Telangana cash TRS BJP Munugode poll
A car seized in Telangana with Rs 1 crore cash, on the way Munugode. Pic: Twitter

Telangana Munugode bypoll: As parties open money tap, voters seek ‘cut’

As a result of the high-profile campaign by TRS and BJP, the public perception is that the election will go down in history as the most expensive one in Telangana. Local youth mock Munugode as ‘Moneygode’

Voters were expecting a reasonable amount for their vote, said a farmer, watching a convoy of a dozen luxury cars pass by his house in Lenkalapally village in Munugode Assembly constituency of Telangana’s Nalgonda district, where a byelection is coming up.

For the past 15 days, watching hundreds of big cars pass through the village has become his routine. He has never seen such cars pass by this road. He is trying to figure out the importance of the bypoll through this rare spectacle.

The byelection has been caused by the resignation of Congress MLA Komatireddy Rajagopal Reddy from the Assembly. He also left the party to join the BJP a couple of months ago. The polling is scheduled for November 3.

The village Lenkalapalli, little known outside the area, has been in the news ever since media reported that Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao was taking responsibility of campaigning in the village on behalf of TRS for the bypoll. With this, the village acquired VIP status, attracting both attention and scrutiny of media and rival political parties. Hence, the heavy traffic at the village.

Spend on us too, say voters

Though the farmer didn’t have any clarity on the ‘price of the vote’, he argued it should be commensurate with the way the parties, especially the TRS and BJP, are spending the money in his village to win the byelection.

Also read: KCR’s TRS turns BRS: Masterstroke or misadventure?

“I hear parties are offering lakhs of rupees and cars as gifts to the local leaders. Even panchayat ward members are receiving lakhs of rupees for switching sides. Then parties have to pay the voters also in the same vein,” he contended.

While Congress is the poaching ground for the TRS, the BJP is trying to lure marginalised TRS leaders. Locals are of the view that since huge money is being offered to leaders to influence caste members, voters should also get their due share.

This is the common thread of every chat one hears at tea stalls and village gatherings. Every man on the street knows that each major political party’s day’s campaign comes to a close late at night with a lavish dinner in a local function hall. Having seen this extravaganza, many voters are hopeful that the parties will offer ₹10,000 or even more per head to get votes for their candidate.

A reason for each party

Winning the high-stakes election is crucial for every party: for TRS, it will be an endorsement to KCR’s Bharat Rashtra Samiti (BRS) and checkmating BJP aggression; for BJP, it will prove that it is an alternative to TRS; and for Congress, the election will be a proof that the party is recovering. This existential urge is manifest in the intense campaign and expenditure of the parties.

Also read: Don’t fall prey to BJP antics, give it a loud message: KCR tells Munugode voters

According to a lecturer at a private college in Choutuppal, reports of the media, especially the ones shared on social media, about the money being spent by the parties have enlightened the voters of the worth of their vote. He said the war of words among the political parties about the wealth their rivals amassed through contracts has also contributed to the speculative value of the vote.

“I have not seen this type of convoy of luxury cars in hundreds roam around in any election. Parties are even poaching local ward members, sarpanches and former elected representatives offering huge amounts. For the poverty stricken villagers, these long convoys of big cars and daily defections are reason enough to demand more in return,” reasoned the lecturer.

It is not known what assurance they have got, but former TRS MP Dr Bura Nasaiah Goud quit the party to join BJP and journalist-turned-politician Palle Ravi, whose wife is a mandal parishad member, joined the TRS from the Congress.

Lots of poll-eve defections are taking place in every village, giving rise to doubts about the lure behind the move.

The reason for the unusual traffic one comes across on interior rural roads is the camping of MPs, MLAs, Ministers, MLCs and other political bigwigs in the constituency of 2.38 lakh voters.

High-stakes battle

TRS has appointed 86 MLAS for campaigning at the rate of one for two villages in the constituency besides 14 ministers to oversee the campaign. A dozen MLCs and people’s representatives of local bodies from neighbouring districts are also deployed in villages to campaign for the party. All parties have booth committees to take care of daily needs of the voters leading to festive atmosphere in every village.

As for the BJP, apart from the state leaders, the party has brought many leaders from Delhi to campaign in the area. All hotels, function halls and residential portions were occupied by TRS and BJP well in advance.

Relatively speaking, the Congress, which has fielded a woman, Palvai Sravanti from a party veteran’s family, is yet to get its act together.  The party is struggling to retain its hold on the constituency despite odds stacked against it.

As a result of the high-profile campaign by TRS and BJP, there appears to be unanimity in public perception that the election will go down in history as the most expensive in Telangana. Local youth mock Munugode as ‘Moneygode’.

“The byelection will create history in more than one way,” remarked Kapilavai Dileep Kumar, former MLC and BJP leader. Rajagopal Reddy, with his meticulous planning, appears to have erased the edge the TRS has got by virtue of being the ruling party in the state.

Contest between money bags

While Rajagopal Reddy is one of the richest politicians in the state, his main rival, Kusukuntla Prabhakar Reddy, though no match to the former, has the backing of the ruling TRS, the richest party in the state. Many brand this as a contest of money bags.

According to the affidavit Rajagopal Reddy filed in the 2018 Assembly elections, he was the richest MLA in the House with assets worth ₹314 crore. Now, the state’s richest politicians are working for him. His party’s overall in-charge of the constituency, Vivek Venkatasway, is a rich industrialist. Another politician who is campaigning for Rajagopal is Konda Vishweshwar Reddy. He was the richest politician in Parliament when he got elected to Lok Sabha as TRS nominee in 2014.

Last April, addressing the party’s plenary, TRS supremo K Chandrasekhar Rao himself announced to thunderous applause that TRS was a prosperous party with assets worth ₹1,000 crore.

“We are a prosperous party with ₹451 crore fixed deposits including electoral bonds. We have bank deposits of ₹865 crore in SBI and Bank of Baroda,” KCR said, adding that the party was rich enough to launch a national party.

As per the latest data submitted to the EC, the TRS has received ₹193.9 crore worth contributions in 2021-22, which include ₹153 crore it received in the form of electoral bonds and ₹40 crore contribution from Prudent Electoral Trust.

Though the party leaders talk in roadshows about the development of the constituency, voters are more interested in the remunerative side of the election.

Praja Shanti party (PJS) leader and Evangelist KA Paul alleged that TRS and BJP were paying at the rate of ₹2 crore to each sarpanch who switched to their side from other parties. “Take money from all sides and vote for my party,” he urged the voters.

A case of quid pro quo?

The whole debate on the role of money in the byelection was triggered by TRS when state IT and Municipal minister KT Ramarao alleged that Congress MLA Rajagopal Reddy resigned from the party and the Assembly at the behest of BJP. According to KTR, Rajagopal Reddy was awarded a contract worth ₹18,000 crore by the Centre. He said Rajagopal’s resignation from the Assembly necessitating the byelection is a case of quid pro quo.

TRS has succeeded in making the issue of ₹18,000 crore contract a talking point in the constituency with posters and flex boards. Even Congress seems to have bought this charge, and started accusing Rajagopal Reddy of acting as BJP’s covert when he was in the party. Congress party workers even tried to block the Convoy of Rajagopal Reddy raising slogans like ‘Covert Komatireddy Go Back’.

In retaliation, Rajagopal Reddy started attacking KTR’s sister and MLC K Kavitha’s alleged Delhi liquor scam connections. Accusing Kavitha of having partnership in 600 liquor shops in Delhi, Rajagopal Reddy said in a public meeting on Saturday that the BJP would ensure that Kavitha goes to Tihar jail soon.

Also read: Liberation vs integration: TRS, BJP spar on Sept 17 celebration in Telangana

Many voters who spoke to The Federal argued that against this backdrop of allegations and counter allegations, “there is nothing wrong if voters demand more money for their vote.”

Functionaries of all political parties agree on the major heads of account of expenditure. “It is true that voters’ expectations are very high. The amount varies from place to place. There are about 2,38,759 voters in the constituency. We have to take into account at least 1 lakh voters. Now parties are in the phase of luring the local leaders. If it proves effective, the cost of the vote would come down. Otherwise the rate would be higher. It will be known two or three days before the polling,” said a functionary of BJP on condition of anonymity.

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