfare schemes to the voters.

After almost a decade in power, the BRS must overcome anti-incumbency sentiments, especially in constituencies where the track record of MLAs who have been renominated is a cause of worry. Apart from its welfare and developmental schemes, the ruling party is also banking on the charisma of Chief Minister K. Chandrashekhar Rao, known as KCR, and a spirited campaign by Ministers K.T. Rama Rao and T. Harish Rao, and MLC K. Kavitha, all members of the CM’s family.

The BJP — considered a force to reckon with in 2019, when it wrested four Lok Sabha seats in the State, and then put up a spirited show in the subsequent Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation elections — has lost its steam due to the unceremonious change of its State unit chief Bandi Sanjay. It is battling internal frictions between old-timers and newcomers, but is trying its best to stay in the reckoning. It hopes to ride on an anti-incumbency wave and is campaigning against the family rule of the BRS, claiming that the ruling party is mired in corruption.

2018: Downfall of the grand alliance

In the 2018 polls, which were held after the premature dissolution of the Assembly, nine months before its term was due to end, the BRS and the BJP had contested on their own, while the Congress joined hands with the Telugu Desam Party and the Telangana Jana Samiti to form a Mahakutami or grand alliance. The Majlis-Ittehadul-Muslimeen (MIM) confined itself to its strongholds in the old city of Hyderabad.

Despite triumphant expectations for the alliance, it was the BRS that scored a landslide, winning 88 seats with a vote share of almost 47%. The Congress had to be content with just 19 seats, followed by the MIM (7) and TDP (2). The BJP won a single seat — and lost deposits in dozens of constituencies — and the remaining two seats went to the All-India Forward Bloc and an Independent candidate. Post-election, several MPs from the Congress, TDP, AIFB and the Independent switched their loyalties to swell the BRS’ strength to more than 100.

Also read: Election Code robs trade of glitter in Telangana amid upcoming polls

The Congress’ decision to align with the TDP proved disastrous, as the BRS took full advantage of statehood sentiments to paint TDP chief N. Chandrababu Naidu as an anti-Telangana figure. The campaign worked and the Congress was left to rue its decision to join hands with Mr. Naidu.

Candidate calculus

In 2023, multi-cornered contests are inevitable in almost all constituencies. The BRS, Congress and BJP are fighting for the main honours, but smaller parties like the MIM, Bahujan Samaj Party, YSR Telangana Party, Telangana TDP, and the Left parties will also try their luck.

While the Congress and the BJP are yet to announce their full candidate lists, the KCR announced BRS candidates for 115 constituencies two months ago. The BRS managed to quell dissidence to some extent but failed to stop defections by some disappointed contenders to rival parties.

Subsequently, the Congress announced its first list of 55 candidates, with defectors and newcomers bagging the majority of tickets, leading to protests by those denied an opportunity. The Congress has its task cut out to balance caste, religion, and other equations in the selection of candidates. Resentment is brewing among the party’s backward class supporters, who fear that they may get short shrift in the election in the name of surveys. There is still no word on a possible alliance between the Congress and the Left parties.

A number of leaders who have switched parties are being rewarded with tickets. Notable among the defectors is former Congress MP Komatireddy Rajagopal Reddy, who joined the BJP last year to fight the bylection for the Munugode Assembly seat, but is now back in the Congress.

The BJP too has come out with its first list. It is also in talks with Jana Sena Party chief Pawan Kalyan to campaign for the party; sources said a BJP-JSP tie-up cannot be ruled out, which has angered a section of the saffron party’s leaders.

Critical constituencies

The Chief Minister will fight the election from both the Gajwel and Kamareddy constituencies, while the State Congress chief A. Revanth Reddy and Congress Legilsative Party leader Bhatti Vikramarka will contest from Kodangal and Madhira respectively.

Among the BJP’s top guns, MP and former State party chief Bandi Sanjay will fight from Karimnagar, while two other MPs — Dharmapuri Arvind (Korutla) and Soyam Bapu Rao (Boath) — will be in the fray. KCR’s bête noire and former State Minister Etela Rajender will contest against him in Gajwel, throwing up an interesting duel. Mr. Rajender, who fell out with the BRS chief two years ago, is now the election management committee chief of the State BJP.

Congress banks on six guarantees

The Congress kicked off its campaign by holding the first meeting of the newly constituted Congress Working Committee in Hyderabad and following up with a massive public meeting last month. Party leader Sonia Gandhi announced the six guarantees or welfare schemes. Its promise to implement these guarantees in the first 100 days of coming to power has given the party a boost. The three-day first phase of former party chief Rahul Gandhi’s bus yatra, starting at the famous Ramappa Temple in Mulugu district and traversing Peddapalli, Warangal, Karimnagar, and Nizamabad Lok Sabha constituencies, has enthused the Congress cadre and helped create a perceptible change in the mood.

The BRS manifesto announced by KCR, is a clear effort to outsmart the Congress’ six guarantees, with the ruling party trying to woo the electorate by enhancing financial assistance to the groups targeted by the Opposition party.

BJP looks to Centre

The BJP is banking on its central leadership to turn the tide in its favour. Prime Minister Narendra Modi sounded the poll bugle from Mahabubnagar and followed it up with another meeting in Nizamabad. Lashing out at the BRS leadership, he went to the extent of claiming that KCR had made a bid to join the NDA, but had been rejected. The BJP is still a long way from making an impact in most seats, as it lacks strong village-level committees. Unless the party sheds the BRS-BJP nexus tag, it cannot make an impact in the election, barring a few pockets.

Whether the BRS comes to power for the third time, or concedes ground to the Congress or BJP, the 2023 Assembly election is set to rewrite history in Telangana.

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