Hyderabad, Jan 29 (IANS) The Assembly elections scheduled in Telangana towards the end of 2023 will be different from the first two elections in Indias youngest state.
Telangana sentiment which dominated the 2014 and 2018 elections is likely to wane this time with the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) transforming itself into the Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) to play a key role in national politics.
The party led by K. Chandrasekhar Rao aka KCR replaced Telangana with Bharat in its name to suit its plans to expand its footprint to other states in the country.
As the state entered the election year, there is no clarity if KCR will go for early polls as he did in 2018. Whenever elections are held, one thing is certain. There will be multiple players, which may make the electoral battle very interesting, whose outcome will be tough to guess.
As KCR is inviting the chief ministers of other states and leaders of non-BJP and non-Congress parties to Hyderabad to make a strong pitch for replicating the Telangana model at the national level, the stakes will be high for the BRS to retain power in Telangana.
Will KCR become the first chief minister in South India to win a third consecutive term in power is the question being debated in political circles. Political observers say while there will be anti-incumbency as the party has been in power since the formation of the state, it will be interesting to see what strategy KCR comes out with to overcome the anti-incumbency.
KCR, who led the fight for statehood to Telangana and achieved the goal, is seen by many observers as one of the smartest politicians in the country. He always surprised his opponents with his political tactics. One such masterstroke was advancing the Assembly polls by a few months to delink them from the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The outcome of both the polls proved he played his cards carefully.
After winning the mandate in 2014 to lead the new state on the path of development, KCR advanced the polls by 5-6 months, citing the attempts by the rivals to dislodge his government and seeking another mandate to build ‘Bangaru Telangana’ (Golden Telangana). The TRS increased its majority. On both the occasions, the Telangana sentiment was strong.
This time the Telangana sentiment may not be as strong. However, some political analysts believe that the very idea of BRS may be another masterstroke by KCR to retain power.
“He may be playing the son of the soil card by seeking a mandate to play a big role in national politics to bring a change in the county,” said a political observer.
Another observer believes that by getting leaders from various states to Hyderabad to talk about Rythu Bandhu and other schemes of Telangana, KCR is trying to tell the people of his state that the country is impressed by the Telangana model and that if he gets another term, he will replicate the model across India.
“While the BJP is showcasing the Modi model of governance as it has no other thing to talk about, KCR wants to counter it. He is saying the BJP model is a failed one and it is the Telangana model which leaders across the country are talking about,” observed political observer Palwai Raghavendra Reddy.
“KCR needs such a narrative as there will be strong anti-incumbency with the opposition questioning him about the promises he failed to keep and most of his schemes reaching an expiry date,” said a senior journalist.
Another political analyst is of the view that BRS is a calculated risk taken by KCR and that he is preparing the ground for it.
Since building the narrative requires that KCR remain in the position of the chief minister, he is not likely to go for early polls. “The moment KCR ceases to be the chief minister, the leaders and chief ministers from other states will stop coming to Telangana,” said Reddy.
Though the BJP is trying to project the coming election as a BRS Vs BJP contest, the fact remains that the saffron party does not have a strong presence on the ground across the state. The BJP’s presence is considered to be limited to north Telangana and some parts of Greater Hyderabad.
Two Assembly by-election victories and an impressive performance in the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) polls have given BJP leaders the belief that they can come to power in Telangana.
Analysts believe that except for the Modi model of governance, the BJP has no other selling point in Telangana. However, even this is being countered by the BRS by calling it a failed model.
KCR and other BRS leaders are highlighting the price rise, especially the steep hike in the prices of petroleum products, rising unemployment, falling Indian rupee, privatisation of public sector companies to counter the Modi model. They are also questioning the BJP on failing to honour the commitments made to Telangana in the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act, 2014.
“The BJP has not given a single new project to Telangana in the last eight years,” says BRS working president and state minister K. T. Rama Rao.
The tone and tenor adopted by BJP leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Amit Shah, BJP president J. P. Nadda during their series of visits to Telangana in recent months clearly indicate that the BJP will contest the next elections around the narrative of dynasty politics, alleged corruption and appeasement.
BJP leaders have also been slamming KCR for pushing the state into a ‘debt trap’, his autocratic style of functioning and for going back or failure to honour the promises made in the previous elections.
KCR is also facing the BJP onslaught for allegedly going back on the promise to pay an unemployment allowance, 3 acres of land for Dalits and for not reducing taxes on petrol and diesel despite the Centre slashing the prices twice.
The BJP leaders have been branding the TRS government as the most corrupt in the state. They alleged that the Kaleshwaram Lift Irrigation Project became an ATM for KCR as he inflated its cost from Rs 40,000 crore to Rs 1.40 lakh crore.
The BJP is also trying to make the state’s mounting debts into a big issue. Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has already targeted the TRS government for raising debts beyond the FRBM limits and claimed that every child born in the state carries a Rs 1.25 lakh debt burden.
She said because of the huge debt, Telangana’s revenue surplus budget had slipped to a revenue deficit budget.
“KCR has made the state bankrupt with a Rs 5 lakh crore debt burden. This will be the party’s key agenda in the elections,” said state BJP president Bandi Sanjay at the party’s state executive meeting early this week.
Demanding that KCR and his family release a white paper on their wealth and assets since 2014, Sanjay alleged that they enriched themselves by looting the state.
However, the BJP’s Mission 2023 may be impeded by the crowded political space in the state. The presence of multiple parties may lead to a split in the anti-incumbency votes, thus helping the BRS.
An alliance with the Jana Sena Party (JSP) led by actor Pawan Kalyan, the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and the YSR Telangana Party (YSRTP) could give it an edge but political observers say it is too early to comment on pre-poll alliances.
Pawan Kalyan has an alliance with the BJP in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh but there is no clarity if it will be extended to Telangana.
The BRS, which fought earlier elections on its own, is likely to have an alliance with the Left parties. There was an indication to this effect when the Left parties extended support to the BRS in the by-election to Munugode Assembly seat.
Though the Congress party appears to have yielded ground to the BJP as the main challenger, the grand old party still has some base in a few districts.
The BRS with its Dalit Bandhu scheme and various other measures will be hoping to receive the full support of the Dalits, who constitute 10 per cent of the voters. Muslims, who are also about 10 per cent of the electorate, may once again back the BRS. “If BRS gets support of 10-15 per cent voters from the remaining 80 per cent, it will retain power comfortably,” said an analyst.
Though the BRS appears to have lost the support of the politically influential Reddy community, the votes may get divided between the BJP, Congress and others. The same is likely to happen with the backward classes, who constitute 50 per cent of the voters.
As things stand now, the state appears to be heading for a very fragmented verdict. The contest is likely to be multi-cornered and close. It may be too early to predict a winner.