True to its billing, the outcome of the high-stake election to the Hyderabad municipal corporation carries a political message whose significance goes beyond the civic body.
For the BJP, which has made key inroads in the city on the back of a bitterly polarised campaign, the mandate comes as a major boost to its plans to emerge as a principal challenger to the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) and capture power in Telangana in the 2023 Assembly elections.
The saffron party has wrested some of the divisions that were considered the strongholds of the TRS. However, it has failed to breach the bastions of the All India Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), which has managed to hold on to its strongholds in the old city.
For the TRS, the verdict is a warning that the people have put it on notice and are ready to punish if it fails to deliver on its promises. Though the ruling party will still be able to control the corporation, the reduced tally means that there has been erosion of public support, particularly in the backdrop of how the city’s much-touted international image took a severe beating in the recent floods when its poor infrastructure was exposed.
The below par performance comes close on the heels of a humiliating loss in the recent Assembly by-election in Dubbak and yielding three Lok Sabha seats to the BJP in the 2019 general elections.
The TRS chief, K Chandrasekhar Rao, is already facing criticism for his autocratic style of functioning and promoting family rule and corruption.
For the Congress, it is yet another drubbing that brings a sense of grim déjà vu and hopelessness. Once a formidable force in the combined Andhra Pradesh, the party has been steadily losing the support base after the bifurcation. The BJP has been quick to occupy the political vacuum left by the Congress and change the narrative of the state politics.
The Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC), which covers 24 Assembly and four Lok Sabha segments with a total electorate of nearly 75 lakh, has 150 divisions.
Though the final results are expected to be declared late on Friday night, the trends indicate that the BJP has made massive gains and is set to win over 45 divisions. It had won just four in the last elections held in 2016. The saffron party’s gains have come at the cost of the TRS.
On the other hand, the TRS, which had swept the previous polls winning 99 wards, is set to retain around 65. The AIMIM, which had 44 wards in its kitty, is close to repeating the feat. The Congress is set to win two divisions, as against one in the last elections.
The run-up to the battle for the control of the Corporation saw a bitterly polarised campaign run by the BJP.
From Amit Shah and 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 Assembly elections three years away.
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.
From promising to rename the city as ‘Bhagyanagar’ and end the ‘Nizam-Nawab culture’ to targeting the Rohingya refugees and the alleged illegal foreign nationals, polarisation was the name of the BJP’s game.
The BJP leaders dubbed Asaduddin Owaisi, the president of All India Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) and Hyderabad MP, as “modern-day Mohammad Ali Jinnah” and attacked the TRS for its “secret pact” with the AIMIM and “minority appeasement”.
“A vote for Owaisi is a vote against India and what the country stands for” was the oft-repeated slogan of the BJP leaders during the election rallies.
Both Tejasvi Surya and Adityanath spoke about rechristening 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.
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.
Also read: The importance of being Asaduddin Owaisi
The BJP, which perceives Hyderabad as an assertion of Muslim identity and a citadel of Owaisi family, is looking for an opportunity to end the monopoly of AIMIM over the old city. Apart from representing Hyderabad in the Lok Sabha since 1980s, the AIMIM has seven MLAs in the 119-member Telangana Assembly, all from the old city, and 44 wards in the GHMC.
The BJP’s campaign strategy appears to have led to further consolidation of Muslim voters in favour of AIMIM candidates.
“By scripting an aggressive Hindutva campaign in Hyderabad, the party wants to test the ‘North Indian model’ of polarisation as part of its mission to expand its footprint in the South,” Ramesh Kandula, a senior journalist and analyst, said. verdict has message for all parties