Hyderabad: By retaining Huzurabad Assembly seat with a huge margin despite facing the might of ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), Eatala Rajender has proved his political mettle.
Though he contested the by-election on the ticket of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), it was no secret that the saffron party was riding on his popularity in Huzurabad as it hardly had any presence in the constituency before.
Though the top leadership of TRS publicly dismissed the bypoll as a small and insignificant election for them, it went all out to prevent Rajender from entering the Assembly. From launching a Dalit Bandhu’ scheme to offering sops for various sections of people, the TRS left no stone unturned to lure the voters.
Rajender, on the other hand, appears to have successfully played the victim’ card, effectively using experience of electoral battles he gained over the years as TRS leader.
Winning an Assembly election for seventh consecutive term, the leader from backward class was able to convince the voters that he was unfairly targeted by Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao by accusing him of encroaching the lands of some farmers in Medak district for his family’s poultry business.
He had gone on to describe the bypoll a fight between people’s self-respect and KCR’s arrogance and autocratic rule. Though he came under fire from TRS for joining the BJP to save his skin from the allegations of land encroachment, the outcome shows that the allegations had no impact on his popularity among the constituents.
The 56-year-old proved that his stature in Huzurabad is stronger than the party affiliation. Ever since he won Huzurabad for the first time in 2009, Rajender has successfully built a strong support base in the constituency, which led to his impressive win in the by-election.
By defeating his nearest rival G. Srinivas Yadav of TRS by over 23,000 votes, Rajender demonstrated that his support base remained intact.
It was not a close fight as was being predicted by many. According to political analysts, this victory margin is huge for an Assembly poll.
What makes Rajender’s victory all the more significant is that Huzurabad in the politically important Karimnagar district has been the stronghold of TRS since 2004, the first election contested by the party after it was floated by KCR.
In 2004, V. Lakshmikantha Rao was elected from Huzurabad on TRS ticket and retained the seat in the by-election in 2008.
Rajender, who was first elected from Kamalapur constituency in 2004 and retained it in the by-election, was shifted to Huzurabad in 2009 and since then he had been winning the seat for TRS.
In 2009, he defeated his nearest rival V. Krishna Mohan Rao of Congress by 15,035 votes. In 2010 by-polls, Rajender increased his victory margin to nearly 80,000 and this time his nearest rival was M. Damodar Reddy of Telugu Desam Party (TDP).
In the 2014 elections held just before formation of Telangana State, Rajender retained Huzurabad with a majority of 57,037 votes. K. Sudershan Reddy of Congress was runners-up.
Rajender continued his winning streak from Huzurabad in 2018, defeating his nearest rival Kaushik Reddy of Congress by 47,803 votes. Rajender had then polled 1,04,840 votes while Kaushik Reddy had secured 61,121 votes.
The defection of Kaushik Reddy along with former TDP state chief L. Ramana and BJP leader Peddi Reddy to TRS a few months before bypoll could not stop Rajender from retaining the seat.
BJP hardly had any presence in Huzurabad in the elections held in the past. In 2018, its candidate P. Raghu polled only 1,683 votes, which was less than NOTA votes (2867).
When KCR dropped Rajender from the Cabinet in May, the buzz in political circles was that he would quit TRS to float a new party or join hands with leaders of smaller parties. He, however, surprised everyone by deciding to join the saffron camp.
A student leader with the Left ideology, Rajender had joined TRS in 2003, two years after it was floated by KCR to revive the movement for statehood to Telangana. Rajender played a key role in the movement and was instrumental in arranging money for the bail of students and others arrested during the movement.
He was successful in his debut in electoral politics in 2004 and since then never lost an election.
In 2009, when TRS could win just 10 seats and was facing stiff opposition from then Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy, Rajender led the party in the Assembly.
When TRS formed the government in 2014, Rajender became the first finance minister of the newly created Telangana state.
The relations between KCR and Eatala started to sour in 2018 when the latter took potshots at the TRS chief on a few occasions. “The minister’s post is not anybody’s pittance. We are the owners of TRS who have carried the party flag,” Rajender had said at a party meeting.
At another occasion, he remarked that he reached the position not because of his caste but by his sheer hard work. “I am not here because I am somebody’s son,” Eatala had remarked in what was believed to be an attack on KCR’s son and minister K. T. Rama Rao.
After TRS retained power in 2018, KCR inducted Rajender into the Cabinet and entrusted him with the health portfolio.
Upset over the reported plans of Rajender to raise a banner of revolt and float a party by bringing together backward class groups, KCR was waiting for the right time to strike.
Immediately after by-election to Nagarjuna constituency, KCR ordered a probe against Rajender after a group of farmers from Medak district complained that the minister grabbed their lands for a poultry unit owned by his family.
As the officials went on record that 66 acres of land was encroached, KCR stripped Rajender of his health portfolio on May 1 and the next day dropped him from the Cabinet.
Rajender alleged a conspiracy to defame him and challenged KCR to order any probe into his assets.
He pointed out that even before his entry into politics, Rajender’s wife Jamuna and other family members were into poultry business and denied that he ever misused his ministerial position to expand the business.