Telangana, BJP, BRS and the Truth Behind the Conspiracy Theories

Is the BJP putting in more effort to stop the Congress from possibly riding on what many see as a massive eleventh-hour momentum in its favour?

The Telangana assembly election abounds in conspiracy theories.

And what’s noteworthy is they seem to carry more than a grain of truth in them.

For instance, there is animated discussion all round as to why the Bharatiya Janata Party, which was emerging as an aggressive contender until the middle of 2023 suddenly slowed down in the last two months and is now content to see the incumbent BRS party get a third term.

This is not a conspiracy theory anymore and there are visible signs that the central leadership of the BJP is putting in more effort to stop the Congress from possibly riding on what many see as a massive eleventh-hour momentum in its favour.

Illustration: Pariplab Chakraborty

For instance, the last week before the polls has seen targeted raids by the Enforcement Directorate, now openly seen as an unabashed ally of the BJP, on prominent Congress candidates.

One such Congress candidate, G. Vivek, was in the BJP until very recently and switched to the Congress on November 1, in the middle of electioneering. Vivek was also head of BJP’s election  manifesto committee until he deserted the BJP last month. Probably like many others he too  saw the late surge in favour of the Congress. Vivek comes from a family which runs a diverse industrial empire from Hyderabad and the BJP benefited from his financial backing. However, within a few weeks of his joining the Congress, the Enforcement Directorate got activated and his family businesses were targeted last week.

“This is seen as a clear attempt to choke the finances of the Congress in the last week of campaigning when it is widely known that well resourced political parties lure voters with cash. So targeting the Congress money bags in the eleventh hour is seen as giving a clear advantage to BRS,” said a local political observer.

One doesn’t know how big a wave the Congress is riding or whether it will take the party beyond the halfway mark. But what is certain is that the widespread support for the Congress has rattled the other parties, especially the BJP. A senior BJP leader admitted that if Congress does very well and comes even close to the halfway mark it might have a ripple effect at the national level.

This, possibly, explains why the BJP might be just happy to play dog in the manger and stop the Congress’s momentum at any cost.

The sentiment in favour of Congress is palpable in rural areas of Telangana where one came across a large number of people openly saying they want to give the Congress a chance even though they admitted to benefiting from the welfare schemes of the BRS government led by K. Chandrashekhar Rao.

Also read: Can the Resurgent Congress Wrest Telangana from the BRS?

The central leadership of the BJP possibly read this sentiment early on. A local BJP leader who had left BRS to join the party last year told this writer that the state party cadres were puzzled when just a few months before the elections, the central leadership chose to replace the dynamic Bandi Sanjay Kumar with G. Kishan Reddy as party organisation chief.

Bandi, a popular BJP leader and Lok Sabha member from Karimnagar, was widely seen as a favourite of Amit Shah and his removal in early July raised many eyebrows among the BJP cadres. He also told me that the local BJP leadership wanted to launch a massive campaign around corruption cases involving K. Chandrashekhar Rao or KCR’s family but it received  lukewarm response from the central leadership of BJP.

The local BJP leadership wanted KCR’s daughter, Kavitha, to be arrested by ED in the Delhi liquor excise case but the Centre did not oblige, either.

All this created immense confusion within the BJP cadres, said the BJP leader.

Of course, KCR’s son K.T. Rama Rao (KTR), dismisses this theory as unfounded and told a visiting group of journalists, “If Kavitha not being arrested by ED is seen as evidence of a deal between BJP and BRS then you should also see Sonia Gandhi or Rahul not being arrested in the National Herald case as a deal between Congress and BJP.”

KTR is confident that his party will win a third term on the back of the massive welfare provided to farmers, womenfolk and the poor in general. “Our record is there for all to see. We have emerged as the highest per capita income state in the country over the past decade. Our per capita spending on welfare is also among the highest.”

KTR admits there is some anti-incumbency “which is natural”. He also admits that the Congress is improving “but from a very low base and the gap between BRS and Congress is too large to cover”.

But one thing KTR is certain about. “We have reduced BJP to nothing and we have proved their primordial identity  politics will only work in the cow belt of North India.”

He said the Union government in recent years had tried everything to choke Telangana finances to disrupt infrastructure spending and welfare delivery. “The Centre has virtually imposed economic sanctions on us like it is done internationally against enemy countries,” he said.

Significantly, KTR also said the central BJP leaders campaigning in Telangana are actually doing so for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls and have no expectations from the current state elections. This assertion of KTR’s provides a clue to a possible shift in the Modi-Shah strategy for South India.

It appears for the next six months or so the BJP’s strategy for much of South India is to build some level of understanding with the regional parties so that their support could be sought in the event it falls short in the Lok Sabha polls. Of course, the creative abuse of the ED is very much part of building such understanding with regional parties in South India.

This might also explain why the BJP is making every last minute effort to choke the Congress numbers in Telangana and in turn enabling the BRS get an edge.

Despite the visible surge in support for the Congress it is not clear how it would cover the massive existing gap with BRS. The Congress vote share of 29% is way lower than BRS’s (then TRS) 47% in the 2018 assembly elections. BRS had 88 seats against Congress’s 19.

Is there a big enough wave for the Congress to reach the halfway mark of 60 seats? This is really the key question.

Political activist and former psephologist Yogendra Yadav says there is not just a wave but a gathering storm or aandhi in favour of the Congress. Yadav had stuck his neck out in Karnataka against all other prognoses and given the Congress a big lead. He was proved right. If he is proved right again then a lot of the central BJP’s calculations could go awry.