Telugu voters have established a trend where they embrace change and court new political formations with gusto but do not hesitate to throw them out when they find them falling short on expectations.
The Friday results of the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation elections reaffirms the trend, with the BJP doing much better than what pre-poll forecasts indicated. The electorate that embraced K Chandrasekhar Rao’s Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) with great enthusiasm only six years ago may now be preparing to throw it out mercilessly if it does not mend its ways.
However, what is different this time is the BJP’s tactics of using unabashed extreme right wing rhetoric to polarise the electorate to carve out a space for itself. An ecstatic BJP and its supporters are now claiming the moon. They are saying that the outcome of the civic body elections will have far-reaching impact on the West Bengal and Tamil Nadu Assembly elections due next year.
The argument for the moment may sound a bit premature but clearly the saffron party is on a roll in its southern campaign and will use the momentum in its eastern forays.
In the early eighties, in the undivided Andhra Pradesh, the Congress party was decimated by actor-turned-politician N T Rama Rao within nine months of forming the Telugu Desam Party. The ‘film god’ swept the state polls evoking Telugu pride. His campaign was a reaction to an incident in which the then state chief minister T Anjiah was publicly humiliated by Rajiv Gandhi, who was seen as a successor to Indira Gandhi. He was disgusted by a song and dance show put up by Anjiah on the tarmac of Hyderabad airport keeping in line with Congress party’s sycophantic culture. Rajiv, a former pilot, disapproved it.
By the mid-1980s, NTR began to lose his charisma. A decade later he came back to power but got embroiled in family feud. He was subsequently dethroned in a coup by his own son-in-law N Chandrababu Naidu. Andhra Pradesh embraced Naidu and he was chief minister for nearly a decade. He transformed the capital and Cyberabad became a high tech hub.
Microsoft had set up its first development centre in India and Naidu became a toast of overseas investors.
Naidu, who fashioned himself as a CEO of the state, had developed glitzy high rises at the cost of rural development. In 2004, he was thrown out by a charismatic Congress leader YS Rajasekhara Reddy.
Reddy ruled successfully and clinched a second term. But a few months later, in September 2009, he died in a helicopter crash. As a succession war brewed, the Congress party got divided. K Chandrasekhar Rao, who was leading a movement for a separate Telangana, saw an opportunity. His grassroots movement resulted in carving out a separate state of Telangana in 2014. Riding the wave, he became the chief minister of the newly formed
In his second term, he is finding the going tough as he is accused of widespread corruption and family rule. His style of functioning where he keeps aloof from the media and runs the state in an autocratic manner has attracted extensive criticism. Though he is still considered popular among the rural masses, the sheen is fading.
He called for early Assembly elections in 2018 and secured a second term. He used state power to crush the opposition and triggered an exodus from the Congress and Telugu Desam Party. Of the 18 Congress MLAs, 12 joined the TRS. While a rudderless Congress is struggling, the TDP has been reduced to a non-entity.
BJP’s game plan
The BJP seeks to fill the vacuum caused by the poor performance of these parties. In the 2019 parliamentary elections, TRS won nine seats, BJP four, Congress three and AIMIM one seat. Though the Congress fared poorly, it still holds 29.5 per cent vote share as against 41.2 per cent held by the TRS and 19.5 per cent by the BJP.
In a recent by election, the BJP won Dubbak Assembly seat dislodging the TRS. It was a shock defeat as ruling parties normally do not lose by-elections. Earlier Kavitha, daughter of KCR, had bit the dust in parliamentary elections. Sensing an opportunity after the Dubbak win, the BJP has gone the whole hog. It rolled out a high pitched election campaign targeting the Hyderabad municipal corporation. While other parties looked with dismay, the saffron party moved its big guns to fight for municipal wards!
The charge led by Home Minister Amit Shah and party chief J P Nadda had several hot-heads ranging from UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and its youth wing chief Tejaswi Surya lining up to “build a new narrative.” They sought to free the Hindus of Hyderabad from the “shame and humiliation” they were suffering at the hands of “erstwhile descendants of Nizam.”
The BJP has found a perfect recipe to trigger a storm. The core of 150 ward corporation spread over four parliamentary seats and 24 Assembly segments are part of the old areas of Hyderabad dominated by the Muslim population. The loudmouths of BJP went about polarising the electorate with their no-holds-barred speeches as they found a willing companion in AIMIM. As the two sides clashed, the TRS that had built a party based on a social movement found itself at odds.
In the end, the TRS is in a position to retain power in the Hyderabad Corporation. But it is the BJP that seems to have stolen the thunder. The party will continue to exploit the tacit understanding between TRS and AIMIM and further polarise the electorate. It is a given that the BJP will use its gains in Hyderabad during the forthcoming West Bengal and Tamil Nadu campaigns.
The core Hindutva agenda against the opposition in these states would be embellished with charges of family rule and corruption. While the Congress party is down in the dumps after Bihar, it is the turn of regional parties to face the heat.