Telangana Polls: BJP Isn't a Frontrunner, But Could it Be a Spoilsport?

Observers think there will be only two leading competitors in all seats – BRS and Congress where BJP is weak, or BJP and Congress where the BJP is strong.

Hyderabad: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) may not be a frontrunner in the elections to Telangana’s assembly on November 30, but it has the potential to mar the prospects of the Congress, which is looking at a resurgence.

The BJP’s vote share in Telangana’s last assembly election in 2018 was only 6.98%, but it shot up to 19.65% in the parliament elections in the state the following year on the back of nationwide outcry against the terror attack in Pulwama.

Telangana went to polls for the Lok Sabha in the first of seven phases that began on April 11, 2019, two months after the attack.

The BJP then won four seats for its 19.65% vote share and followed this up with victory in 48 out of 150 municipal divisions in the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) elections in 2020.

Going by the victory of the BJP in past elections, the party has stakes in 23 assembly segments. They include Goshamahal, where it experienced its lone victory in the 2018 assembly elections; 20 segments of four constituencies where it was in first place in the 2019 parliament elections; and Huzurabad and Dubbaka constituencies, which it subsequently wrested in by-elections.

Illustration: Pariplab Chakraborty

The BJP remained a force in the state under the stewardship of Karimnagar MP Bandi Sanjay Kumar until he was abruptly replaced by Union tourism minister G. Kishan Reddy four months ago.

The going has not been smooth for Reddy, as the party has found itself on a sticky wicket because of its loss in Karnataka. The defeat had a cascading effect in Telangana, where the party is fighting the polls without much hope, though it has fielded candidates in all 119 constituencies.

But all eyes are on the danger of the party playing spoilsport for the Congress.

The Telangana Congress committee working president B. Mahesh Kumar Goud did not rule out this possibility, but a former Bharat Rashtra Samiti MP and vice-chairman of the State Planning Board, B. Vinod Kumar, felt that it will be easier for that Congress now that it is in a straight contest with the BRS, because the BJP is no longer in the picture. The BRS would have gained heavily in a triangular contest owing to a split in the anti-incumbency vote between the Congress and BJP, he said.

Former Union home minister P. Chidambaram, who was in Hyderabad on Thursday, said that the BJP was down but not out in Karnataka, whereas it was “totally out” in Telangana.

“Had BJP retained power in Karnataka, all the top leaders of Congress in Telangana would have joined the party and made it a major force. The Congress would have been decimated,” said Vinod Kumar. He also took names of some leaders who had lined up to join the BJP.

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Since the BJP is not perceived as a force, Vinod Kumar said the contest has boiled down to the BRS and Congress.

The BJP spokesperson of the state unit N.V. Subhash denied that the party is a non-serious contestant in Telangana. The party had identified about 45 seats where it is strong, he said, and its vote share is expected to be 30-32%.

Subhash asked why Prime Minister Narendra Modi would visit the state so many times if the BJP was not a serious contender. The party definitely wants to capture power, he argued.

Modi has visited Telangana four times since the release of the election schedule and is due to visit thrice more.

Subhash denied that the BJP will be a spoiler to the chances of either the BRS or Congress. On the other hand, the two parties will mar the BJP’s chances, he said.

An argument that gained ground was that if the BJP was to strengthen, it would be to the benefit of the BRS as the anti-incumbency vote will split. “Wherever the BJP was in the first or second position, it is advantage BRS,” said former member of legislative council K. Nageshwar. He said that the elections were fought at the constituency level and not state level. Therefore, the strength of a party was constituency specific.

Telangana Jana Samiti president M. Kodandaram agreed with this view, with a rider that the BRS will be pushed to third where the BJP is strong. The Congress will be first.

There will be only two leading competitors in all seats – BRS and Congress where BJP is weak, or BJP and Congress where the BJP is strong.

There were expectations three years ago that the BRS will fight the current elections against the BJP as it was on a high nite and aggressively steered by Sanjay Kumar. The Congress was pushed to the third place with a deplorable performance in the assembly by-elections and GHMC polls. Even chief minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao mainly targeted the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi vehemently. He dismissed the Congress as of no consequence.

Rao changed his tune to train guns on the Congress in his public speeches after the elections in Karnataka. He has made the Congress the butt of his criticism in all his election rallies so far.

The BJP is going to polls on the plank of making a leader from the backward classes the chief minister and conceding to sub-categorisation of Scheduled Castes. The party organised separate public meetings with Modi on both issues. It appeared meaningless to promise a backward classes chief minister after removing an OBC leader, Bandi Sanjay Kumar, from the post of state president of the party.

Also read: Fear of Defeat or Clever Political Move? Why KCR is Contesting from Two Seats.

The party was obviously unable to pick up despite Modi and Union home minister Amit Shah’s regular visits recently. The party cadre was also disillusioned with the Union government going easy on BRS leaders allegedly involved in the Delhi liquor scam case. This raised suspicion in their mind of a secret understanding between the BRS and BJP. Religious polarisation, which was the strength of the party, also did not take place.

More recently, the BJP Telangana manifesto committee chairman and former MP G. Vivek Venkatswamy and another former MP Vijayashanti quit the BJP to join Congress.