Hyderabad: Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) chief K. Chandrashekhar Rao (KCR) assured party workers in Gajwel recently that he would spend at least one day a month in his constituency to be available to them. Not only was this meeting unusual, but so was his tone.
Gajwel has been KCR’s constituency since 2014. In the last decade as Gajwel MLA, he has hardly ever addressed a party workers’ meeting in the constituency and has never taken it upon himself to appeal to voters to support his candidature. As an unchallenged leader in Telangana, his victory in Gajwel seemed fait accompli.
However, doubts are being cast in political circles this time around on his perceived invincibility in Gajwel following the chief minister’s decision to contest another constituency, Kamareddy, in the upcoming Assembly elections. Opposition parties say KCR is “fleeing to Kamareddy” in search of a “safe seat” as he is doubtful of his victory in Gajwel. They say it is also indicative of the political mood against BRS, across the 119 constituencies in the state, which will go to polls on November 30.
The contest may not be as easy as KCR and BRS would have expected to be in Kamareddy, as Congress chief Revanth Reddy has decided, only this week, to throw his hat in the ring. In Gajwel, KCR will clash with his friend-turned-foe Eatala Rajender (BJP), who has vowed to “teach KCR a lesson” in his own backyard. For the BRS chief, a defeat in any of these seats or worse, both, could be a major embarrassment.
It is interesting to note that Gajwel and Kamareddy are not the home constituencies of Rajender and Reddy. Both Rajender and Reddy want to settle personal scores with KCR in a direct contest. Rajendar, as always, will also contest from his traditional seat of Huzurabad, where is the incumbent. Reddy will also run for election from the Kodangal assembly segment, as he has been doing since 2009.
Gajwel: A clash against former confidant
Until 2004, KCR’s borough was Siddipet, which he represented for nearly two decades. Between 2004 and 2014, he served as an MP. In 2014, riding high on Telangana sentiment, KCR emerged victorious from Gajwel, by defeating the Telugu Desam Party (TDP)’s Pratap Reddy Vanteru by 19,391 votes [his nephew T. Harish Rao was elected to the Siddipet constituency after KCR vacated it in 2004]. The seat had until then alternated between Congress and TDP. Since 2014, Gajwel has assumed the status of a “VIP constituency”, and as expected, the chief minister carried out a slew of development activities. According to BRS, Gajwel under KCR has seen unprecedented development, making it a “model constituency” in the state.
KCR clashed with the same Pratap Reddy in the 2018 assembly elections, who had by then shifted to the Congress party. The chief minister polled 1,25,444 votes, compared to Pratap Reddy’s 67,154 – helping the former secure a huge majority of around 58,000 votes. In the aftermath of his 2018 loss, Pratap Reddy shifted his allegiance to BRS and was made the chairman of Telangana Forest Development Corporation.
With a strong candidate like Pratap Reddy out of the fray, Gajwel should have ideally been a cakewalk for KCR. However, that was not to be, with KCR’s bête noire, Rajender, raring to shock his former boss.
Rajender as the BJP candidate had defeated BRS (then Telangana Rashtra Samithi) in a high-stakes battle in Huzurabad in 2021, following his unceremonious exit from KCR’s cabinet and party. It was alleged at that time that KCR had used all his might to see Rajender defeated, by pumping in huge sums of money and using official machinery. A posse of top-rung TRS leaders and cabinet ministers had descended on Huzurabad. However, Rajender emerged victorious with a winning margin of over 23,000 votes, earning him a place and respect not just in his new party, the BJP, but also in the anti-KCR camp.
Rajender’s bid from Gajwel has not only enthused the BJP cadre and leadership but also has been drawing support from other parties and civil society groups opposed to KCR and BRS. As someone who had been associated with the TRS and Telangana movement for over 20 years, and later as finance minister and health minister in the KCR government, Rajender is a popular face and is known to have good connections across the state. The disgruntled BRS workers and leaders in Gajwel have also thrown their weight behind him. He has traversed the full ideological spectrum, starting as a member of the leftist Progressive Democratic Students Union in his youth to TRS (BRS) and now to the BJP.
What could also work in Rajender’s favour is the perceived feeling of injustice by his Mudiraj community, which is categorised under the Other Backward Classes (OBCs or BCs) in the state. Rajender is a powerful leader not only in his community but also among BCs in the state. Since his sacking from KCR’s cabinet in May 2021, Rajender has been mobilising BCs against KCR and his family, and has largely been successful in characterising his expulsion from KCR’s cabinet as an “insult” to the BCs. Lately, the BRS’s decision not to field even a single Mudiraj in any of the 119 assembly segments has also angered the community. According to various unofficial estimates, the community accounts for 12% of the state population, and in Gajwel, they are a sizeable voting bloc. The Mudiraj community and other BC groups in Gajwel have already announced their full support to Rajender.
Voters from around seven villages in Gajwel, whose lands were affected by the Mallannasagar reservoir, which is part of the famed Kaleshwaram Lift Irrigation Scheme, have been livid with KCR over inadequate compensation and apparent unfulfillment of promises. They have been staging continuous protests, demanding the allotment of agricultural lands and residential plots, in lieu of what they had lost due to the irrigation project. Rajendar is hopeful of securing en bloc the votes of oustees of the irrigation project.
The fact that the Gajwel constituency is located adjacent to Dubbak, where the BJP had secured a surprise victory in a closely contested by-poll in 2020 could also go in Rajender’s favour. While the BJP’s Raghunandan Rao had polled 13.75% vote share (22,595 votes) in the 2018 Assembly elections to take third place against BRS’s winning candidate Solipeta Ramalinga Reddy, Rao managed to secure 38.47% vote share (63, 352 votes) in the by-poll, held mere two years later. What made the win even more significant was that Rao won against Reddy’s widow, even though the ‘sympathy vote’ after a sitting MLA’s death usually sees their family members sail to victory.
The chief allegation against KCR has been that he is inaccessible to party workers and the people of Gajwel even though he spends considerable time at his farmhouse in the constituency. His nephew, Harish Rao, is said to handle most of the party work and development activity in Gajwel, on his uncle’s behalf.
In fact, KCR himself pointed to this indirectly when he spoke to party workers in Gajwel in that rare meeting that he held recently in Gajwel. The chief minister said the people of Gajwel were justified in wanting their MLA to be available to them, but he wasn’t able to fulfil their desire due to his commitments as chief minister. He then went on to say that he has his house – referring to his farmhouse – in the constituency and would hence spend at least one full day with the people of Gajwel. He told the party workers that there was a “different reason” why he also chose to contest Kamareddy – without divulging any further details.
Arch-rivals clash in Kamareddy
BRS sitting MLA Gampa Govardhan Reddy vacated his seat for KCR, which he has been winning continuously since 2009. KCR will face off against Telangana Congress chief Revanth Reddy, who has been the face of the anti-KCR camp and earned the respect of KCR’s detractors in the state.
Although BRS has been on a winning streak in Kamareddy for long, Congress has been putting up a strong fight. In the 2018 assembly elections, Gampa Govardhan polled 68,167 votes while Congress’s Mohammed Ali Shabbir secured 63,610 votes. The BRS’s victory margin came down from around 18,000 votes in 2014 to 5,000 votes in 2018. In fact, BRS leaders too cite this as a reason behind KCR’s decision to contest from Kamareddy, to prevent the party’s defeat.
Since 1989, when Mohammed Ali Shabbir won the Kamareddy seat for the first time, the Congress has been maintaining a solid vote bank. The constituency has a considerable number of Muslim voters, a traditional support base of the Congress.
The Congress hopes that Revanth Reddy, due to his popularity, would add more votes to the party’s kitty in addition to its existing vote bank. It also hopes to consolidate Muslim voters through its narrative that BRS is hand-in-glove with the BJP.
For Revanth Reddy, the clash in Kamareddy also has a personal dimension. In the 2018 assembly election, the BRS was alleged to have used all its might to defeat Reddy in his home constituency of Kodangal. On the other hand, the Congress chief also shares a personal rivalry with KCR and his family, for he believes that the chief minister had personally laid the trap to get him implicated in the 2015 cash-for-vote scam to finish him off politically.
Although Congress has fielded its candidate in Gajwel where BJP’s Rajender is in the fray and BJP has also put up its candidate in Kamareddy, both parties have a tacit understanding to ensure that the anti-KCR votes do not split in these constituencies, according to the political grapevine.