Why Amit Shah chose Telangana for membership drive launch

BJP Home Minister Amit Shah - The Federal
Shah also expressed confidence that Devendra Fadnavis will again be the chief minister after the state polls next month.

By choosing Hyderabad to launch Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) membership drive on Saturday (July 6), Union home minister Amit Shah has sent a clear political message to the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) headed by Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao.

Buoyed by the surprise victories in the recent Lok Sabha (LS) elections in Telangana, the saffron party is eyeing to make inroads into the country’s youngest state. It won 4 out of the 17 LS seats with a vote share of 19.45 per cent. It’s a giant leap for the party which won just one seat with a vote share of 7.1 per cent vote share in Assembly elections held in December 2018.

As part of its “Look South” mission for 2024, the BJP has drawn up a roadmap to consolidate gains in Telangana, which the party sees as a potential target in the South after Karnataka. A key element in this plan involves poaching senior leaders of Congress, which is reeling under an existential crisis after back-to-back defeats in the 2014 and 2018 assembly elections, and occupy the Opposition space.

“Our target is to come to power in Telangana. People are fed up with TRS dynastic regime. The Congress has lost its credibility while the Telugu Desam Party has become extinct,” Dr K Lakshman, Telangana state BJP president told The Federal.

Soon after his arrival, Amit Shah drove to Shamshabad where he launched the membership drive and addressed party workers. He handed over a membership card to a tribal woman at Ranganayakula, a tribal hamlet. “In Telangana, it will be a fight between the forces of development represented by the BJP and the forces of dynasty and corruption represented by TRS,” he said and exhorted party workers to expose the omissions and commissions of the TRS government.

At present, the BJP has 1.8 million members in Telangana. “Our target is to enroll another 12 lakh members,” Laxman said. The saffron party is targeting neutral voters and harping on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s personal appeal and welfare schemes of the National Democratic Aalliance (NDA) government to expand its base in the state.

Breaching Congress strongholds

The BJP’s initial plan in Telangana is focused on attracting Congress leaders from the Reddy community into its fold. The community is considered the traditional stronghold of the Congress and had largely controlled the levers of power when the party was in power in the united Andhra Pradesh.

The buzz in political circles is that back-channel efforts are already on to ‘catch the big fish’ among the state Congress leaders. It is said that Ram Madhav, BJP’s national general secretary and a key negotiator for the party, is in touch with potential defectors.

The Komatreddy Brothers — Komatreddy Venkat Reddy (MP from Bhongir) and Komatreddy Rajgopal Reddy (MLA from Munugodu) — K Vishweshwar Reddy, former MP, and Revanth Reddy (MP from Malkajgiri) are doing the rounds.

They all belong to the Reddy community. A leader from this community — G Kishan Reddy (MP from Secunderabad) — is now a minister in the central cabinet.

Target 2013

“The outcome of the Lok Sabha elections has clearly proved that Telangana is going to be the fertile and potential ground for the growth of BJP in the next five years. Now, our aim is to conquer the state in 2013 and form the first BJP government in the state,” Lakshman said.

In his assessment, there is a “huge political vacuum” in the state at present and the recent LS verdict was a vote against the “dynastic and dictatorial rule” of both the Chief Minister – Chandrababu Naidu in AP and KCR in Telangana.

“We have pushed the Congress into the third position in seven or eight parliamentary constituencies. Apart from winning four seats, we came second in two other constituencies. So, we are the only potential opposition in the state,” the BJP leader reasoned.

The BJP leader also pointed out that the defeat of KCR’s daughter K Kavitha in Nizamabad and his close aide Vinod Kumar in Karimnagar indicated that there was an undercurrent for BJP in the state, which the party would take advantage of and grow in the next four years to capture the state from the TRS.

The BJP national general secretary Muralidhar Rao says that the people of Telangana had lost faith in the Congress after 12 of its 18 MLAs crossed over to the TRS after the elections. “The people have realised that the Congress cannot be an alternative to the TRS. And, they are now looking up to us to provide the alternative” he said.

Perfect political setting

“Telangana provides a perfect political setting for BJP to repeat its West Bengal strategy. Like in Bengal, the BJP will be looking for Hindu consolidation by harping on TRS’ friendly ties with the AIMIM (All India Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen) and its Muslim appeasement policies,” political analyst Dr K Nageswar said.

Roping in Ram Madhav to lure Congress leaders into the BJP fold, bringing in Kiran Bedi as Telangana Governor, and building a binary political narrative could be part of the saffron party’s plans for the state, he said.

New mantra

“What 2014 was for North-East, 2024 will be for South” is the new mantra being chanted by the BJP leaders in the two Telugu states.

Even before the euphoria over an emphatic Lok Sabha victory could subside, the saffron party has unveiled its ‘Look South’ mission for 2024 general elections. “Our next target will be southern states,” a beaming Himanta Biswa Sarma had declared soon after the announcement of the LS results last month. Widely credited with the saffron surge in the North-Eastern states, Sarma is the poster boy of BJP in the region.

The saffron party is drawing up plans to make inroads in Telangana and AP, using different strategies for each state. In AP, where the BJP drew a blank in both the Lok Sabha and Assembly, the plan is to use the YSR Congress Party supremo and Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy’s shoulders to fire at his rival Telugu Desam Party and then occupy the opposition space before the 2024 poll battle.

However, the strategy for Telangana involves a ‘direct fight’ against the TRS, luring senior leaders from a weakened and faction-ridden Congress into its fold, and highlighting the ‘dynastic politics and minority appeasement policies’ of the Chief Minister.

The party is also planning to take up programmes invoking its pet theme of nationalism. For instance, it is planning a massive public meeting in Hyderabad on September 17 on the occasion of “Hyderabad Liberation Day” to mark the anniversary of the Nizam-led Hyderabad State’s merger with the Indian Union in 1948.