Star Campaigners, Communal Messaging Unlikely to Brighten BJP’s Prospects in Telangana

The BJP’s historical presence in the Telugu states has always been weak, but the party does not yet see the election as a lost cause even though its polarising communal rhetoric is finding few takers.

Hyderabad: Despite a whirlwind tour by Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah and more ‘star campaigners’ in queue, the party is unlikely to make a crucial mark in the Telangana elections.

Invoking the BJP’s familiar communal tropes, Shah kicked off his poll campaign this November 25 on a very similar note to how the BJP has campaigned in other poll-bound states.

At Sunday’s rally, the BJP president attacked the Congress for allegedly supporting ‘Urban Naxals’. He also claimed that the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) is under the control of the Owaisi brothers.

This line of attack may reap poll rewards elsewhere in the country – but not in Telangana.

More so, the BJP has campaigned on a poll plank distinct from the campaigns run by the two other major parties – Congress and TRS.

The Congress has attacked the TRS government for its apparent failure to deliver on core promises of providing water, funds and employment. The TRS, in turn, has recently been playing up anti-Andhra sentiments by using the Congress’s alliance with the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), currently the ruling party in Andhra Pradesh.

Also read: Why Retaining His Seat Won’t be a Cakewalk for KCR

In such a scenario, Shah’s rhetoric against ‘Urban Naxals’ and reservations for backward classes among the Muslim community does not carry much weight. It may be recalled that the Telangana assembly passed the Bill increasing reservation to Muslims in the state to 12% in April 2017 without provoking an outcry. Even then, the BJP in vain tried to leverage the issue to divide communities on the ground. All five of its MLAs were expelled from that session of the legislative assembly for creating a ruckus on the issue.

BJP at the periphery

The BJP has historically had a limited presence in both erstwhile united Andhra Pradesh and the new state of Telangana. The party was able to win only five of the 119 seats in Telangana during the 2014 elections, all of them in Hyderabad. This time around, it is expected to have a similar tally.

The principal contest is between the TRS and the Prajakutami (People’s Alliance) led by the Congress. The All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM), has an agreement with the TRS. The party could play the role of “kingmaker” in case of a hung assembly. The BJP is not even in a position to leverage its limited influence, as it cannot align with either the TRS or the Congress.

Also read: As Congress Seizes the Moment in Telangana, Sonia and Rahul Gandhi Appear Confident

A split in the anti-TRS vote however could pose a problem for the Prajakutami. Contrary to initial predictions suggesting an easy victory for the TRS, pollsters now see a close contest between the ruling party and the opposition alliance. Therefore, small margins could decide the election outcome on December 11. If the BJP manages to improve its vote share of 7.1%, it could dampen the alliance’s chances.

The one caveat here is that the BJP’s previous election’s vote share might not be a faithful representation of the party’s current popularity. The party was then in an electoral alliance with the TDP, which could have bolstered its vote share.

Pressing ahead with star campaigners

However, the party does not see the state’s election – scheduled for December 7 – as a lost cause. It has announced several ‘star campaigners’, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Apart from Modi and Shah, the list also includes several Union ministers, chief ministers and film personalities.

Also read: Paripoornananda, the ‘Yogi Adityanath of the South’, Joins BJP in Poll-Bound Telangana

There are no signs that the BJP would change its campaign to suit the state’s political discourse, which is largely centred on implementing welfare schemes. Swami Paripoornananda, the controversial seer who recently joined the BJP, has made a string of communal statements. He has claimed that the Congress wants to “bring Jesus rule” in the state and that the TRS is praising the Nizam dynasty. The majority Hindus, therefore, require protection, he said.

Swami Paripoornanda joined the BJP in the presence of president Amit Shah. Credit: Twitter

The Prajakutami has bafflingly claimed on several occasions that the BJP and the TRS have a “secret pact”. While chief minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao may initially have fostered the idea of a possible post-poll alliance with the BJP, he has since abandoned such a project. He has been severely criticising both the BJP and the Congress. Recently, he stated that prime minster Narendra Modi has a “disease” that causes “communal madness”.

Besides, Rao has resurrected the idea of a “federal front” comprising regional parties at the Centre. He floated this idea in April this year and has revived it every few months since then. His sincerity towards the front is still unclear, but at least for now, there is no possibility of the TRS aligning with the BJP.

The BJP, on the other hand, cannot align with the TRS because of the latter’s close ties to the MIM. If it were to align with the TRS, it would also have to drop issues such as demanding that September 17 be celebrated as “Telangana liberation day. It will also have to shed its opposition towards the Bill to increase reservation quotas for Muslims. Rao is unlikely to budge on any of these issues.

But even though the BJP is unlikely to have an impact on the Telangana elections, it is clear that the party aims to build a support base in the state through its present poll campaign.