Yatra fever takes over in Telangana as election season heats up

Political pundits suggest the fight is only for the second place behind the Bharat Rashtra Samithi.

Published : Mar 23, 2023 10:45 IST - 10 MINS READ

The BJP’s Huzurabad MLA Eatala Rajender speaks at a street corner meeting.

The BJP’s Huzurabad MLA Eatala Rajender speaks at a street corner meeting. | Photo Credit: By Special Arrangement

It is raining political meetings in Telangana where the Assembly election is due in December. There are the street corner meetings of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), several simultaneous “Haath Se Haath Jodo” yatras of Congress leaders, the Jana Chaitanya Yatra of the CPI(M), “Intintiki” of the CPI, the Bahujan Rajyadhikara Yatra of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), and the “Inti Intiki” of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP). However, the rhetoric and the routines have not thrown up surprises yet.

While the BJP’s Bandi Sanjay spoke about bulldozing houses in line with the party’s approach in Uttar Pradesh and demolishing the domes of the yet-to-be-inaugurated Telangana secretariat because it is reminiscent of the culture of the Nizam’s regime, the Congress’ A. Revanth Reddy urged people to vote the party back to power and consider the failures of both the BJP and the Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS).

BRS the frontrunner

The ruling BRS is expected to return to power and the race is now to decide which party will get the second-highest number of seats in the 119-member Assembly.

The BJP enjoys an edge over the Congress, which continues to try to evoke the sentimentality of its past.

“An advantage the BJP will have over the Congress in the coming months is the media sway and the campaigning by its Central leaders,” Telakapalli Ravi, a political analyst and writer, told Frontline.

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While the received wisdom is that the BJP is stronger than the Congress, it is by no means a smooth ride for the saffron party as the party found out as it took to the streets. The street corner meetings did not work as anticipated, that is, there were very few people to hear their stump speeches. Predictably, meetings were cancelled without notice, and in several it was a case of the leader preaching to the already initiated party cadre. Eventually, the party decided to extend the date to meet its target of holding 11,000 meetings.

The two parties are also having to deal with internal conflicts, which play themselves out in the media frequently. Indeed, Bandi Sanjay, State BJP chief, and Revanth Reddy, his counterpart in the Congress, have something in common—they had fallouts with their party members.

“In the BJP, the organisational incoherence and egoistic outbursts of Sanjay could prove harmful to the party in the long run. A section of the media over projected him,” Ravi said.

The Bharat Rashtra Samithi has engaged in a poster war against the BJP with a memorable election advert.

The Bharat Rashtra Samithi has engaged in a poster war against the BJP with a memorable election advert. | Photo Credit: Source: Twitter

The resistance towards Sanjay within the party is growing. Recently, the BJP’s Nizamabad MP Dharmapuri Arvind and senior BJP leader Perala Chandrasekhar Rao criticised Sanjay in media interviews for his remarks on BRS MLC Kalvakuntla Kavitha. The senior leadership at the Centre has pulled up the leaders for going public with their discontent.

In the Congress, parallel yatras by senior leaders have left its workers confused and at times disappointed. A former MLA’s yatra was terminated a day after it began, and that raised a lot of questions about party coordination and the person/s it wants to back in the election.

“Whether the Congress will be a close second or a distant third in terms of vote share depends on the leadership choices it makes in the coming months,” a Congress leader said.

The party has five MLAs in Telangana and the BJP three.

Unworried about the BJP

On its part, the BRS leadership is not resting on its laurels. Sources say that a section of the leadership is concerned about the low turnouts at a few of the street corner meetings the party held and realises that the BJP’s presence in a few pockets can be a challenge. However, to a large extent, BRS leaders and their cadre seem unperturbed by the BJP and the Congress. “In a way, we are happy that they get to see the development going on in Telangana and how the State has progressed since its formation,” BRS MLC Dande Vittal told Frontline.

“As far as BRS is concerned, we know what we have done,” Vittal reiterated. “Since the formation of Telangana, we have prioritised welfare. From the birth of a child to the demise of an older person, we have created a support system with our welfare schemes. The people of Telangana are wise enough.”

One of the Bharat Rashtra Samithi’s posters that uses the 2016 demonetisation to slam the saffron party.

One of the Bharat Rashtra Samithi’s posters that uses the 2016 demonetisation to slam the saffron party. | Photo Credit: Source: Twitter

The BRS has a series of events lined up: the inauguration of the B.R. Ambedkar Statue on April 14 and the new Dr B.R. Ambedkar Telangana State Secretariat on April 30. The Telangana Martyrs Museum, located next to the secretariat, will be inaugurated on June 1. The party has also formed district-level teams to amplify awareness about government schemes among the public. While the BRS leadership has been busy with expansion efforts after the renaming of the party to reflect its national character, it believes that at the State level, the welfare schemes and development works should see the party through in the Assembly election. The Enforcement Directorate case against Kavitha and the Telangana State Public Service Commission exam paper leak are seen as no more than a few hiccups for the party.

Countering Hindutva

The party is inclined to counter the Hindutva agenda and the attempts to create the perception that only the BJP will work to preserve the interests of Hindus. In February, Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao announced the development of the Kondagattu temple in Jagtial district and stated that the government was willing to spend up to Rs.1,000 crore on the project.

The communist parties continue to keep their focus on being a part of the anti-BJP forces. CPI Telangana State Secretary Kunamneni Sambasiva Rao, speaking to Frontline, dodged a question about a possible electoral alliance with the BRS or other parties. Rao instead discussed the decision of the CPI and the CPI(M) not to part ways like in the 2014 and 2018 elections.

In 2014, the CPI won one seat—Ravindra Kumar Ramavath from Devarakonda. In 2018, Ramavath defected and won the Devarakonda seat as a TRS (now BRS) MLA. The CPI(M) also won one seat in 2014. Neither party won any seats in 2018 in Telangana. In the 2022 byelection in Munugode, the CPI and the CPI(M) aligned themselves with the BRS to “defeat the BJP”.

Left yatras

The CPI and the CPI(M) have announced yatras and programmes for the next few months. The CPI(M) plans to organise a statewide Jana Chaitanya Yatra between March 17 and March 29 to create awareness against the communal politics of the BJP and the RSS. “The priority is to highlight the economic failures of the Central government and the communal politics of the BJP,” S. Veeraiah, CPI(M) State secretariat member, told Frontline.

Following the CPI’s “BJP Hatao, Desh ko Bachao” call at the national level, the party’s Telangana unit will work on “Intintiki CPI”, which will start on the birth anniversary of Ambedkar. For a month, the programme will continue in all Assembly constituencies in the State.

Both parties do not have high expectations about the yatras and mentioned that these will be on par with “party strength”. Asked if they would be critical of the failures of the BRS, Rao told Frontline that the CPI would evaluate to “what extent the BRS has fulfilled its election promises”. The parties are yet to announce their tie-ups for the election. Rao stressed that the two Left parties had decided to put forth a “united front” under any circumstance. Their cadre and strength in some pockets is why their support could prove helpful to the BRS. The Left is hoping for a “respectable” deal. Most analysts translate this as an attempt by the communist parties to get a few seats for themselves from the BRS.

Attempt to unite Bahujans

The BSP started a Bahujan Rajyadhikara Yatra from Jangaon in Telangana in March 2022. Led by R.S. Praveen Kumar, the marchers are taking the party’s ideology to the villages and talking about taking back power as Bahujans. Kumar, an IPS officer, took voluntary retirement in 2021 to join the BSP in Telangana.

The yatra has worked well for the BSP, being cost-effective and providing reach in newer pockets. Speculation about alliances has persisted, but party members have not confirmed anything.

During the Munugode byelection, the issues that the BSP raised did attract a section of the public to its meetings but did not translate into substantial votes. The Bahujan votes in Telangana are split across party lines, primarily between the BRS and the BJP. The vote share it manages to get in the election, while contesting all seats, will be a measure of the BSP’s success. The cadre are hopeful of winning at least one seat.

Staying relevant

For the TDP, it is a question of staying relevant, largely similar to the situation of the Left. While launching “Inti Intiki” at the end of February, national president N. Chandrababu Naidu said, “The party is in the hearts of the people.” The public outreach attempt involved Naidu talking about the development of Hyderabad and Telangana under TDP rule.

Nostalgia did not help the TDP much in 2014 or 2018. In 2014, it contested 72 seats and won 15. By 2018, the party was hit by defections and had no choice but to become a part of a grand alliance (Maha Kootami). It contested in 13 seats and won two. In 2021, the two TDP MLAs, from Aswaraopeta and Sathupalli, defected to the BRS.

ALSO READ: Agent of change in Telangana

The party cadre are going door-to-door in some pockets of the State, but the effort is yet to evoke interest. The biggest challenge for the TDP is to hold on to its cadre and to stay relevant. Irrespective of the programme’s results, the fact is that the TDP stopped being a party of any electoral consequence in Telangana a while ago.

All parties involved in the 2018 Maha Kootami—the TDP, the Congress, the CPI, and the Telangana Jana Samithi—deeply regret it and want to distance themselves from even mentioning the alliance. The regret, in fact, set in even before the election outcome. Clearly, Telangana is not a State for such alliances.

Setting an agenda

“What plan does the Congress have to help the people of Telangana? What is the BJP’s plan, and what have they done for the State till now?” asked Vittal of the BRS. Currently, the agenda-setting from the opposition is muddled and the narratives seem stuck in the past.

The lack of an agenda confounded analysts as well and they believe that the opposition can benefit from hindsight. Nobody expects the Congress or the BJP to win the Telangana election: not the people, not the political analysts, not even the party cadre themselves. Not in 2023, at least. This freedom could become a strength for both parties in structuring their campaigns towards becoming the principal opposition in the State.

For the other parties, this is another opportunity to reconnect with their cadre and regain their loyal followers.

  • It is raining political meetings in Telangana—street corner meetings of the BJP, several simultaneous Haath Se Haath Jodo Yatras from Congress leaders, the Jana Chaitanya Yatraof the CPI(M), Intintiki of the CPI, the BSP’s Bahujan Rajyadhikara Yatra, the TDP’s Inti Intiki, and so on.
  • The BRS currently enjoys a majority in the Assembly and is expected to return to power in this year’s election—the race is now to decide which party will get the second-highest share in the contest.
  • The ruling BRS has had a couple of hiccups in the past few weeks because of the Enforcement Directorate case against MLC Kalvakuntla Kavitha and the more recent Telangana State Public Service Commission exam paper leak.
  • Currently, the agenda-setting from the opposition is somewhat muddled.

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