“Why are so many Dilli boys coming for Gully polls,” wonders the working president of the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) and minister KT Rama Rao, popularly known as KTR.
This was a tongue-in-cheek reference to the hordes of national BJP leaders, including Union ministers, descending on Hyderabad to campaign for the upcoming elections to the city municipal corporation.
The saffron party has unleashed a blitzkrieg on a scale that was never seen before in a civic body election anywhere in the country. It has roped in a galaxy of leaders including the national president JP Nadda, Union ministers Amit Shah, Prakash Javadekar and G Kishan Reddy, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath, firebrand MP Tejasvi Surya and former Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis to address road shows ahead of the December 1 elections to the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC).
While KTR’s “Dilli Boys” remark may have been an attempt to project BJP leaders as ‘outsiders’ and assert the regional identity of his party, TRS, the development has far greater political implications than a mere ‘local versus non-local fight’ fight.
For BJP, which views Telangana as a ‘low-hanging fruit’ among the southern states to expand its footprint, the civic body polls offer a testing ground for strategies aimed at capturing power in the state in the 2023 elections.
Lok Sabha, Assembly boost
Emboldened by significant gains, 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 for the GHMC elections.
The appointment of its national general secretary Bhupender Yadav to oversee the campaign and political strategy reflects the importance that the party attaches to the polls. Incidentally, Yadav was the party’s coordinator in the recently-held elections in Bihar.
Apart from him, K Sudhakar, a minister from Karnataka, Ashish Shelar, BJP’s chief whip in the Maharashtra assembly, Gujarat BJP leader Pradip Singh Vaghela and Karnataka MLA Sathish Reddy are made co-in-charges for the polls.
With a 23-member election management team of local leaders, the party was the first off the block for a door-to-door campaign, highlighting the omissions and commissions of the TRS government and its ally All India Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) which has a strong presence in the old city areas.
The TRS-AIMIM combine control the civic body, one of the largest in the country with 150 wards and five zones. In the last elections held in 2016, the TRS and AIMIM had bagged 99 and 44 wards respectively. The BJP had managed to win four wards while Congress had to be content with just one ward.
Colour it communal
Polarisation appears to be the name of the game that BJP plays. From raising the issue of Rohingya refugees and illegal foreign nationals to the demand to rename Hyderabad as ‘Bhagyanagar’, the BJP leaders have been focusing on issues that have no resonance in a local body election.
While addressing a road show, Bengaluru MP Tejasvi Surya raked up the demand to rechristen the city as ‘Bhagyanagar’ after a local deity. It is argued that the city, originally known as Bhagyanagar, was renamed as Hyderabad after Hadar, the son of Quli Qutb Shah, the fifth ruler of the Qutb Shahi dynasty.
The BJP also wants to rename Hussain Sagar lake, which connects the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad, as ‘Vinayak Sagar’. This is where the Ganesha idols are immersed every year in a centralised procession, marking culmination of Vinayak Chaturthi festivities.
Recently, Union minister Smriti Irani accused the TRS and AIMIM of harbouring “anti-nationals” in the city – in the form of illegal immigrants – to further political gains.
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She, along with Tejasvi Surya, had claimed that the TRS government had chosen to remain silent on the “illegal stay of around 75,000 immigrants” including the Rohingyas from Myanmar, Bangladeshis and Pakistanis in the city.
The state BJP president Bandi Sanjay, a fiery and provocative speaker, has threatened to conduct “surgical strikes to weed out anti-nationals” from the old city.
“Does he consider the old city as an enemy country and its residents as terrorist supporters?” asks Congress leader Mohammad Ali Shabbir. Of the total 75 lakh-strong electorate in the state capital, Muslims account for nearly 18 lakh.
“If the allegations of illegal foreign immigrants are true, then why did Union home ministry keep silent on the issue?” Asaduddin Owaisi asked.
On its part, the AIMIM, which has been consistently winning the assembly seats in the Muslim-dominated old city areas for decades, added to an already vitiated atmosphere. Akbaruddin Owaisi, the younger brother of Asaduddin Owaisi and the party’s floor leader in the assembly, has dared the TRS government to pull down the samadhis (memorials) of former Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao and former chief minister of undivided Andhra Pradesh NT Rama Rao, before removing the dwellings put up by the poor in public spaces in the name of development.
The ruling party views Narasimha Rao as an icon of Telangana and has been pitching for Bharat Ratna honour for former Prime Minister.
Faced with highly divisive electioneering, the TRS president and chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao has expressed fear that riots could be engineered by some vested interest groups.
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 KCR and his son KTR, who is also the IT and urban development minister, appears 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 who is to face the state elections in 2023.