With the BJP snapping at its heels, the Hyderabad municipal corporation verdict has come as a rude wake-up call for the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS).
For public consumption, the TRS, whose tally has come down to 56 in the 150-member Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation from 99 in the previous polls, can blame the results on BJP’s politics of polarisation but the larger issue is about the growing public anger against its style of functioning.
The question is whether the TRS supremo and chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao is prepared for an image makeover and mid-course correction of his policies to counter the growing aggression of the saffron party which is keen on capturing power in the state in 2023 assembly elections.
There is a realisation among a section of the regional party that it needs to address five key issues to check the saffron surge in the state: inaccessible top leadership, lack of internal democracy, nepotism, corruption and the folly of political strategy that was solely focused on the decimation of Congress.
The GHMC results must be seen as a mid-term mandate for the government.
“To dismiss this as an urban vote that will not have an impact on how rural Telangana votes in the 2023 assembly polls will be a grave mistake,” a senior TRS leader from neighbouring Nalgonda district told The Federal.
Hyderabad is the economic engine of Telangana, accounting for 24 seats in the 119-member assembly and four Lok Sabha constituencies.
For someone who spearheaded a mass movement for a separate Telangana state, KCR as the chief minister is popularly known, is surprisingly a reclusive leader as far as his party colleagues are concerned. He is not accessible to them. Even the senior legislators don’t get his audience for weeks and months. His visits to the state secretariat, the seat of administration, are far and few between.
Coupled with this, the hold of his family members on the party has been stifling. His son and Urban and IT Minister KT Rama Rao was the face of the party in the campaign for the GHMC polls. The electoral setback has come as a major embarrassment for the family.
“If the party is keen on image makeover before the next assembly polls, it must first get rid of this semi-feudal dynasty hangover, make the organisation more democratic and allow internal debate and discussions,” says a senior analyst Ramakrishna Sangem.
KCR needs to change his autocratic style of functioning, start listening to the district leaders and act on feedback from the ground on the impact of his government’s policies and programmes, particularly on agriculture, irrigation and rural development sectors.
In the last six years since the formation of the state, the average TRS leader in the districts is seen as financially loaded and politically arrogant. While participating in the statehood agitation, they were largely seen as one among the people but, once in power, there appears to be a sense of disconnect with the public.
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KCR’s notorious inaccessibility, his move to demolish the state secretariat and the concentration of all power in one family have made the matters worse. All through the election campaign, the BJP taunted the chief minister, asking him to “leave his farm house and attend office.”
Dilemma over ‘soft Hindutva’
KCR is not just a devout Hindu but also wears his religious identity on his sleeve. Known for his penchant for astrology, rituals and Vaastu, he frequently performs yagams and makes donations to temples.
In order to blunt the BJP’s Hindu-Muslim rhetoric, KCR may now do more of temple-hopping and yagams to position himself as the real ritualistic Hindu, particularly in view of the BJP’s constant focus on his friendship with the All India Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) and his alleged Muslim appeasement policies.
However, the real dilemma lies in the party’s strategy for the election to the post of Hyderabad mayor. Though the TRS has emerged as the single largest party in the GHMC polls, it still falls short of the numbers to grab the mayor’s post. It needs the support of the AIMIM, which has been able to hold on to its turf bagging 44 wards.
If the TRS strikes a deal with the AIMIM to share the mayor and deputy mayor posts between themselves, it will be seen as handing an issue to the BJP on a platter. But if it refuses to ally with the AIMIM, the ruling party runs the risk of antagonising the 12 per cent Muslim vote in Telangana because it would be seen as denying a Muslim corporator the chance to become deputy mayor.
In all, GHMC has 150 elected members and 52 e-officio members such as MPs, MLAs and MLCs of the area. Of the 52, the TRS has 38 members. This means that the mayor’s post is decided by an electoral college of 202 members, of which the TRS controls only 93 — nine short of the halfway mark of 102.
The BJP stood second by winning 48 divisions, a massive jump from its 2016 tally of just 4. In terms of vote share, BJP was only marginally behind the TRS — which polled 12.06 lakh or 35.81 per cent votes — with 11.95 lakh votes or a vote share of 35.56 per cent.
The Hyderabad mayor post has been reserved for women in the general category for two terms starting this GHMC election.
More dangerous adversary
The TRS’ policy of making Telangana Congress-mukt may have nearly achieved the stated goal but in the process created a much more ferocious and dangerous enemy in the form of BJP.
A section of the TRS leaders feel that the interests of the party will be better served by revival of the Grand Old Party. If the Congress appoints firebrand leader Revanth Reddy as its chief in Telangana, it may rejuvenate the party to an extent and KCR would be more than happy with a more equitable division of the anti-TRS vote between the BJP and the Congress.
The buzz in the party is that KCR is likely to focus more on irrigation and agriculture in the months ahead, hoping that the farmer of Telangana will continue to stand by his “Telangana bidda” (Son of Telangana). The TRS is expected to focus on districts where the BJP lacks organisational base.