Analysis: Dubbaka bye-election may change political equations in Telangana

Hyderabad: While political parties in Telangana are gearing up for the upcoming Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) elections, the results of the just-completed Dubbaka bye-election will in fact have bigger implications in the state. An unconvincing win for the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) will be more than just a cause for worry.

While the TRS is expected to land a win, given that it had won the seat quite easily in the 2018 state polls, this time around the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has given it a tough contest. The BJP may not win the seat, but even if it manages to come in second place, which is expected, then it means that the saffron party has now made enough gains in districts to start giving the TRS a tough fight. It will also mean that it has also begun taking over as the principal opposition in Telangana.

Moreover, for the TRS, it is more than just a prestige issue. A scare from the BJP, let alone a loss, will mean that the ruling party will have to rethink the way it looks at the BJP.  The Dubbaka constituency bye-poll normally would not be of any consequence, but the fact that it lies beside the Gajwel seat, which is represented by Chief Minister and TRS supremo K. Chandrasekhar Rao, bears some weight.

On the other side of Dubbaka is the Siddipet assembly  seat that is held by State Finance Minister and MLA T. Harish Rao, who is the nephew of KCR. Once a second-in-command in the TRS, Harish Rao’s image is also at stake in this bye-elections. An unconvincing win, or worse, a loss, would result in a serious dent in Harish Rao’s image. The bye-poll saw a huge 82% voter turnout two days ago. Generally, such a thing is considered to be a result of anti-incumbency as well.

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Essentially, there is a lot at stake for the TRS, while for the BJP it has nothing to lose but everything to gain. This time, the TRS has fielded Solipeta Sujatha, the widow of former Dubbaka MLA Solipeta Ramalinga Reddy, who passed away recently. 

In the 2018 state polls, Ramalinga Reddy won the seat with 89,29 votes, with the Congress candidate M. Nageshwar Reddy coming second with 26,799 votes. BJP’s then and current candidate Raghunandan Rao then was in the third spot, securing 22,595 votes.

“Our candidate is weak, as she is a first-timer. If at all she wins, then she will win because of the government’s backing, and not because she is a strong person politically.  However, we are confident of winning,” said a TRS leader, who did not want to be quoted.

Will the BJP edge out the Congress as the main opposition?

Unlike across the country, one thing that Telangana has been immune from so far is the BJP’s growth in spite of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and former BJP national president (and Home Minister) Amit Shah’s efforts.

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In the 2018 state elections, the TRS swept the opposition away by winning 88 out of 119 seats, while the Congress, the principal opposition, managed to win in just 19 constituencies in spite of having an alliance with the TDP (won 2 seats), CPI and other smaller parties.

The BJP in 2018 in fact got weaker, as it won just one MLA seat (Goshamahal), four lesser than what it won in the 2014 state elections. However, the 2019 Lok Sabha polls saw the BJP (due to an apparent Modi wave) winning four parliamentary seats, with a 20% vote share. The Congress won three, and the TRS managed to win just nine (out of 17. The AIMIM retained the Hyderabad Lok Sabha seat).

Since then, the BJP has built a perception that it has replaced the Congress as the main opposition. However, it failed to repeat its performance in various local body elections that have taken place since. “The Dubbaka bye-election result will be significant given, as Harish Rao essentially oversees it. 

Though the TRS is expected to win, an unconvincing win for the ruling means that the BJP has made strides in the state,” said political analyst Palwai Raghavendra Reddy.

Note: After the 2018 state polls, due to defections from the Congress (12) and TDP, the TRS currently has about (or over) 105 MLAs out of 119 in the state assembly.

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