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Munugode Assembly by-election presents high-stakes battle for TRS, BJP

Published : Nov 02, 2022 18:13 IST

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Munugode Assembly by-election presents high-stakes battle for TRS, BJP

TRS leader K.T. Rama Rao during a roadshow at Narayanapuram in Munugode constituency, on November 2, 2022.

TRS leader K.T. Rama Rao during a roadshow at Narayanapuram in Munugode constituency, on November 2, 2022. | Photo Credit: BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Ruling party banks on welfare schemes, while BJP rides on candidate’s popularity.

On November 3, nearly 2.4 lakh voters will decide the next representative of the Munugode Assembly constituency in Telangana.

A lot is at stake in this by-election for the major political parties in Telangana—the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), the BJP, and the Congress. The main contestants are Kusukuntla Prabhakar Reddy of the TRS, Palvai Sravanthi of the Congress, whose father was a five-term Congress MLA from Munugode, and Komatireddy Rajgopal Reddy of the BJP, whose resignation from the Congress necessitated the by-election. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has fielded Andoju Sankara Chari, who hails from a Backward Caste community.

The election campaign remained intensely theatrical to the end, be it Rajgopal Reddy being accused of receiving a Rs.18,000-crore contract to quit the Congress, an audio tapes saga of the BJP allegedly attempting horse-trading, the outlandish promises about development, the caste dynamics, or the changing allegiances among cadres.

Frontline visited nine villages in Samsthan Narayanpur, Chandur, Chotuppal, Munugode, and Marriguda mandals of the constituency. News about what was being offered in exchange for votes got ridiculous by the hour. People said they had received paltry sums of money, liquor, food, and meat, and assurances about larger amounts closer to the election date. Voters had also received their share of sanctimonious lectures about not caving in to the lure of money.

Parties with far fewer resources than the TRS and the BJP feigned shock about “cash and liquor flow” as if it were an unexpected plot twist. For instance, Congress members everywhere lamented that voting for loyalties was no longer fashionable.

A farmer from Samsthan Narayanpur who was a Congress loyalist said that he has decided to vote for the TRS this time. He said: “I do not like the fact that Rajgopal Reddy abandoned Congress. It is my anger towards him and less my affinity towards TRS.” A beneficiary of the Rythu Bandhu scheme, he insisted that it did not influence his decision. “It is not as if I am getting a lakh rupees from the scheme as the landlords do.”

On the other hand, Rajgopal Reddy’s voters have endless stories about how he helped them. In every village, people recalled how he supported them even during the COVID-19 pandemic or during their personal crises. “One time, Rajgopal Reddy gave me Rs.10,000 when my wife fell ill” is not an uncommon tale.

In every village Frontline visited, there were some people across caste groups who were upset with the delivery of targeted schemes. Across Dalits, Lambadas, Yadavs, and Gouds, there were people who believed the TRS could do much better, a belief the BJP has been trying to exploit. The Mudirajus in these villages were the most furious with the TRS. Muslims, far fewer in number in the constituency, held a “sense of security” as their priority. However, none of this is distinctive to Munugode alone.

The stakes involved

The Munugode by-election campaign was in line with how the TRS operates. IT Minister K.T. Rama Rao was the party’s star campaigner. Apart from him, there were over 50 MLAs and at least a dozen Ministers campaigning actively in the constituency. At every meeting they invoked Telangana sentiment and schemes such as Rythu Bandhu, Dalit Bandhu, and pensions. Welfare schemes will be the most significant factor in favour of the TRS.

However, the TRS also used the campaign to rail against the Central government. In his road shows, Rama Rao accused the BJP of causing inflation and being anti-poor. For the TRS, victory is crucial to nip the BJP’s growth in the bud. The BJP contestant’s popularity could be a hurdle in its quest for a win. It was evident early on that the goodwill Rajgopal Reddy enjoyed among the people would be more crucial than the BJP’s rise in popularity in recent years in the State.

BJP leaders such as the party president Bandi Sanjay spoke at length about the Dubbak and Huzurabad wins at every rally. While Eatala Rajender won the Huzurabad seat for the BJP with a margin of 23,855 votes, in Dubbak the party managed to scrape through with a margin of just 1,470 votes.

Speaking to Frontline, Prof K. Nageshwar, political analyst, former MLC, and journalism professor at Osmania University, said that the very fact that the BJP had wrested these seats from the TRS was significant. According to him, Dubbak was a self-goal by the TRS, which did not campaign hard enough. The BJP’s immediate strategy is to win a few seats with the help of popular leaders who defect from other parties, he added.

The loyalties of the Congress cadre were up for sale in a hitherto unseen manner, according to the party leaders themselves. A senior leader said: “Several among our cadre in Munugode moved except for those who stayed due to familial loyalties or yesteryear nostalgia.”

Most Congress members who spoke to Frontline had no pretences about campaigning to win the election. And most political analysts said that even achieving the second-highest vote share seems highly unlikely at this point.

The role of CPI and CPM, who have aligned themselves with the TRS “to defeat the BJP”, is ancillary, much like most recent elections.

Danger to democracy

Several activists who visited Munugode highlighted the fact that the standards the Munugode by-election had set were a threat to democracy. A. Vinayak Reddy, a retired professor of economics, said: “It’s a difficult time for democracy in Telangana. As time passes, people without immense economic resources will not be able to contest elections.”

The results of the Munugode by-election are scheduled to be out on November 6.

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