The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress will be the main challengers to the ruling Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) in the Telangana assembly elections scheduled to be held by the year-end.
From just one assembly seat and a negligible vote share in 2018, the BJP has become the main challenger to the ruling party, leaving the Congress party behind.
With four Lok Sabha seats in 2019, two assembly by-poll victories and an impressive performance in the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) elections, the BJP had a dramatic emergence in the state politics to challenge the KCR-led TRS, now rechristened as the BRS.
Under the leadership of Bandi Sanjay Kumar, the BJP is in aggressive mode to achieve its Mission 2023. Aiming to turn Telangana into its second gateway to south India after Karnataka, the entire national leadership of the BJP is focusing on the state.
With KCR looking to expand the BRS beyond Telangana with the slogan of ‘Ab ki baar kisan sarkar’ and challenge Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the BJP is looking to go all out to keep him engaged on his home turf.
For the first time since the formation of Telangana state in 2014, the BJP sees bright poll prospects. By adopting Hindutva politics and also targeting KCR over family rule and alleged corruption, the saffron party appears confident of storming to power.
In the 2018 Assembly elections, the TRS had retained power by winning 88 seats. The BJP could win just one seat. It finished second in only nine constituencies and in most of the seats its candidates forfeited their deposit.
However, the BJP sprang a surprise in the Lok Sabha elections held a few months later. The party not only retained Secunderabad but also wrested three other seats from the TRS — Karimnagar, Nizamabad and Adilabad.
Two wins in byelections had also given a boost to the BJP. However, the BJP’s hopes to score a hat-trick of byelection victories in Munugode were dashed by the BRS in November last year.
An impressive performance in the GHMC in the 2021 polls also boosted the saffron party’s morale. The party, which roped in its top central leaders including Amit Shah and party president J. P. Nadda to run an aggressive campaign, drastically improved its tally in the 150-member municipal body to 48 from just four in the previous elections.
Following the victories, the saffron party started to see a realistic chance for itself in the coming election and it is for this reason that the party is putting in all its energy here.
Hectic activity in the party camp during the last few months, a series of visits by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union home minister Amit Shah, BJP national president J. P. Nadda and several Union ministers, BJP national executive meeting held in Hyderabad all indicate the importance the party is giving to Telangana.
Political analysts believe that the BJP is looking to unleash an aggressive blitz.
As the elections draw nearer, the saffron party is likely to intensify efforts to capitalise on sensitive issues for polarisation along religious lines.
The BJP has been raking up emotive issues which could help in garnering the votes of the majority community, especially in constituencies in and around Hyderabad and other urban pockets of the state.
After Bandi Sanjay became the BJP state president in 2020, the party went into overdrive to draw political mileage from sensitive issues. In what is seen as an attempt to challenge the AIMIM on its home turf, he launched his state-wide Praja Sangram Yatra from Bhagyalaxmi temple abutting the historic Charminar.
In fact this temple, whose legality was questioned several times in the past sparking communal tension, has become the focal point of the BJP’s politics over the last couple of years.
However, despite its big claims and attempts to project the next election as a BRS versus BJP battle, the fact remains that the saffron party does not have a strong presence on the ground across the state. The BJP’s presence is considered to be limited to north Telangana and some parts of Greater Hyderabad.
Political analysts say that except the Modi model of governance, the BJP has no other selling proposition in Telangana. However, even this is being countered by the BRS by calling it a failed model.
The BJP’s Mission 2023 may be impeded by the crowded political space in the state. The presence of multiple parties may lead to a split in the anti-incumbency votes, thus helping the BRS.
An alliance with the Jana Sena Party (JSP) led by actor Pawan Kalyan, the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and the YSR Telangana Party (YSRTP) could give it an edge but political observers say it is too early to comment on pre-poll alliances.
Pawan Kalyan has an alliance with the BJP in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh but there is no clarity if it will be extended to Telangana.
Coming to the Congress party, a series of defections after the 2014 and 2018 elections, a humiliating defeat in the by-elections and infighting has left the party demoralised in its former stronghold.
Despite the defeats in two Assembly elections even after claiming credit for carving out Telangana state, the Congress party failed to learn the lessons and remains a divided house.
In both 2014 and 2018, the Congress was at least the main rival for the BRS but this time the party will be facing the polls even without this status.
The resignation of the sitting MLA from Munugode constituency, Komatireddy Rajagopal Reddy and his defection to the BJP to force the by-election late last year dealt another blow to the Congress. It faced more embarrassment with its candidate finishing a poor third and forfeiting the deposit.
In 2014, the Congress won 22 seats in the 119-member Telangana Assembly. In 2018 it faced another disaster. It could win just 19 seats, though it had forged electoral alliances with the TDP, the Left parties and some smaller parties.
The appointment of Revanth Reddy as the new state president by the central leadership in 2021 after ignoring several seniors and strong contenders triggered an open revolt by a section of leaders, who saw Revanth as an outsider as he had defected to the Congress from the TDP just before the 2018 elections.
The change of guard could not bring any change in the party’s fortunes. Several seniors started openly attacking Revanth Reddy for sidelining them.
The continuing slide raised new questions on the leadership of Revanth Reddy, whose style of functioning also irked some seniors. Recently when he packed the party panels with his loyalists, the seniors raised the banner of revolt and launched a movement to save the party. They called it a fight between the real Congress leaders and migrants from other parties.
The allegation by seniors that AICC in-charge Manickam Tagore is siding with Revanth Reddy forced the central leadership to intervene and replace him with Manikrao Thakare.
Though the Congress appears to have yielded ground to the BJP as the main challenger, the grand old party still has some base in a few districts.
The maiden public meeting of Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi in Telangana on May 8 brought some cheer in the party camp. The party leaders remain hopeful that as the elections draw nearer, the Congress will gain in strength to capture power in Telangana.