From just seven states in 2014 to 17 states in 2022, the BJP footprint has grown beyond traditional strongholds to conquer new forts like the Northeast. But the Wall of Vindhyas has been a tough one to crack so far. In this special series on BJP’s Peninsular Pitch, News18 takes a look at the saffron party’s renewed push for electoral success in southern India.
In Part 4 of the series, we track the BJP’s deepening inroads in Telangana, where it is yet to give too many nightmares to chief minister K Chandrashekar Rao but has certainly forced him to sit up and take notice.
When the Bharatiya Janata Party won four parliamentary constituencies of Telangana in 2019, it was considered a mandate for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Not many saw it as signs of the party’s growing influence in the state.
However, winning Dubbaka and later the Huzurabad assembly bypolls shook up the political equations in the state, and also how the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) perceived the BJP.
With the saffron party becoming more aggressive by the day, sharpening its attacks on Telangana chief minister K Chandrashekar Rao (KCR)’s policies, analysts see it emerging as the alternative and principal opposition to the ruling TRS, pushing the Congress to third place.
“Dubbaka was a jolt to the TRS as it was a constituency sandwiched between seats represented by family members of KCR and so were the GHMC municipal polls where the BJP came a close second. They have routed money to extend financial benefits of their schemes in the constituency. Yet, the BJP won. In Huzurabad, considered a stronghold of the TRS, Eatala Rajender won as a BJP candidate,” said Tarun Chugh, BJP incharge, Telangana.
The OBC pitch
Telangana is a largely backward caste state, including OBCs. Leaders in the party say that the state has almost 50 per cent of the voters belonging to the other backward classes community. However, the top politicians in the ruling class are upper caste despite not having a vote base, stated a BJP leader.
With both Bandi and Dharmapuri constantly under attack from the TRS, sentiments of the TRS being anti-OBC are gaining ground
The BJP has nurtured an OBC leadership. Bandi Sanjay Kumar was made the Telangana unit president in 2020. He has become the face of the party against the TRS government. Another key leader from the state is Arvind Dharmapuri, who belongs to the Munnuru Kapu community, an OBC caste. T Raja Singh, the floor leader of the BJP in the Telangana assembly, is also a prominent face, along with Shruthi Bangaru, and G Vivek Venkatswamy.
“BJP leaders are predominantly OBCs. With both Bandi and Dharmapuri constantly under attack from the TRS, sentiments of the TRS being anti-OBC are gaining ground. With Bandi having been sent to judicial custody for protesting against government policies and Dharmapuri prevented from entering his constituency, TRS is exposing itself,” says a senior BJP leader.
The caste struggle
Chief minister KCR belongs to the upper caste Velama community that has a population of 1 per cent to 2 per cent in the state, say BJP leaders.
“Yet, they control the power structure as the regional party TRS is run by a family. The second powerful community is the Reddy community, and so far it has been associated with the Congress. Before 2014, whenever the Congress was in power, the Reddys were the most powerful. These two communities are the ‘Thakurs’ of Telangana,” explained Dharmapuri, MP from Nizamabad. “As the Congress has the Reddys, the Velama community moved to the TRS, which is more powerful in the state. Velamas are Kammas in Andhra. So, the present TRS is a combination of the TDP and Congress. Whoever supported the creation of Telangana joined the TRS after 2014.”
The assembly polls in 2014 threw up a mixed mandate. The TRS took in Congress MLAs. The Telugu Desam Party was routed in Telangana. And even the BJP has stopped considering the Congress a worthy opponent.
Even Muslims can move out if they get a better deal with the BJP. Progressive Muslims should look towards the BJP
Revanth Reddy, Telangana’s Congress president and the face of the party here, is trying to revive its original vote base that existed in every village.
“However, the TRS in the past eight years built its base at every village panchayat level and thus it will be hard for the Congress to reclaim its vote bank,” added Chugh.
As far as the Muslims are concerned, many in the BJP believe that the majority of the community votes for anyone that can defeat the saffron party. However, BJP MP Dharmapuri is optimistic. “Even Muslims can move out if they get a better deal with the BJP,” he said. “Progressive Muslims should look towards the BJP.”
Praja Sangrama Yatra to mobilise cadre
BJP’s Telangana president Bandi Sanjay Kumar is undertaking the second leg of his padyatra against the TRS administration in the state. He had been arrested while protesting earlier this year, prompting party chief JP Nadda to lead a protest against the decision.
Many leaders in the party believe this mobilisation of the cadre that was lying dormant for years will bring benefits both in the Lok Sabha and assembly elections.
Such is the confidence that senior leaders believe if there is any southern state other than Karnataka that the Bharatiya Janata Party is likely to win soon, it is Telangana.
The BJP has demanded the withdrawal of the government order on employees’ transfer policy, terming it lopsided. Government employees live in a sizeable number in the state and they are crucial voters as well.
Also, the BJP’s ideological mentor Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has been active in the state for years and has actively worked at the grassroots level. Chandupatla Janga Reddy, one of the first two MPs of the party who entered the Lok Sabha, winning the elections in 1984, and who recently passed away, had been associated with the RSS since the 1950s.
Senior party leaders believe that the BJP is looking to secure at least 45 assembly seats out of the 119 in elections to be held in 2023.
“We have already impacted 28 to 30 assembly constituencies if you consider those in the four parliamentary seats won by the BJP. Count in Dubbaka and Huzurabad. Add the KCR family feud to it along, with the CM embracing Muslims, and the yatra undertaken by our party chief in the state. The party is targeting at least 45 seats as of today,” stated a senior BJP leader.
The chief minister brought the paddy procurement issue to the national capital, while his son who is a minister in the government and the party’s working president, KT Rama Rao, sat on a dharna.
The BJP launched a counterattack on the CM for “misleading” the farmers, leading to the TRS government announcing procurement by the state.
“He incited farmers to throw away good quality paddy. He told them that he is the only CM in the country who is doing the procurement. He never took FCI or Modi government’s name. What is the state of procurement? During the Dubbaka elections, in 2020, he asked the farmers about the quality of paddy which attracts more disease, low yield, and labour cost is high. The CM promised more money in return for the crop and did not keep his promise. Many had sold the crop privately. Farmers are in dilemma,” said Dharmapuri.
Tracking unkept promises of TRS
The BJP believes that all the promises on which Telangana came into existence – employment, water, money, and resources– are still unfulfilled. While Hyderabad takes care of the revenue, other promises are yet to be realised.
Counting among its positives the Ayushmaan Bharat scheme, PM Awas Yojana, Covid vaccination, etc, along with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s leadership, the saffron party hopes to make deep inroads in this southern state.
The party is telling people what they did not get because of TRS policies– benefits of central programmes.
Nizamabad MP Dharmapuri claimed that KCR’s ambitious Dalit Bandhu Scheme has also been a non-starter.
“Ayushman Bharat, Fasal Bima Yojana, and other schemes, where the state is in partnership, it has not paid the premium and thus these are not implemented there. Take education: be it school education or universities, all have been ignored. KCR has redefined Gurukul for his political aim. Health facilities are in shambles. There are more than 70 per cent vacancies in hospital staff,” added Dharmapuri.
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