With just two weeks to go for the by-election to Huzurabad Assembly constituency in Telangana, the ruling TRS and opposition BJP are set to intensify their campaign, while third contender Congress is trying to catch up with them.
Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have been running the campaign for nearly four months now. Though the Congress is a late entrant, it is making all efforts to match the main contenders.
The Congress appears to be lagging in a three-cornered contest, which is considered a prestige battle for Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao, popularly known as KCR.
KCR faces challenge from Eatala Rajender, whose resignation after being dropped from the state Cabinet caused the bypoll. He has entered the fray as a BJP candidate now.
Though TRS leaders are making everyone believe that the bypoll is insignificant for it, the choice of the constituency for the implementation of the Dalit Bandhu scheme on pilot basis and a slew of welfare measures announced for various sections of people left no one in doubt that the ruling party is leaving nothing to chance.
Political analysts say the outcome will be crucial for the TRS chief, who wants to make sure that he faces no challenge to his leadership in the run-up to the 2023 Assembly polls. A win for Eatala will not only embolden other voices of dissent against KCR, but will also bolster BJP’s attempts to emerge as the only viable alternative to TRS.
Speaking in the Assembly last week, KCR had ridiculed the opposition parties for linking the Dalit Bandhu schem to the Huzurabad bypoll.
“Will there be no election after Huzurabad and will the government fall after the bypoll,” he had asked.
Dalit Bandhu, launched before the announcement of bypoll schedule, is aimed at economic empowerment of Dalits. Under the scheme, every Dalit family will be given a grant of Rs 10 lakh to start a business of its choice. This is billed as a revolutionary scheme.
The government has already released Rs 2,000 crore for the implementation of Dalit Bandhu and since the scheme was launched much before the announcement of the poll schedule, its implementation is continuing.
TRS appears confident that the scheme will help them secure the support of 50,000 Dalit voters in the constituency, which has a total of 2.10 lakh electorate. KCR has promised similar schemes for backward classes, minorities and others. The government has also promised quotas for Gouds in allotment of liquor shops and bars and this is likely to help the ruling party garner votes of the OBC community.
The ruling party is also banking on the welfare schemes currently being implemented for various other OBC communities. After Rajender quit TRS to join BJP following his sacking from the Cabinet over allegations of land grabbing, TRS lured some key leaders from other parties into its ranks. They included Kaushik Reddy, who had contested unsuccessfully from Huzurabad on a Congress ticket in 2018, and L. Ramana, who was the state president of Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and belongs to the Padmasali community.
As backward class voters constitute nearly 50 per cent of the total electorate, KCR picked up a backward class candidate to match Rajender. TRS’ youth wing president Gellu Srinivas Yadav is aiming to put an end to the winning streak of the former minister.
While highlighting the welfare schemes, the TRS leaders are mounting an all-out attack on Rajender for what they call switching loyalties to save his skin from the allegations of land encroachment. They are also targeting the BJP for increasing prices of petrol, diesel and cooking gas and also for ‘doing nothing’ for Telangana.
Leading the TRS campaign is state Finance Minister T. Harish Rao, who has been visiting the constituency for several weeks now. Other ministers have also joined the intensive campaign. KCR and his son K.T. Rama Rao are also set to hit the campaign trail in the coming days.
The saffron party, which is banking heavily on Rajender’s popularity in the constituency, is also running an aggressive campaign. Rajender has been addressing public meetings every day to target KCR for his ‘autocratic’ role.
The BJP leaders are also accusing TRS of using money power to win the by-election. As Huzurabad is part of the Karimnagar Lok Sabha constituency represented by state BJP chief Bandi Sanjay, he is actively campaigning for Rajender. The BJP is planning to rope in several central leaders for the bypoll.
The BJP hardly had any presence in Huzurabad. In 2018, its candidate P. Raghu polled only 1,683 votes, which was less than NOTA votes (2,867). However, Rajender’s joining has bolstered the saffron party.
Rajender has been winning Huzurabad for TRS since 2009, when he defeated his nearest rival V. Krishna Mohan Rao of Congress by 15,035 votes. In the 2010 bypoll, Rajender increased his victory margin to nearly 80,000 when his nearest rival was M. Damodar Reddy of TDP.
In the 2014 elections held just before formation of Telangana state, Rajender retained Huzurabad with a majority of 57,037 votes. K. Sudershan Reddy of Congress was the runner-up.
Rajender continued his winning streak from Huzurabad in 2018, defeating his nearest rival Kaushik Reddy of Congress by 47,803 votes.
The BJP is confident of repeating the Dubbak performance in Huzurabad. In the by-election to Dubbak Assembly constituency held in November last year, the BJP had pulled off a sensational victory to stun the TRS.
A month later, the saffron party came out with an impressive performance in the elections to Greater Hyderabad Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC). Following these victories, the BJP intensified its efforts towards the goal of capturing power in the 2023 elections.
However, the outcome of elections to two graduates’ constituencies of Legislative Council in March and by-election in Nagarjuna Sagar came as a disappointment to the party.
After a long delay, Congress named Balmoor Venkat Narsing Rao as its candidate in Huzurabad. He is the president of the Telangana unit of National Students’ Union of India (NSUI). The 29-year-old faces an uphill task.
This is the first poll battle for Congress after A. Revanth Reddy took over as the party’s state unit chief in July.
Though he is drawing huge crowds at the meetings being organised as part of the protest on various issues, it remains to be seen if the party gets the same response in Huzurabad, and whether it manages to convert it into votes.