In a big setback to the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), the BJP wrested Huzurabad Assembly seat in the fiercely contested by-election.
Eatala Rajender, who had switched loyalties to contest as BJP candidate after being dropped from the State Cabinet over allegations of land grabbing, defeated his nearest rival G. Srinivas Yadav of TRS by 24,068 votes.
Rajender, whose resignation from Assembly caused the bypoll, secured a total of 1,06,780 votes while Yadav polled 82,712 votes.
The Congress party suffered humiliation as its candidate finished a distant third with just 3,012 votes.
Rajender, who was leading from the very first round, increased his lead with every round. Barring eighth and 11th rounds when TRS candidate took the lead, it was Rajender who dominated the counting spread over 22 rounds.
Out of 2,36,837 voters, 2,05,053 had cast their votes in the by-election held on Saturday.
A total of 30 candidates were in the fray in the bye-election, caused by the resignation of Eatala Rajender after he was dropped from State Cabinet by Chief Minister K. Chandraekhar Rao following allegations of land grabbing.
Rajender, a four-time MLA from Huzurabad, had also quit TRS to join BJP, who was quick to announce him as its candidate in the bypoll.
While resigning from 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.
Huzurabad bypoll was seen as a battle of prestige between KCR and Rajender, who had been winning the seat since 2009.
The 57-year-old leader, who served as finance minister in the first TRS Cabinet, held the health portfolio till he was dropped from Cabinet by KCR in May.
KCR and his son and TRS working president K.T. Rama Rao stayed away from campaigning but the TRS went all out to defeat Rajender.
KCR’s nephew and finance minister T. Harish Rao led the campaign. Several ministers and TRS leaders actively participated in it.
In August, much before the announcement of by-election schedule, KCR had visited the constituency to launch his ambitious Dalit Bandhu scheme on pilot basis.
For Huzurabad, the government had released Rs 2,000 crore for the scheme, under which every Dalit family will receive Rs 10 lakh as grant to start any business.
The TRS government’s move had come under flak from the opposition parties which alleged that the ruling party was trying to lure the voters.
The Election Commission, however, stayed the implementation of the scheme till the completion of by-election.
Rajender, who was first elected from Kamalapur constituency on TRS ticket 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 TRS.
One of the founding members of TRS, Rajender maintained his grip on the constituency. Continuing his winning streak in 2018, he defeated his nearest rival Kaushik Reddy of Congress by 47,803 votes. Rajender had then polled 1,04,840 votes while Kaushik Reddy had secured 61,121 votes.
Though Kaushik Reddy defected to TRS a few months before bypoll, the outcome shows he could not ensure transfer of votes to the ruling party.
Before the victory in the bypoll, BJP hardly had any presence in Huzurabad. In 2018, its candidate P. Raghu had polled only 1,683 votes, which was less than NOTA votes (2,867).
With the victory in Huzurabad, BJP’s strength in 119-member Assembly rose to three.
Huzurabad is the second Assembly seat wrested by the saffron party from TRS in the last one year. In November last year, BJP had wrested Dubbak seat by a narrow margin.