How Bharat Rashtra Samithi lost its sheen to the Congress

The party’s drubbing in the 2023 Assembly election was marked by allegations of corruption, nepotism and failure to deliver on promised welfare plans.

Published : Apr 29, 2024 18:41 IST - 8 MINS READ

K Kavitha, daughter of Bharat Rashtra Samithi leader and former Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao arrives to appear before a court in New Delhi on April 13, 2024.

K Kavitha, daughter of Bharat Rashtra Samithi leader and former Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao arrives to appear before a court in New Delhi on April 13, 2024. | Photo Credit: SUSHIL KUMAR VERMA

The tone and tenor of the Lok Sabha election in Telangana has undergone a change since the Congress’ victory just four months ago in the December 2023 Assembly election. After two terms as Chief Minister, K. Chandrashekar Rao of the Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS), formerly known as the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), lost that election. KCR, as he is widely known, spearheaded the demand for a separate State, with the TRS serving as its political platform since its inception in 2001. However, what began as a sentiment for a separate State turned into family interests.

In the first election after the formation of the State in 2014, the TRS won 65 Assembly seats out of 119 and 11 Lok Sabha seats out of 17 (34 per cent vote share). After government formation, it consolidated its position by admitting MLAs who had defected from the Congress and the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) into the TRS.

During its first term, the TRS government introduced a series of welfare schemes such as Rythu Bandhu with an aim to provide farmers Rs.4,000 an acre in each agricultural season to buy seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, and for labour charges, coupled with an insurance coverage of Rs.5 lakh. Additionally, the government introduced social pensions for senior citizens, the physically handicapped, widows, toddy tappers, weavers, AIDS patients, beedi workers, poor and aged artisans, and single women. It also focussed on infrastructure for water retention capacity and groundwater facilities and on providing safe drinking water to every village. Other welfare measures included financial support to pregnant women and girl children, mother and baby kits, universal periodic eye check-ups, a double-bedroom house for the below-poverty-line beneficiaries, health cards, and marriage support for young women of poor families.

Welfare schemes

With overwhelming support from rural people, it won again in 2018, in an election advanced by four months, defeating the Congress and the BJP to secure 88 seats (47 per cent vote share) in the Assembly. This marked a gain of 25 seats and 13 percentage points of the vote share from the previous election. According to the CSDS-Lokniti post-poll survey, as many as 55 per cent of women and 49 per cent of men, from among the beneficiaries of the welfare schemes, voted for the TRS. In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the TRS won nine seats with 47 per cent of the votes.

Also Read | How Congress pulled off a morale-booster victory in Telangana

In its second term, the TRS government intensified the welfare schemes, including direct benefit transfers (DBTs) and non-DBTS. Among 360 schemes, 78 per cent were service-related, 14 per cent were DBTs, and 8 per cent covered other aspects. The target group of these schemes included the poorest of the poor, women, the physically challenged, students, children, senior citizens, patients, orphans, transgenders, landless labourers, farmers, beedi workers, rural artisans, and so on. Middle-class beneficiaries included journalists, advocates, employees of the Singareni coalmine, Road Transport Corporation employees, doctors, nurses, Asha and anganwadi workers, traffic police, and home guards. These schemes were extended to all social categories such as the Scheduled Castes (SC), the Scheduled Tribes (ST), the Backward Classes, even Brahmins, and Muslims, Christians, and Buddhists.

BRS Chief K Chandrashekar Rao greets people during a roadshow in Warangal on April 29, 2024.

BRS Chief K Chandrashekar Rao greets people during a roadshow in Warangal on April 29, 2024.

Despite all these schemes, the BRS got a drubbing in the 2023 Assembly election, with the number of seats reducing to 39 and the vote share to 37 per cent. The debacle was attributed to a series of factors such as rampant corruption, unemployment, and non-completion of half of the welfare schemes like double-bedroom housing, the damage to the Medigadda lift irrigation project, question paper leaks, and irregularities in Telangana State Public Service Commission recruitments. There were also criticisms against the government for its failure to develop the skills of the State’s youth for IT jobs in Hyderabad, the neglect of tenancy farmers, and inaccessibility of KCR to the common people and even elected representatives.

According to S. Laxman Rao and S. Harinath of the Centre for Economic and Social Studies, Hyderabad, several factors contributed to the BRS’ fall. It includes corruption, irregularities, multiple benefits to the same family, exclusion of landless labour from the welfare schemes, and the privileges given to absentee landlords in getting huge amounts of Rythu Bandhu benefits. In addition, there were complaints that rural and urban local bodies had become defunct because of the denial of funds, functions, and functionaries.

The CSDS-Lokniti post-poll survey, conducted in December 2023, found that of the 80 per cent of the Rythu Bandhu beneficiaries only 43 per cent voted for the BRS while 45 per cent voted for the Congress. Of the 76 per cent beneficiaries of 24x7 free power supply, 44 per cent voted for the BRS and 45 per cent for the Congress. As many as 46 per cent of the respondents said that corruption had increased during BRS’ rule.

A position of strength

The Congress, despite being a leading partner of the UPA government, which passed the Andhra Pradesh State Reorganisation Act, 2014, for the formation of Telangana State, won only 21 Assembly seats (25.2 per cent) and two Lok Sabha seats that year. It won 19 Assembly seats (28.4 per cent) in the 2018 Assembly election and three Lok Sabha seats in the 2019 parliamentary election (29.48 per cent).

In the 2023 Assembly election, the Congress moved to a position of strength by attacking the BRS government over its failures in the implementation of welfare schemes, corruption, irregularities in the TSPSC, and family rule and nepotism. Rahul Gandhi’s padayatra, an efficient party leadership at the State level, and the victory in Karnataka gave it a further thrust. All these factors put together contributed to its victory in 64 seats with a 39.4 vote share. In the 2024 Lok Sabha election, the Congress is aspiring for a double digit victory.

The Bharatiya Janata Party won just five Assembly seats (10 per cent) and one Lok Sabha seat in 2014 (10.37 per cent). However, its tally reduced to one seat in the Assembly (7 per cent) in 2018. In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, it won four seats (19.45 per cent).

In the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) election for 150 corporators in 2020, the BJP won 47 seats. In Assembly byelections that year, it won two more seats. In the 2023 Assembly election, the BJP won eight seats (13.9 per cent). It hopes to improve its Lok Sabha tally to 10 this time.

The AIMIM, known for its Muslim identity politics, has a long track record of winning the Lok Sabha seat from the Hyderabad constituency and seven Assembly constituencies in it.

Coming after a gap of four months after the Assembly election, the Lok Sabha election (April 11-May 13) is one to be keenly watched. The BRS is a weak force with the defection of its MLAs, MPs and the party cadre to the Congress and the BJP and the arrest of KCR’s daughter K. Kavitha in the Delhi liquor policy case. Analysts say the BRS vote share will decline to less than 20 per cent. As for the Congress and the BJP, it is a test of their guarantees in the form of Nyay patru and Sankalp patru.

Congress model of development

The Congress’ strengths include its incumbent position and the successful implementation of the four guarantees out of six promised during the Assembly election: the Mahalakshmi scheme for free travel of women in road transport buses, gas subsidy, Rythubarosa, and Gruhajyoti for free electricity. Chief Minister A. Revanth Reddy has promised that his government would waive off loans of up to Rs.2 lakh to farmers by August 15, 2024.

Chief Minister A. Revanth Reddy in Hyderabad.

Chief Minister A. Revanth Reddy in Hyderabad. | Photo Credit: RAMAKRISHNA G

Meanwhile, the All India Congress Committee, incorporating the experiences of Karnataka and Telangana, has declared the manifesto with its focus on the Congress model of development. It appears to be aimed at connecting with local social groups. Therefore, the Congress seems confident of sweeping the Lok Sabha seats in south Telangana and putting up a strong fight with the BJP in central and north Telangana. The Congress’ weakness lies in its neglect of the Backward Classes category in ticket distribution.

According to the Srikrishna Committee Report (2010), which was constituted by the Union government to study the prevailing situation for separate State demand in composite Andhra Pradesh, the demographic profile for Telangana was as follows: the Scheduled Castes (SC) 15.8 per cent, the Scheduled Tribes (ST) 8.9 per cent, the Backward Classes 50.7 per cent, Other Castes 10.7 per cent, Muslims 12.4 per cent, and others 1.5 per cent.

Also Read | Will the slow saffronisation of Telangana help BJP in the 2024 Lok Sabha election?

In the changed scenario, in a few parliamentary constituencies such as Malkajgiri, both the BJP and the Congress candidates are former BRS leaders. For instance, Eatela Rajender, who is contesting from Malkajgiri on the BJP ticket, was Minister for Revenue and Health for two terms in the KCR Cabinet. He switched over to the BJP following differences with the BRS supremo and was defeated in the 2023 Assembly election as a BJP candidate. The Congress candidate from here is Patnam Sunitha Reddy, the chairperson of a Zilla Parishad from the BRS; she joined the Congress just before the current election.

The BJP’s Telangana State leadership is banking on the Central government’s achievements in 10 years and Narendra Modi’s guarantees, including the Viksit Bharat concept by 2047. The BJP, apart from accommodating former BRS members, has recognised the Backward Classes in the distribution of tickets. The Backward Classes vote bank was polarised among three parties during the Assembly election. The SCs and STs, and Muslims and the Reddies have always rooted for the Congress; the BJP has the upper castes as its core supporters. As such, the BJP’s performance depends to a great extent on the Backward Classes.

E. Venkatesu teaches at the Department of Political Science, University of Hyderabad.

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