All eyes are riveted on Hyderabad as the counting of votes for the bitterly-fought elections to the municipal corporation began on Friday morning (December 4) amid tight security.
Normally, an election to a civic body is a local affair with low political stakes. However, what marked the campaign in the city has been anything but low-key. The run-up to the battle for the control of the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC), which covers 24 assembly and four Lok Sabha segments with a total electorate of nearly 75 lakh, saw a bitterly polarised campaign.
The BJP had unleashed a blitzkrieg to make inroads into what is widely seen as an impregnable fortress of the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) and its ally Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM). This has raised the stakes of the poll battle.
Emboldened by big gains in Telangana, first in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls in which it bagged four seats and then a surprise win in the recent assembly by-election at Dubbak, the saffron party has upped the ante.
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The GHMC, one of the largest urban conglomerates in the country, has five zones, 18 circles and 150 wards. The TRS and MIM had swept the last elections held in 2016, winning 99 and 44 wards respectively. The BJP had managed to win four wards while Congress had to be content with just one.
Manual counting of ballot papers
The polling, held on December 1, witnessed a poor turnout of 46.5 per cent with 34.50 lakh people out of a total of 74.67 lakh voters exercising their franchise. The poor turnout was attributed to a string of public holidays preceding the polling day and COVID-19 fear.
Over the last decade, the polling percentage has been traditionally lower in the civic body elections, as compared to the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections, with an average turnout of 45 per cent. The voting percentage in 2009 was 43 per cent while it was 46 per cent in 2016.
Elaborate arrangements have been made for the counting at 30 places across the city involving over 8,000 personnel. Security cameras have been installed at each counting table, State Election Commissioner Parthasarathy told The Federal.
The State Election Commission had conducted the election with ballot papers based on the feedback from political parties and the health department, in view of the pandemic.
The GHMC was formed in April 2007 by merging 12 municipalities and eight gram panchayats with the Municipal Corporation of Hyderabad (MCH). Four districts fall within GHMC limits, including Hyderabad, Ranga Reddy, Medchal-Malkajgiri and Sangareddy.
A closer look at the campaign issues highlighted by the BJP reveals its game plan to achieve the larger objective of occupying the political vacuum created by the near-decimation of the Congress, and eventually unseat the family-controlled ruling TRS in the state elections, nearly three years away.
In a way, the election for the urban civic body provided a testing ground for its polarising strategies, particularly in view of the significant chunk of Muslim population in India’s fourth largest city. The party got its national general secretary Bhupender Yadav, its match winner in Bihar, to camp in the city to oversee the election work.
From Union Home Minister Amit Shah and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath to Tejasvi Surya, Prakash Javadekar and Devendra Fadnavis, several big guns of the saffron party addressed rallies, rolling out heavy artillery fire and invoking provocative slogans targeting the minorities.
The high-decibel campaign attracted huge national attention, not for the immediate fight for the control of the GHMC but for the larger goal that the BJP has set for itself to capture power in Telangana in the 2023 assembly elections.
Apart from communal polarisation, the BJP has crafted its campaign focusing on region-wise segments of voters. Devendra Fadnavis and Tejasvi Surya were brought to the city to reach out to the Marathi and Kannadiga voters respectively.
The development narrative of Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao and his son KT Rama Rao, who’s the IT and urban development minister and party’s working president, appeared to have largely lost steam in the high-voltage campaign that has acquired communal colours.
The GHMC election is crucial for TRS to retain its hold in state politics. Any slide in its tally, compared to the previous polls, means trouble for the TRS chief in the next assembly polls.
The Congress’ poll battle was led by its state president N Uttam Kumar Reddy and working president A Revanth Reddy, both MPs and other senior leaders.