Smarting under massive desertions from its ranks over the last few years, the Congress in Telangana has now set a pre-condition for the ticket-seekers to contest the municipal elections scheduled to be held later this month.
The prospective candidates must execute a bond on a stamp paper stating that they would not defect to other parties after getting elected on Congress ticket.
In a signed affidavit, the Congress candidates should declare that once they get elected as municipal councillors and corporators, they would strictly follow the party whip during the election of chairpersons and vice-chairpersons of municipalities and mayors and deputy mayors for municipal corporations.
Elections for 120 municipalities and 10 municipal corporations across Telangana are scheduled to be held on January 22.
Seeking a ‘no-defection bond’ from candidates is a novel strategy, given the fact that the opposition party has been suffering a steady erosion with 12 of its 19 MLAs already crossing over to the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) over the last one year. As a result, the party, which once dominated the political scene in the combined Andhra Pradesh, has lost the main opposition status in the 119-member Telangana assembly.
It will be a direct election on party basis for the posts of municipal councillors and corporators who will, in turn, elect the chairperson and vice-chairperson for municipalities and mayor and deputy mayor for corporations. It is here that the political machinations and defections come into play.
Given the past experiences, the Congress is wary about defections from its camp.
Pledge on stamp paper
The candidates selected by the party for filing nominations should execute a bond on a stamp paper of denomination of ₹20, stating that they would not cross over to other parties once they are elected on a Congress ticket.
The candidates should also acknowledge in the affidavit that they would be liable for criminal prosecution, if they crossed the floor and vote in favour of other parties.
“This condition has been introduced only to prevent the elected Congress candidates from being poached by rival parties, particularly the TRS, to capture the municipalities and municipal corporations,” the state Congress president N Uttam Kumar Reddy said.
The party has constituted district-level committees to select the candidates and the list would be finalised soon.
The Form-B (a letter from the party declaring the party affiliation of the candidate) would be issued to the candidates on January 11 and 12, after they submitted the stamped affidavit, the PCC chief said.
After coming to power in the newly-formed Telangana state in 2014, the TRS poached as many as eight out of 23 Congress MLAs as part of its ‘Operation Akarsh’.
In the December 2018 elections, the Congress managed to win only 19 seats but 12 of them defected to the TRS within a few months. The Congress also lost another seat in the by-election to Huzurnagar assembly seat. It is now left with just six seats and has lost the main opposition status.
Apart from its legislators, the Congress also witnessed defection of several of its public representatives in local bodies and municipalities in the last five years. The ruling party has been their favoured destination.
“In order to prevent such defections in future, we have come up with the idea of taking an affidavit from the candidates stating that they are prepared to face criminal prosecution if they changed their loyalty,” Reddy said.
The nomination process for the municipal elections began on Wednesday. The last date for filing of nominations is January 10. The scrutiny of nominations will be done on January 11. The last day for withdrawal of nominations is January 14 and the final list of contesting candidates would be announced on the same day. Polling is scheduled for January 22 from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m and results will be declared on January 25.
At present, the TRS controls a major chunk of municipalities and municipal corporations.
The coming elections in the urban local bodies serve as a big test for the BJP which has been making desperate attempts to expand its base in Telangana which it considers as a low-hanging fruit as part of its ‘Look South’ mission.
Sharpening its attack on the TRS on a twin plank of ‘family rule and corruption’, the saffron party has vowed to capture power in the state in the 2023 elections.
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Though BJP has always been a fringe player in Telangana, barring a few urban pockets where it finds some traction, it threw a surprise in the Lok Sabha elections last year, bagging four out of total 17 seats in the state. The major catch was Nizamabad where the Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao’s daughter K Kavitha was defeated at the hands of the BJP candidate D Aravind. The saffron party wrested three LS seats from TRS—Adilabad, Karimnagar and Nizamabad—while retaining Secunderabad.
The party garnered 19.4% vote share compared to 7% it got in the assembly elections. The surprise gains made in the LS polls has boosted the confidence of the BJP leadership that the party has the potential to emerge as an alternative to the TRS, a family-driven regional party which has virtually acquired an air of invincibility.
As part of its ‘Mission Telangana’, the BJP has started luring leaders from various parties into its fold.
Already, two prominent Dalit faces — G Vivek of the TRS and a former MP from Peddapally and M Narasimulu of TDP and former minister — have joined the saffron party.
Squabbles in TRS
As the municipal polls draw closer, the ruling party is caught in bitter infighting among its leaders. There is a scramble for party tickets amidst friction between the old-timers in the party and those who had defected to the regional party from other opposition parties over the last few years.
Ahead of the December 2018 assembly polls, the TRS had lured several district-level leaders into its camp, promising them tickets in the municipal elections.
The party supremo and Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao has entrusted the responsibility of selecting the candidates to the party MLAs. This has led to a tussle between the old guards and the new entrants.