Polls in the air: BJP’s sustained aggression keeps up the heat on TRS

Though the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) has ruled out advancing the polls, scheduled towards the end of 2023, it has started gearing up for the battle to win a third term in power in India's youngest state.

Hyderabad: Assembly elections in Telangana may be a year away but a poll-like atmosphere is already gripping the state with all the three major political players using every opportunity to outdo each other and reach out to people.

Be it the public meetings of Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao, the ‘padyatra’ of state BJP chief Bandi Sanjay Kumar, frequent visits of Central ministers and BJP leaders and the different campaigns by Congress party, all are raising political dust and heat usually witnessed during electioneering.

Though the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) has ruled out advancing the polls, scheduled towards the end of 2023, it has started gearing up for the battle to win a third term in power in India’s youngest state.

Political observer Professor K. Nageshwar believes that after the BJP’s victory in two Assembly by-elections (Dubbak in 2020 and Huzurabad in 2021) and its good show in Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC), the TRS is under pressure.

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“TRS is under pressure but it is too early to conclude who will win the next elections,” he said.

“After the BJP’s victory in Dubbak and Huzurabad and good show in GHMC elections, obviously TRS is under pressure. Because Congress was weakening, TRS thought it would have no opposition. Interestingly enough, they got a new opponent and a strong opponent in the form of BJP,” said Nageshwar, a professor in the department of journalism.

He pointed out that BJP not only got good electoral results but it is in power at the Centre unlike the Congress. “They have all the resources. The Central leadership is completely backing the state leadership unlike the Congress,” he said.

Nageswar Rao is of the view that whenever elections are held it will be a triangular contest. “Obviously, it will be a triangular contest, given the fact that Congress is still there and BJP is improving,” he said.

Projecting itself as the only viable alternative to the TRS and buoyed by victories in two Assembly by-elections, the BJP is pushing aggressively towards its Mission 2023.

After missing out power twice despite claiming credit for carving out Telangana state, the Congress party is facing a huge challenge to reclaim its traditional stronghold. It suffered a series of blows including defeat in all four by-elections since 2019, defection of a dozen MLAs and the infighting.

Even as the grand old party was trying to focus its energies on 2023 polls, resignation of its sitting MLA from Munugode constituency, Komatireddy Rajagopal Reddy added to its woes. Rajagopal Reddy quit the Congress party and switched loyalties to the BJP.

Political analysts see Rajagopal Reddy’s resignation as a strategy by the BJP to force another by-election to step up pressure on TRS. The fact that Union Home Minister Amit Shah visited Munugode to address a public meeting and to formally welcome Rajagopal Reddy into the party fold underscores the importance the saffron party is attaching to the proposed by-election.

TRS, which has 103 MLAs in the 119-member Assembly, is also going all out to win Munugode as it believes that a victory here will give it a psychological edge ahead of 2023 polls. Realising the significance, KCR visited the constituency to launch the TRS campaign a day before Amit Shah’s public meeting.

The Munugode by-election has heightened the political activity with all the three major players gearing up to use it to test the waters ahead of the big fight.

Anticipating a strong anti-incumbency after two consecutive terms and facing aggressive opposition, the TRS is moving cautiously to consolidate its position. KCR, as the Chief Minister popularly known, is addressing a public meeting almost every week while inaugurating newly-constructed collectorates in districts and using every occasion to highlight the achievements of Telangana during last year and warning people against the ‘danger’ posed by the ‘divisive forces’.

While highlighting the success of Telangana in overcoming electricity shortage, 24-hour free electricity to farmers, slew of welfare measures for farmers and other sections of the society, massive increase in area under cultivation, he is mounting bitter attack on the policies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the discrimination faced by Telangana at the hands of the BJP-led government at the Centre.

KCR is also working to win back those sections of voters who may have distanced themselves from TRS in recent years. Series of notifications being issued to fill the vacancies in different government departments is seen as an attempt to placate unemployed youth.

Last month, he announced monthly social security pensions for another 10 lakh beneficiaries, taking the total number of beneficiaries to 36 lakh.

Ever since the formation of the first government in the newly formed Telangana state in 2014, KCR has been focusing on welfare. He defended it on the ground that 80 per cent of the state’s 4 crore population come from socially and economically weaker sections of the society.

He has also been cautioning people against voting for BJP saying it wants to scrap all welfare schemes.

The TRS chief told people that farmers will not get free electricity, investment support, insurance facility and pensioners from various categories will not receive monthly pensions.

The tone and tenor adopted by BJP leaders including Prime MinisterModi, 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 failing to honour the promises made in the previous elections. They recall KCR’s promise of a Dalit as the Chief Minister which he had made before 2014 elections.

KCR is also facing the BJP’s onslaught for allegedly going back on the promise to pay 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 Central ministers who visited some Lok Sabha constituencies as the BJP’s Parliament Parvas Yojana accused TRS of renaming Central schemes as its own schemes

The BJP is also trying to make the state’s mounting debts into a big issue. Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, during a visit to the Zaheerabad Lok Sabha constituency, targeted the TRS government for raising debts beyond FRBM limits and claimed that every child born in the state carries Rs 1.25 lakh debt burden.

She said because of the huge debts, Telangana’s revenue surplus budget had slipped to a revenue deficit budget.

Sitharaman added that Telangana was raising more debts than approved in the Budget.

Political analyst Palvai Raghavendra Reddy believes that after two near full terms, TRS and KCR might start their campaign for a re-election on the defensive.

“There are many issues which add to the anti-incumbency factor, which is for real across Telangana. While the youth, a section which was considered the backbone of Telangana agitation, is upset with KCR regime for lack of recruitment in government departments. On the other hand, farmers are extremely unhappy with the rise in input costs, which is impacting their produce and earnings,” he said.

“On the other hand, BJP and Congress are using this anti-incumbency effectively. Many leaders, even from TRS, might move closer to BJP and Congress, just before the next elections. And this would not be a favorable scenario for the ruling party. However, KCR will hope there will be a uniform split of anti-incumbency votes between the two opposition parties, and TRS will retain a good section of its votes to emerge victorious. Only time will tell us if that would be a reality,” he added.

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