Telangana: By-poll results a challenge to KCR’s single-handed rule

Former minister Eetela Rajendar defeated TRS’ weak candidate to expose chinks in the Telangana strongman’s armour

It is no secret that KCR used his power and pelf to the hilt in this by-election to “finish off” Eetela Rajendar’s political career.

Telangana Chief Minister and Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) president K Chandrasekhar Rao’s supremacy in the state has been questioned by party rebel Eetela Rajender, who won the Huzurabad by-polls on Tuesday (November 2), by a comfortable margin.

Earlier, Rajender had to resign from the KCR cabinet on charges of land grabbing. He then quit TRS to join the BJP. The October 30 by-election was looked upon as a fight between TRS top boss’ reputation on one hand and Rajender’s self-respect on the other.

The rebel had the last laugh in the battle of pride as he defeated TRS’ Gellu Srinivas by a margin of 24,000 votes.

It is no secret that KCR used his power and pelf to the hilt to “finish off” Eetela Rajender’s political career. In doing so he definitely succeeded in quelling the possible revolt in his party in near future. No doubt, the Chief Minister still has a tight grip over the party and he remains its unquestionable leader. However, this defeat to a party rebel, despite showering schemes and freebies on voters, will hurt KCR for a long time.

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So, the important questions that begs an answer is: Where did the KCR bandwagon go wrong?

Freebies fail to deliver

Much before the elections were even held, the TRS chief announced the celebration of his party’s ‘victory’ as Vijaya gharjana. It showed KCR was overconfident and underestimated the strengths of his rival. The TRS supremo thought a win in the by-election was a foregone conclusion. And, he had reasons to back his claim.

KCR has launched the Dalit Bandhu scheme in the constituency in the run up to the elections with Rs 27,000 crore on offer to nearly 50, 000 Dalit voters. Rao thought that his party’s win will be hassle-free if the Dalits tilt the scales in his favour.

However, his Dalit welfare scheme failed to give the desired results and the shining example of it was Salampalli village. It was this village that KCR had chosen to launch Dalit Bandhu scheme. Here, Rajender got 135 votes more than the TRS candidate.

Also read: After farmers, Telangana CM turns attention to Dalits with new scheme

Besides, TRS candidate Gellu Srinivas is a political light weight and was no match to Rajender, a six-time law-maker and three-time minister, who is well connected with his voters.

BC vs Dora narrative

Etela Rajender cleverly projected the by-poll as a fight for self-respect, personifying himself as a victim of subjugation, perpetuated by KCR like a typical dora — a feudal lord. Rajender is a backward class (BC) leader from the Mudiraj community. In the process, he let his point go down well with people that the backward classes were “not getting the due respect” under KCR’s rule. The pitch did not only generate sympathy for him, but got the whole community rallying for him. Since KCR is a Velama, a resource-rich upper-caste, Rajender had an advantage here.

It is not the first time that KCR is accused of hurting self-pride of the backward community. Kalvakuntla Kavitha, KCR’s daughter, allegedly humiliated Rajya Sabha member D. Srinivas of Munnuru Kapu, another dominant caste in BCs in Telangana. Srinivas is a senior leader from the TRS and contemporary of KCR in politics. As Kavitha pressed for action against Srinivas, the sulking leader kept himself away from the party activities for a long time.

Subsequently, Kavitha paid a price for antagonizing Srinivas as she lost the Nizamabad Lok Sabha seat in 2019 to Srinivas’ son Aravind, who fought as a BJP candidate. Kavitha’s ego clash with Srinivas had a cascading effect on TRS’ prospects in the neighbouring Karimnagar parliamentary seat too. This hurt him badly, because Karimnagar, after all, is KCR’s home turf.

Outsmarting KCR

Rajender outsmarted the TRS chief by joining the BJP. His embracing the party in the ruling at the Centre pre-empted KCR’s move to prosecute him on corruption charges. In addition, the backing of BJP also helped him disarm his rival at the time of polling in terms of election management. Suspension of Dalit Bandhu scheme is a case in point.

The pattern of voting apparently reflected the level of anti-incumbency against KCR’s seven-year rule. Sivakeshav, a psephologist, who conducted an exit-poll survey at Huzurabad, said he found a considerable number of Muslims and even Christians favouring Rajender, despite BJP’s reputation as a party thriving on religious polarization. This happened because Rajender succeeded in building the narrative that it’s a personal fight between him and KCR and that the election has got nothing to do with the BJP’s reputation. Another notable fact indicating the public sentiment against the government was voting of government employees, women and youths against the TRS. The educated youths are restless and upset with the TRS government for its failure to fill vacancies in government departments and address the challenge posed by unemployment.

The loss in Huzurabad may come as a shot in the arm for the voices of dissent within the KCR’s party in near future. “After all, Rajender revolted against his mentor and his winning naturally means a moral loss for KCR,” said analyst Raka Sudhakar. The setback for the ruling party in Dubbak and Huzurabad may hopefully be a wake-up call for KCR to set his house in order and counter the criticism that he is turning against backward classes. Rajender is a third leader from the BCs who revolted against Rao after D. Srinivas and Swami Goud, former chairman of the Telangana Legislative Council. While Srinivas remained with TRS, Goud joined the BJP.

The TRS campaign saw K.T. Rama Rao, KCR’s son and party working president, showing signs of risk aversion. Rama Rao or KTR was away from electioneering when his cousin and Finance Minister T. Harish Rao (also the state finance minister), representing the neighbouring Siddhipet district, has been waging a grim poll battle in Huzurabad as he did during the Dubbak by-election. Incidentally, KTR hails from Karimnagar, which includes the Huzurabad constituency.

Also read: In KCR’s ‘Golden Telangana’, the young are desperate for jobs

Critics say KCR’s son bets only on winning horses, which was evident from KTR-led campaign in Nagarjuna Sagar by-election which the party won.

For records, KCR has made KTR the acting president of the party by suitably amending the party constitution at a recent plenary, enabling his son to run the party like a de facto party chief.

“As a working president of the party, KTR ought to have spearheaded the campaign in Huzurabad. But he chose to play a safe game. After all, failure is an orphan while success has many fathers,” observed analyst Shaik Jakeer.

“As a working president of the party, KTR ought to have spearheaded the campaign in Huzurabad. But he chose to play a safe game. After all, failure is an orphan while success has many fathers,” observed analyst Shaik Jakeer.

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