With the Election Commission of India announcing the poll schedule for the much-awaited by-election to Huzurabad Assembly seat in Telangana, a bitter contest is on the cards between the TRS and BJP.
A battle of prestige for the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), the October 30 bypoll will also be crucial for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which aims to capture power in the next elections. The Congress party will also be looking to revive its fortunes in the state.
By already announcing their candidates, both the parties are much ahead of the Congress party, which is yet to finalise its nominee.
The by-election is being seen as a semi-final for the 2023 general elections as the outcome will decide which way the wind is blowing. The outcome is expected to set the course of politicking in the state over the next two years.
The poll battle has become prestigious for the TRS as the man who has been winning the constituency for it since 2009 is entering the fray this time as the candidate of the BJP.
Eatala Rajender, who was dropped from the Cabinet by Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao in May following allegations of land encroachment, ended his nearly two-decade-long association with the TRS in June and also quit the Assembly, necessitating the by-election.
The 57-year-old leader, who served as finance minister in the previous TRS cabinet and held the health portfolio till he was dropped, joined the BJP, which was quick to announce him as its candidate in the by-election. While resigning from the TRS, Rajender hit out at what he called the autocratic style of functioning of Chandrasekhar Rao and also alleged that he was humiliated in the party as he comes from a backward class.
Rajender’s allegations provided a platform to the BJP to intensify its attacks on KCR for his ‘family rule’ and his alleged failure to fulfil the promises made in the 2014 and 2018 elections.
TRS will be looking to continue the series of electoral victories. After last year’s defeat in the Dubbak Assembly by-election at the hands of the BJP and a reduction in its strength in the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC), TRS made a comeback this year to retain Nagarjuna Sagar, where its candidate making his electoral debut trounced political heavyweight and former minister K. Jana Reddy of the Congress. The ruling party also made a clean sweep in the elections to eight urban local bodies.
TRS is confident of continuing the momentum in Huzurabad as its leaders argue that the party had a solid base in the constituency even before Rajender was first elected. They also claim that Rajender’s victory was because of the party.
Huzurabad constituency has been the stronghold of TRS since 2004, the first election faced by the party since it was floated by KCR in 2001.
In 2004, V. Lakshmikantha Rao was elected from Huzurabad on a TRS ticket and retained the seat in the by-election in 2008.
Rajender, who was first elected from Kamalapur constituency in 2004 and retained it in the by-election, was shifted to Huzurabad in 2009 and since then he had been winning the seat for the TRS.
One of the founding members of the TRS, Rajender maintained his grip on the constituency. In 2009, he defeated his nearest rival V. Krishna Mohan Rao of the Congress by 15,035 votes. In the 2010 by-polls, Rajender increased his victory margin to nearly 80,000 and this time his nearest rival was M. Damodar Reddy of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP).
In the 2014 elections held just before the formation of Telangana state, Rajender retained Huzurabad with a majority of 57,037 votes. K. Sudershan Reddy of the Congress was the runner-up.
Rajender continued his winning streak from Huzurabad in 2018, defeating his nearest rival Kaushik Reddy of the Congress by 47,803 votes.
The BJP hardly had any presence in Huzurabad in the elections held in the past. In 2018, its candidate P. Raghu polled only 1,683 votes, which was less than NOTA votes (2867).
However, with Rajender joining its ranks, BJP leaders are confident of wresting the seat from the TRS.
They believe that the saffron party will repeat its Dubbak performance in Huzurabad. In the by-election to the Dubbak Assembly constituency held in November last year, the BJP had pulled off a sensational victory to stun the TRS.
It was following the Dubbak victory that the BJP started projecting itself as the alternative to the TRS. The party’s central leadership too started focusing on Telangana. A month later, the saffron party put up an impressive performance in the elections to the GHMC. In the 150-member municipal body, the BJP increased its tally to 48 from just four seats it won in 2016. It not only emerged as the main opposition in the GHMC but also deprived the TRS of a clear majority.
Following these victories, the BJP intensified its efforts towards the goal of capturing power in the 2023 elections. However, the outcome of the elections to two graduates’ constituencies of the Legislative Council in March and the by-election in Nagarjuna Sagar came as a disappointment to the party.
The BJP could not retain one Legislative Council seat and finished a poor fourth in the other. In Nagarjuna Sagar, where the main contest was between the TRS and the Congress, the BJP candidate Ravi Kumar Naik polled only four per cent votes and forfeited his deposit.
The Huzurabad by-election has given the BJP a chance to bounce back and again project itself as the real alternative to the TRS in the run-up to the 2023 polls. The saffron party is pinning its hopes on the good support enjoyed by Rajender among the electorate.
Poll-bound Huzurabad attracted all the attention as KCR chose it to launch his ambitious ‘Dalit Bandhu’ scheme on a pilot basis. He addressed a public meeting in the constituency to roll out the scheme and declared that every Dalit family in the constituency would get a Rs 10 lakh grant under the scheme to start any business or self-employment activity of its choice.
Unfazed by the criticism from opposition parties, who alleged that the scheme is aimed at luring Dalit voters, the TRS government has released Rs 2,000 crore for implementing the scheme in the constituency.
Hundreds of Dalit beneficiaries are making a beeline to the banks to get the money under ‘Dali Bandhu’ as the Election Commission has made it clear that there will be no restriction on implementation of schemes announced before the poll schedule was declared.
The TRS also picked its candidate from the backward class to match Rajender. The ruling party’s student wing president Gellu Srinivas Yadav has already hit the campaign trail.
As Backward Class voters constitute nearly 50 per cent of the 2.10 lakh voters in the constituency, KCR picked a BC candidate.
The Congress party faces an uphill task in Huzurabad. This will be the first poll battle for the party after A. Revanth Reddy took over as the party’s state unit president in July.
Though leading an aggressive campaign against the ruling party on various issues, he is facing a big challenge in Huzurabad, which the Congress party never won for nearly 30 years.
The party is yet to decide its candidate, though 19 aspirants have submitted applications to the leadership. Political analysts say that at least by winning sizeable votes in the by-election, the Congress party under Revant Reddy will try to show that it may be down but not out.