An election to a municipal corporation is normally a local affair with low political stakes. But, what the poll-bound Hyderabad Municipal Corporation is witnessing defies both the attributes. The BJP is set to unleash a blitzkrieg to make inroads into what appears to be an impregnable fortress of the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) and its ally Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM).
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, the saffron party has upped the ante for the elections to the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC), scheduled on December 1.
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 will be co-in-charges for the GHMC polls.
With a 23-member election management team of local leaders, the party was the first to set off the block for a door-to-door campaign, highlighting the omissions and commissions of the TRS government and its ally MIM which has a strong presence in the old city areas.
The ruling TRS, a family-driven regional party impervious to internal criticism, is clearly unnerved by the BJP’s new aggression.
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 ward.
Galore of issues
Despite the tall claims of the TRS government about Hyderabad being developed as an international investment destination, the city’s poor infrastructure was exposed in the recent heavy rains.
The Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao’s son KT Rama Rao holds the Urban Development portfolio, apart from Information Technology, and is often projected as the urban face of the party.
The near-collapse of the city’s infrastructure and drainage system in the recent torrential rains came as a major embarrassment for the TRS government whose promise to modernise the drainage system remains unfulfilled.
“The government is surviving on hype and self-promotion. The city infrastructure has been going from bad to worse,” a senior BJP leader Dr K Lakshman said.
The saffron party’s campaign is set to focus on the government’s ‘inept’ handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, apart from the allegations of corruption, family rule and dictatorial functioning of the chief minister.
The BJP leaders have also stepped up attack on the alleged ‘minority appeasement’ of the TRS government, pointing out how it was “looking the other way” when the old city was turning into a haven for extremist elements.
The main criticism against the MIM is that it had done precious little for the development of the old city despite representing it in the assembly and civic body for decades.
Targeting state election commission
Soon after the announcement of the poll schedule, the BJP has sharpened its attack on the State Election Commission (SEC) for allegedly acting as a ‘stooge’ of the TRS leadership.
“In at least 63 divisions in the city, several Hindu voters have disappeared from the list. There is a deliberate attempt to alter the voter profile,” BJP spokesperson K Krishna Sagar Rao alleged.
“All democratic norms are being violated by the TRS to win the elections,” said state BJP president Bandi Sanjay.
GHMC was set up after the formation of Telangana state in June 2014 by merging the erstwhile Hyderabad Municipal Corporation and 10 municipalities and eight panchayats of the erstwhile Ranga Reddy district and two municipalities of the erstwhile Medak district.
Sops to woo voters
Harping on the development agenda and showcasing metro rail project, investments by global technology giants as its major achievements, the TRS government has announced 50 per cent relief in property tax under GHMC limits for those paying an annual tax up to ₹15,000. This is expected to benefit over 1.3 million people.
In a move to woo the trading community, considered the traditional support base of the BJP, the government has filled a majority of the nominated posts with representatives of the community.
Waiting in the wings
Though the BJP considers Telangana as a “low-hanging fruit” to expand its footprint in the south, it has been looking for an opportunity and issues that can help the party to galvanise public support.
The unexpected victory in the recent assembly by-election in Dubbak has boosted the confidence of the state party leadership. It wrested the seat from the TRS, though with a slender margin of 1,470 votes.
Since the Congress is in the throes of an existential crisis, grappling with widespread desertions, the BJP senses an opportunity to emerge as a key challenger to the TRS.
The saffron party made huge gains in the last year’s Lok Sabha elections, bagging four out of the total 17 Lok Sabha seats—Secunderabad, Karimnagar, Nizamabad and Adilabad – in a state where it was largely seen as a fringe player. The prized catch among them was Nizamabad where the chief minister’s daughter K Kavitha was defeated.
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The saffron party’s vote share has almost doubled from 10.5 per cent in the 2014 elections to 19.4 per cent in 2019. This has emboldened the party to take on the TRS government more aggressively. In the 2018 assembly polls, it could win just one seat in the 119-member House and polled just 7 per cent votes.
“Telangana provides a perfect political setting for BJP to repeat its West Bengal strategy. Like in Bengal, the BJP will be looking for Hindu consolidation by harping on TRS’ friendly ties with the AIMIM (All India Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen) and its Muslim appeasement policies,” says senior analyst Ramakrishna Sangem.