The BJP’s dream of making a splash in the recently-held elections to the urban local bodies in Telangana has come a cropper, with the saffron party putting up a dismal show.
The ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), headed by Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao, has once again proved that it is an invincible force in India’s youngest state by sweeping the elections held for 120 municipalities and 9 municipal corporations across the state.
It has been a totally one-sided battle with the TRS, despite facing allegations of promoting family rule and unbridled corruption, bagging all the nine municipal corporations and 109 of the 120 municipalities, leaving the opposition Congress and BJP gasping for survival.
Last year, the party had won all the 32 Zilla Parishads besides 431 out of 537 Mandal Parishads.
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The elections for the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) are scheduled to be held later this year. In 2016, the TRS had scripted a massive victory, bagging 99 out of the total 150 wards while its alliance partner AIMIM won 44. The BJP had managed to win just 4 wards followed by Congress 2 and TDP one.
The drubbing in the just-held municipal polls has been particularly humiliating for the BJP as it was expecting to put up a reasonably good show in the urban bodies as a dress rehearsal for the 2023 assembly elections. It stood a poor third and has managed to gain control of just two municipalities, a far cry from its optimistic projections. The Congress could win just four municipalities.
For BJP, Nizamabad provided a saving grace as it has emerged as the single largest party in the corporation, bagging 28 seats while the TRS and its ally All India Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) winning 12 and 17 respectively. However, the mayor’s post is likely to be cornered by the TRS-AIMIM combine with the help of two Congress corporators and an independent. The magic figure to bag the Mayor’s post is 31 as the corporation has 60 divisions.
In the last year’s Lok Sabha elections, the BJP sprang a surprise by wresting Nizamabad LS seat from TRS. The Chief Minister’s daughter K Kavitha was defeated at the hands of the BJP candidate D Aravind.
Barring this, the performance of the BJP has been poor across the state. In nine municipal corporations, it came second in several wards but, overall, it was relegated to third position in municipalities across the state.
The direct elections were held on January 22 for 2,647 wards in 120 municipalities and 382 divisions in 9 municipal corporations. The councillors and corporators would in turn elect chairpersons/vice-chairpersons for municipalities and mayors/deputy mayors for municipal corporations respectively.
“We will analyse the results and take corrective steps to strengthen the party ahead of the 2023 assembly elections,” the state BJP president Dr K Lakshman said.
A sense of despondency has gripped the BJP camp as the party expected to do well in the urban pockets, considered the best bet for the saffron party. “The ruling party has misused the official machinery and distributed huge money to lure voters,” Dr Lakshman said.
The BJP considers Telangana a low-hanging fruit in the south and has vowed to capture power in the state in the next assembly polls. It has already stepped up attack on the TRS on the twin planks of dynasty and corruption.
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The surprise gains made in the April Lok Sabha elections had boosted the confidence of the BJP leadership that the party has the potential to emerge as an alternative to the TRS, a family-driven regional party which has virtually acquired an air of invincibility.
The BJP had won four out of the total 17 seats—Adilabad, Karimnagar, Nizamabad and Secunderabad. Of particular significance was the defeat of the Chief Minister’s daughter Kavitha. This has prompted the BJP to make Telangana its priority state for the next elections and draw up plans to expand the social base in a state that was largely lukewarm to the saffron party.
In the December 2018 assembly elections, the party won just one seat — Ghosha Mahal in the city — and lost deposits in 103 out of 119 constituencies.
However, the party made significant gains in the LS polls held four months later, garnering 19.4% vote share compared to the 7% it got in the assembly elections. This was largely attributed to the ‘Modi factor’.
As part of its ‘Mission Telangana’, the BJP has started luring leaders from various parties into its fold.
Already, the prominent Dalit face of the TRS and a former MP from Peddapally, G Vivek has joined the saffron party. Vivek, a leading industrialist and a media baron, is the son of former Congress leader and ex-Union minister G Venkataswamy. He has been moving back and forth between Congress and TRS since 2013. Following denial of the TRS ticket in the last elections, he has been looking for greener pastures.
Another Dalit leader from the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and former minister M Narasimulu is also set to switch over to the BJP.
Air of invincibility
By dominating the political scene and winning all the elections since the formation of the State in 2014, the TRS has now acquired an air of invincibility around it.
The hugely popular welfare schemes like “Rythu Bandhu” (investment subsidy scheme for farmers) and “Aasara” (pension scheme for various sections) and development programmes like “Mission Bhagiratha” (piped drinking water supply to villages) and “Mission Kakatiya” (rejuvenation of village tanks) appeared to have done the trick for the TRS.
“We see the verdict not only as a resounding endorsement of our policies but also as a task entrusted to us to carry on with our welfare programmes,” the Chief Minister said.