A Resurgent Congress in Telangana and the Challenges for BRS and BJP

The rise of the Congress in Telangana has taken place following the Rahul Gandhi-led Bharat Jodo Yatra and the decisive victory of the party in the Karnataka elections held in May this year.

The Congress party, with 22 MLAs out of 119 seats in the Telangana state assembly and vote share of 22%, stood in sharp contrast to the Bharat Rashtra Samiti’s (BRS’s) 88 and 47% figures, respectively, in the last assembly elections. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) by winning 4 MP seats from the state in the 2019 general elections and securing the second position in the Hyderabad civic body polls was expected to take quantum leap in the electoral field and challenge BRS’s dominant position.

However, in a spectacular electoral turnaround, the Congress in Telangana has gained huge momentum, with the possibility of it even defeating the BRS headed by K. Chandrashekar Rao (KCR) in the elections being held on November 30. Very surprisingly, the BJP gone out of reckoning and is expected to secure a distant third or fourth position.

The rise of the Congress in Telangana has taken place following the Rahul Gandhi-led Bharat Jod Yatra and the decisive victory of the party in the Karnataka elections held in May this year. Unlike the BJP, the Congress is considered to be a natural party in Telangana with fairly deep roots across the state even before it was carved out of Andhra Pradesh by the party under the leadership of Sonia Gandhi. Sympathy for the Congress leadership for having created Telangana is now palpable and people feel that the KCR-led Telangana Rashtra Samiti (now BRS) has taken disproportionate credit and acquired power for his family.

Role of local leaders

While the Congress campaign in Telangana is being spearheaded by its state chief A. Revanth Reddy, the BJP is entirely depending on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and home minister Amit Shah. Bereft of local BJP leaders, the rank and file of the party was perplexed when its popular OBC leader, Bandi Sanjay Kumar, was removed a few months before the elections, and G. Krishna Reddy was appointed in his place. Such a decision by the BJP’s central leaders is a replication of what it did in Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, where regional leaders were sidelined.

Illustration: Pariplab Chakraborty

BJP estimated itself as the main challenger to the BRS and stridently criticised the KCR government’s policies and accused it of indulging in massive corruption. OBCs constitute 50% of the Telangana population and Shah’s declaration that on forming government, he would appoint an OBC leader as chief minister of the state sounded empty. He also stated that the BJP after assuming power would scrap 4% reservation for Muslims and allot that for Scheduled Castes. It brought back memories of the BJP government in Karnataka rescinding reservation for Muslims. Eventually, it lost elections to the Congress there.

The Hindutva strategy has been deployed by the party in Telangana where there is no history of people getting mobilised on religious lines for electoral purposes. Shah also promised free darshan (viewing) of Lord Ram in the Ayodhya temple being inaugurated in January 2024 and many BJP leaders gave assurances of changing the name of Hyderabad to Bhagyanagar. Such statements never assumed importance for the people of Telangana.

Rahul’s accusations

Rahul Gandhi accused the BJP of having deep dealings with the BRS, which he called the ‘BJP Rishtedar Samiti’. He also hurled similar accusations against the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Musilmeen (AIMIM) and its leader Asaduddin Owaisi, an ally of the BRS. AIMIM contests only in nine seats in Telangana even as 13% of its population are Muslims. In other states like Bihar, it fields its candidates in dozens of constituencies.

Rahul Gandhi’s slogan, “Modiji ke hai do yaar, Owaisi aur KCR”, gained traction among the Muslims of Telangana. KCR engaging only with AIMIM to discuss matters concerning minorities angered Jamaat-e-Islami and Tablighi Jamat, which are now supporting a large number of Congress candidates. The high-pitch campaign of the Congress that AIMIM in collaboration with BRS has ended up benefitting BJP seems to have convinced Muslims.

Also read: As Telangana Votes, Close Fight Expected Between Nervous BRS and Resurgent Congress

BJP’s attempt for a three-cornered contest

The BJP in the last few days tried in vain to make the electoral battle a three-cornered contest, to keep the Congress away from power. Therefore, it attacked the BRS to take steam out of the Congress campaign that BJP is part of the BRS and AIMIM strategy for securing power in Telangana. Rahul Gandhi’s assertion that the Enforcement Directorate took no action against KCR in spite of the corruption charges hurled by the BJP against him generated an impression that the BJP is soft on BRS.

Unlike Y. Rajsekhar Reddy who interacted with people by organising Praja Darbars regularly, neither KCR nor his MLAs did anything like that and so mounting anti-incumbency created fertile ground for the Congress to scale up momentum.

S.N. Sahu served as Officer on Special Duty to President of India K R Narayanan.