Much is at stake for all major parties in the upcoming Assembly election in Telangana. The ruling Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS), seeking a third consecutive win, is going with the idea that a vote against it is a vote against Telangana. For the Congress, with only five seats in the 119-member Assembly, it is a fight for survival, while the BJP, with just three seats, is looking to make further inroads.
The BRS, which announced candidates for 115 seats on August 21, has said it will contest on its own and that its cordial relationship with the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), which has seven seats, will continue. The BRS has 104 members in the Assembly and is in a strong position although it may not win as many as last time. Other parties are expected to announce their lists by mid-October.
In a show of confidence, the BRS list announced new candidates in only seven seats. The list did not deviate from the lists of previous elections in caste- and religion-wise distribution, attracting criticism and some disappointment. For instance, the Reddys got 39 seats while their population share is estimated to be under 7 per cent. In a conversation with Frontline, E. Venkatesu, professor in the Department of Political Science, University of Hyderabad, said: “There has been dissatisfaction among Backward Classes that their share of seats adds up to hardly 20 per cent though they constitute about 52 per cent of the population.”
There are only three Muslim candidates in the BRS list. The party’s government has initiated several schemes to benefit Muslims: the minority overseas programme, scholarships, residential schools, and the Shaadi Mubarak Yojana for Muslim brides. But as Professor Afroz Alam, head of the Political Science Department at Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad, said, nothing much has changed for Muslims as far as ticket distribution is concerned.
The BRS is facing trouble from aspirants who did not make it to the list. Mynampally Hanumanth Rao, former BRS leader who is joining the Congress, has been one of its most vocal critics following the announcement of candidates. Rao was the BRS’ Malkajgiri candidate; he quit because his son did not get the Medak candidacy. The Mudiraju and Kuruma communities too do not find any representation in the BRS list and are disappointed.
Nonetheless, the BRS’ history of leading the movement for statehood works in its favour. Besides, the government’s caste- and community-targeted policies and the relative stability over the last 10 years, although not without transparency concerns, have shored up its fund of goodwill. The BRS leadership, Venkatesu said, enjoys voter support despite dissatisfaction with the performance of some sitting MLAs.
The party is yet to come up with a manifesto and announce any new sops. It is rushing to fulfil its earlier promises, such as the 2015 promise of double-bedroom homes for the poor.
The Congress has not been able to make a strong case about the State government’s failures and it does not seem to have anything better to offer. For instance, it has promised a monthly pension of Rs.4,000 for senior citizens and widows, something that the BRS regime is already doing.
In fact, neither the Congress nor the BJP is able to match the legitimacy the BRS enjoys, and Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao’s charisma and election assurances look set to carry the day. The only visible chink in the BRS armour is the perpetuation of family rule. Yet, its strength of leadership and cadre commitment, superior to that of the Congress and the BJP, work to its advantage.
Repeating Karnataka unlikely for Congress
Repeating the Karnataka result in Telangana will be difficult for the Congress without a Siddaramaiah or a D.K. Shivakumar in its ranks. However, the Karnataka win has stimulated the party’s morale, but the challenges in Telangana are formidable. Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee (TPCC) president and Malkajgiri MP A. Revanth Reddy enjoys the central leadership’s confidence, but his equations with several Telangana party leaders are strained. He joined the Congress in October 2017 after being ousted from the Telugu Desam Party (TDP). Among some party factions, he is still seen as a TDP turncoat. Revanth Reddy, however, has turned out to be the Congress’ most aggressive campaigner, and the next few months will be the acid test of his leadership given the infighting that plagues the party.
Mallu Bhatti Vikramarka, Congress Legislature Party leader and Madhira MLA, is also a strong campaigner. Vikramarka undertook a 100-day padayatra, walking nearly 1,000 kilometres. He has kept his focus on irrigation, unemployment, and agriculture. The Dalit leader enjoys the backing of some prominent party leaders who are not too enthused about Revanth Reddy as a prospective chief ministerial candidate. Curiously, Vikramarka’s brother belongs to the Revanth Reddy faction.
Party sources say the Congress is strong in Khammam, Nalgonda, and Mahabubnagar districts, and its prospects are reportedly improving in some pockets of Karimnagar and Greater Hyderabad. The Congress has been silent on alliances though both the Left parties and Y.S. Sharmila of the YSR Telangana Party hope for one. One reason could be that the Congress faces a problem of plenty.
- The Bharat Rashtra Samithi looks set to win a third consecutive term in Telangana, secure in the legitimacy that it enjoys because of its record of having led the movement for statehood.
- The Congress is unable to match the assurances offered by the BRS but the Karnataka election result has infused some life among its rank and file.
- The BJP remains a distant third in the race, and in fact the mildness of its approach attracts allegations that it is hand in glove with the Congress.
- The Left parties are in an uncertain position as the Congress remains silent on any prospective alliance.
Venkatesu said the Congress may try to tap into the resentments generated by the BRS list. However, the Congress may find itself in the same boat. Backward Class leaders in the party recently expressed concern over whether the party would stick to its promise of 34 seats for the backward classes. They had reportedly attempted to negotiate for at least 50 seats, but that did not materialise.
In fact, seats allocation and ticket distribution in the coming days might impact the strained unity the party has achieved. It is learned that there is some dissonance between the Congress’ central leadership and veterans from the State over the party’s reliance on the strategist Sunil Kanugolu’s insights. Manthani MLA and Congress manifesto committee chairman D. Sridhar Babu told Frontline that strategies have been evolved to diffuse infighting.
In a public meeting in Telangana on September 17, Sonia Gandhi announced six guarantees ranging from a monthly allowance for women to affordable cooking gas cylinders. The assurances were ridiculed by both the BRS and the BJP. The BRS, undoubtedly, enjoys a clear edge as far as such sops are concerned. The Congress has been trying to make capital out of the fact that a Congress regime at the Centre had approved a separate State of Telangana. But it has been 10 years since Telangana became a State and it may be too late to milk that sentiment.
BJP a distant third in race
For the BJP, the last couple of months have been a tumultuous period of infighting, a leadership crisis, discontent among leaders, and a media management nightmare. It attempted to fix the issues with a leadership reshuffle. Union Minister G. Kishan Reddy replaced Bandi Sanjay Kumar as the party president, and Eatala Rajender became head of election management. After a brief lull, the issues resurfaced. .
But the assortment of Hindutva-plank old-timers and anti-BRS leaders is a scattered and disgruntled lot. Komatireddy Raj Gopal Reddy, the former Congress leader and ex-MLA from Munugode constituency, has made his dissatisfaction public. The BJP is expected to announce its candidate list in the first half of October. It is rumoured that the party is yet to find suitable leaders for at least a third of the constituencies.
Nobody expects the BJP to win in Telangana. But its mild approach has fuelled Congress allegations that it is hand in glove with the BRS. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s public meetings in October and rallies scheduled for Central BJP leaders may infuse some enthusiasm in a party that once made grand claims of ousting the BRS. For now, the faltering that began after the Karnataka election result continues. The party is a distant third.
Left parties in uncertain position
The position of the Left parties is uncertain. In June, the CPI(M)’s Telangana secretary Tammineni Veerabhadram and the CPI’s Telangana Secretary Kunamneni Sambasiva Rao announced their decision to support the BRS. But they felt betrayed when the BRS decided to go it alone; both parties were banking on an alliance with the BRS following their camaraderie during the Munugode byelection, which the BRS won.
The Left had earlier rubbished an alliance with the Congress but now vests its hopes in it. The Left has enough voter support to influence the verdict in about 10 constituencies but not the strength to win these seats on its own steam. In the constituencies eyed by the Left, the Congress either has MLAs or a strong presence. For instance, in Madhira constituency, which the CPI(M) wants to contest, Congress leader Mallu Bhatti Vikramarka is comfortably placed. For these and other reasons, the Congress is yet to make any announcement.
Y.S. Sharmila, daughter of former Chief Minister of erstwhile Andhra Pradesh Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, floated the YSR Telangana Party (YSRTP) in 2021. She has announced her intention to contest from Palair on the Telangana-Andhra Pradesh border and is also hopeful of an alliance with the Congress. However, the Congress has too many aspirants for this seat. There are rumours that she has been offered a merger with the Congress. The YSRTP’s prospects are low, but Sharmila fighting a lone battle in Telangana could dip into the Congress’ vote share in a few constituencies.
The TDP’s “grand alliance” or Maha Kootami with the Congress and a couple of other parties in the 2018 election had ended in a debacle for the party. The TDP is yet to rescue itself from its continued irrelevance in Telangana. Nara Chandrababu Naidu’s arrest has not garnered much on-ground support or sympathy for the party. The last two MLAs belonging to the party defected to the BRS in 2021. Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena Party also intends to contest in Telangana but has no prospects or notable leaders. The TDP and the Jana Sena are contesting the Andhra Pradesh election together, but there is no news on Telangana yet