Why September 17 holds key to BJP’s ‘Capture Telangana’ mission

Home Minister Amit Shah - The Federal
The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill wouldn't have been needed if the Congress had not allowed partition on basis of religion, said Amit Shah. Photo: PTI

When BJP president and Union Home Minister Amit Shah addresses a public meeting in Telangana’s Nizamabad town on September 17, it won’t be just another routine meeting for the BJP.

The buzz in political circles here is that the BJP would unveil its political strategy for the key southern state at the rally.

September 17 holds a special significance. It was on this day 71 years ago that the erstwhile princely state of Hyderabad, under Nizam’s rule, was merged with the Indian Union.

The saffron party has been observing it as “Liberation Day”. It is an emotive issue around which the BJP now wants to weave its political campaign to capture power in Telangana in the 2023 Assembly elections.

The party has been demanding that September 17 be officially observed as “Liberation Day” to mark the integration of the region into Indian Union.

Nationalist narrative

Emboldened by the groundswell of support from the general public to the recent move to abrogate Article 370 that gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir, the BJP leadership has decided to harp on similar card of national integration in Telangana as well.

The real target of this campaign is the All India Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), a formidable political force in Hyderabad and an ally of the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), which is opposed to any narrative that denigrates the Nizam’s rule.

The TRS has so far rejected the demand for celebrating the Liberation Day, keeping in view the sensibilities of the minorities.

Following the landslide victory in the Lok Sabha elections, the saffron party had declared Telangana as its next target to make major inroads into the south. The country’s youngest state offers a perfect setting for the BJP to go for the offensive as the opposition Congress is virtually in a comatose condition with a majority of its legislators already crossing over to the TRS while its cadre is demoralised.

By taking up the public issues, stepping up campaign against the ‘family rule and corruption’ of the TRS and building a nationalist narrative, the BJP wants to emerge as a formidable force and occupy the opposition space in the state.

“The people are yearning for a change in Telangana. They are fed up with the dynastic rule, corrupt deeds and appeasement politics of the TRS. We offer a credible alternative,” state BJP spokesperson Krishnasagar Rao told The Federal.

Aggressive Poaching

As part of its ‘Mission Telangana’, the BJP has started luring leaders from various parties into its fold. Already, the prominent Dalit face of the TRS and a former MP from Peddapally G Vivek has joined the saffron party. Vivek, a leading industrialist and a media baron, is the son of former Congress Union Minister G Venkataswamy. He has been moving back and forth from Congress and TRS since 2013. Following denial of TRS ticket in the last elections, he has been looking for greener pastures.

Another Dalit leader from the Telugu Desam Party and a former Minister M Narasimulu is all set to switch over to the BJP.A disgruntled TRS leader D Srinivas, whose son D Aravind is a BJP MP from Nizamabad, is also believed to be keen on crossing over to the saffron party. Srinivas is a veteran backward class leader who had served as the PCC chief of the combined Andhra Pradesh unit and a minister in the Congress governments in the past.

A Congress MLA from Nalgonda district K Rajagopal Reddy has already expressed his willingness to join BJP.

Target 2023

“The outcome of the Lok Sabha elections has clearly proved that Telangana is going to be fertile ground for BJP’s growth in the next five years. Now, our aim is to conquer the state in 2023 and form the first BJP government in the state,” the state BJP president Dr K Lakshman told The Federal.

In his assessment, there is a “huge political vacuum” in the state at present and the recent LS verdict was a vote against the “dynasty and dictatorial rule” of both the Chief Ministers—Chandrababu Naidu and KCR.

“The TDP has lost its ground completely and Congress party’s base is gradually eroding. In fact, we have pushed the Congress into third position in seven or eight parliamentary constituencies. Apart from winning four seats, we came second in two other constituencies. So, we are the only potential opposition in the state,” he reasoned.

The BJP leader pointed out that the defeat of KCR’s daughter in Nizamabad and his close aide Vinod Kumar in Karimnagar indicated that there was an undercurrent for BJP in the state, which the party would take advantage of and grow in the next four years to capture the state from the TRS.

The party leaders are of the view that induction of Kishan Reddy into the Union cabinet as a minister of state for home affairs was a strategic move to improve its strength in Telangana. Reddy is said to be close to the party president Amit Shah.

Surprise Gains

While the rest of southern states, barring Karnataka, gave a thumbs down to the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections, the outcome in Telangana surprised many including the ardent fans of the saffron party. It bagged four out of the total 17 LS seats—Secunderabad, Karimnagar, Nizamabad and Adilabad–in a state where the party was largely seen as a fringe player.

And, the prize catch among them was Nizamabad where the Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao’s daughter K Kavitha was defeated.

Barring Secunderabad, all the other three seats are considered strongholds of the TRS. The gains have come as a major boost for BJP which could win just one seat in the 119-member assembly in the December 2018 assembly elections and polled just 7 percent votes.

The saffron party’s vote share has almost doubled from 10.5 percent in the 2014 elections to 19.4 percent this time. This has emboldened the party to take on the TRS government more aggressively.

Perfect political setting

“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 and its alleged Muslim appeasement policies,” the political analyst Dr K Nageswar said.

The upcoming Nizamabad rally is expected to provide a platform for the BJP to step up its campaign using nationalism plank and demand for celebrating September 17 as ‘Liberation Day’ in Telangana.

The Muslim groups are opposed to celebrations to mark the end of Nizam’s rule saying it would “revive the old wounds and hurt the sentiments of minorities”.

“Some people want to spread hatred against Muslims by celebrating Sep 17 as liberation day. In our view, there is only one Independence Day for entire India. No other state celebrates a separate independence day,” the AIMIM president and Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi said.

The BJP contended that the merger of Hyderabad state signified the end of an oppressive Nizam’s rule and deserved celebrations on a grand scale.

“When Maharashtra and Karnataka states are celebrating September 17 as liberation day officially, why cannot Telangana government do the same? Why not the state and the central governments recognise the sacrifices by thousands of people who fought the Nizam’s army and private militia — Razakars — raised by the Muslim ruler?” asked Dr Lakshman.