A saffron surge
Telangana chief minister K. Chandrashekar Rao (KCR) had hoped to head off a late BJP surge by advancing elections to the 150-seat Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) by two months. The elections, due only in February, were advanced to December 1, but KCR’s gamble proved to be a resounding failure. Forget reaching the halfway mark of 75 seats, the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) did not even get the numbers needed to elect the next mayor of Hyderabad and run the GHMC on its own. (The expanded electoral college accommodates MPs, MLAs and MLCs whose constituencies fall in the GHMC jurisdiction, they have votes). The only consolation is that poll ally Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) may support him in getting a female mayor (the post is reserved for women this time) of their choice when the new GHMC convenes in February.
The TRS won 56 seats in the GHMC council while the BJP, in a major breakthrough, won 48, the difference in vote share was a mere 0.25 percentage point. A high-decibel campaign by the BJP, with several of its national leaders descending on Hyderabad ahead of the GHMC polls, hit the TRS hard. KCR had sensed trouble when the BJP won the assembly byelection in Dubbaka, his home district, on November 10. The worrying GHMC outcome (Hyderabad accounts for about a third of the state’s population but less than half the electorate turned out on polling day) is already forcing some drastic changes.
KCR is now planning an extensive tour of the state to inaugurate the TRS district party offices, beginning with the Telangana Bhavan in Siddipet on December 10. He has also announced the release of the Rythu Bandhu, an investment support scheme of
Rs 5,000 per acre for farmers for the rabi season between December 27 and January 7. This is a direct benefit transfer, which was to have been put into their bank accounts in October but was delayed because of the Dubbaka byelection and the Covid crisis. The state has earmarked Rs 12,000 crore in the 2020-21 budget to provide this benefit to 5.8 million farmers across the state during the kharif/ rabi seasons.
Meanwhile, pressure from the BJP is mounting almost by the day. Riding on its Dubbaka win and the GHMC performance, the party has been pitching the ‘development versus dynasty’ rhetoric, and reports suggest it is getting traction in the districts. The GHMC campaign and post-poll analysis reveal that the BJP’s targeting of the TRS first family has been quite successful. The BJP also played the communal card, reminding people that the AIMIM was a TRS ally earlier, and was only abandoned by the party as it was apprehensive of losing votes in the wake of the saffron party’s aggressive Hindutva campaign.
KCR’s complacency is also to blame. He has lost his connect with the people, and failed to keep poll promises on job creation, two-bedroom houses for the poor and pay revisions for government employees. The rising allegations of corruption against the KCR family and its second-rung leaders have only added to the party’s woes.
But changes are afoot. KCR is finally moving out of his office-cum-part-time-home, Pragathi Bhavan, more often and is trying to be more accessible to the party cadre and the people. He is also hosting a conclave later this month for non-BJP parties, where he’ll launch an offensive against the NDA government’s policies and try and arrest the growth of the saffron party in the state. Meanwhile, a byelection is due in early 2021 for the Nagarjunasagar assembly seat, necessitated by the death of a TRS legislator. It will be a test of KCR’s course-correction moves and prove their perceived merit on the ground.