Telangana Polls: Can BRS Fend Off Anti-Incumbency Sentiment?

The anti-incumbency is hinged on opposition to sitting MLAs in several constituencies and the family rule of chief minister K. Chandrashekhar Rao.

Hyderabad: As Telangana goes to polls on November 30, the ruling Bharat Rashtra Samiti (BRS) is not only fighting a resurgent Congress but also a strong anti-incumbency wave.

The anti-incumbency is hinged on opposition to BRS MLAs in several constituencies and the family rule of chief minister K. Chandrashekhar Rao (KCR). His son K.T. Rama Rao is an influential minister, his nephew T. Harish Rao is also a minister and another nephew, J. Santosh Kumar is a Rajya Sabha member. His daughter Kavitha is a member of the legislative council.

Illustration: Pariplab Chakraborty

The impact of Congress was earlier restricted to the Khammam, Nalgonda and Mahbubnagar regions but has extended to BRS strongholds like Karimnagar and Warangal in the last few months. The huge turnout for Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi’s election rally in Palakurthi of Warangal on Friday was cited as an example of the expansion of the party’s influence.

Political analyst K. Nageshwar said there was opposition to BRS MLAs in 30 to 40 of the 119 constituencies in the state, as per ground reports he has received from various sources.

The BRS has retained the candidature of all but six of its 104 sitting MLAs. While KCR could have replaced MLAs who are facing anti-incumbency, he was apparently hesitant. The chief minister was worried that these candidates may join the Congress and create trouble for the BRS by criticising the government. One example of this was Khanapur MLA Rekha Naik, who has called out the chief minister in her public speeches after joining the Congress.

As the poll date draws closer, whether the anti-incumbency against BRS will be confined to 30 or 40 constituencies or expand further and whether it will reflect on the government’s performance is the big question.

It is significant to note in this context that KTR, the working president of BRS, told a TV channel that he had made a case to the chief minister not to give tickets to all sitting MLAs. But, the latter did not heed his suggestion.

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

The MLAs who are facing opposition allegedly donned the role of land sharks and accumulated wealth. Dharani, which is a one-stop land management online portal of the government, added to the problems, with innumerable complaints about losing ownership of land. Several court cases have also been filed.

The anti-incumbency against the BRS also stems from unrest among the youth due to unemployment and continuous leaks of question papers for recruitment exams conducted by the State Public Service Commission. Half a dozen exams were cancelled due to leakages, much to the frustration of lakhs of students from rural areas who prepare for the exams by renting accommodation in Hyderabad and paying fees to coaching centres.

KTR admitted at a media interaction that there was heartburn among the unemployed youth but said the state was at the forefront of job creation at the national level.

Such a sentiment also exists in other sections like farmers and the poor. The government employees are disappointed that they were awarded a mere 5% interim relief pending the implementation of revised pay scales and did not get dearness allowance, medical reimbursement and general provident fund payout.

The failure of the government to waive the loans of farmers in full and complaints of selective allotment of double-bedroom houses for the poor, allegedly to BRS supporters, are also harming the party, sources said.

The opposition parties frequently targeted KCR for never going to the secretariat and instead carrying on official work from his bungalow. He is inaccessible to the public, they say.

KTR sought to defend this, saying the chief minister need not meet the public to hear grievances that could be settled by officials. But the BRS is also promising to hold praja darbars if it is elected again as a grievance redressal mechanism.

The Telangana Jana Samiti president M. Kodandaram said the negligent attitude of KCR towards people’s welfare started in 2019. In the assembly elections of 2018, the working class – a major beneficiary of welfare schemes – bailed him out though the middle class was opposed to the BRS. But, now the lower sections are also opposed because of the bitter experiences with the allotment of double-bedroom houses and improper distribution of finance under the Dalit Bandhu scheme for business enterprises run by members of Scheduled Castes. A large section of people were uncovered by the scheme, Kodandaram claimed.

But KTR claims that a change in government will spell doom to the power and irrigation sectors, besides derailing development. The present regime of 24-hour free power to farmers will be scrapped and the Karnataka model of three hours will come into place if the Congress is elected, he says.

BRS leader K.T. Rama Rao. Photo: Twitter/@KTRBRS

Push for welfare schemes

The BRS has implemented an impressive list of welfare schemes for the poor and marginalised sections. The party has doubled down on these claims, promising to hike many of them. Pensions for eligible senior citizens, widows and other single women will be increased from Rs 3,000 to Rs 5,000 per month, from Rs 4,000 to 6,000 per month for disabled people, and investment support to agriculture from Rs 10,000 to Rs 12,000 per acre annually, which will be scaled up to Rs 16,000 per annually over the next five years.

The party has also promised cooking gas cylinders to the poor at Rs 400, which came after the Congress promised to do so at Rs 500.

The party promised to hike the ceiling of health insurance for the poor from Rs 5 lakh to Rs 15 lakh per annum and a new life insurance scheme for Rs 5 lakh in case of death for 93 lakh poor families. It promised a supply of fortified rice under the public distribution system.

More recently, KTR announced that the chief minister is contemplating the waiver of interest for home loans of the middle class. He said the government will draw up a ‘job calendar’ to fill up vacancies in government employment.

Also Read | Telangana Polls: BJP Isn’t a Frontrunner, But Could it Be a Spoilsport?

Both he and Harish Rao admitted to certain lapses in the delivery of programmes but promised that they would be rectified in the next term. Interestingly, Harish Rao said that even wishes to the divine are fulfilled all the time.

KTR is also making efforts to be more approachable. He attended an impromptu meeting with youth sitting near a coaching centre for competitive exams at Ashok Nagar in Hyderabad. He interacted with people in a couple of restaurants, travelled on the metro to talk to commuters and held a meeting with autorickshaw drivers.

Meanwhile, chief minister KCR undertook a hectic election campaign, sometimes addressing four public meetings daily. He has already covered 90 constituencies. He frequently attacked the Congress and its state president A. Revanth Reddy.

The political atmosphere has rapidly changed in the past two months, during which the Congress strengthened, according to professor Nageshwar. He added that the perception that the BRS will win easily has eroded, while the BJP has grown weak due to its own mistakes.

While there is a wave in favour of the Congress, it remains to be seen if it can defeat the BRS.