Election 2024: Advantage Cong (I) in Zahirabad

As one drives into Zahirabad town, about 100 km and under three hours Hyderabad in Telangana State, two mega projects catch the attention—The Mahindra Group and sign boards of the NIMZ (National Investment and Manufacturing Zone). If the former has made a significant impact on the lives of a section of people through jobs and business the latter promises big opportunities for the youth, skilled labour etc. in future.

If Mahindra & Mahindra has,  starting from a tractor unit expanded to automotive in a big way over the last three decades the NIMZ has been ‘work in progress’ for over a decade. It is one of the 8 NIMZs proposed by the Union Government to promote the growth of manufacturing industries.

The NIMZ has got clearances and also an investment of Rs 500 crore for creating basic infrastructure. A few companies like VEM Technologies involved in defence related product developments has also been given permissions to set up facilities. Anticipating growth, there is a real estate boom in some parts and heightened hope among youth for jobs.

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The other things that struck me was the sugarcane farms, struggling sugar factories, the decent agriculture sector, especially the cotton growers and an interesting mix of people speaking Telugu, Kannada and Marathi. Zahirabad is border to Bidar and Gulbarga of Karnataka State. These areas were part of the erstwhile Hyderabad State and also under the rule of the Nizam’s.

Situated about 100 km from Hyderabad, Zahirabad is just under 3 hours drive from Hyderabad given the good roads. It is one of the 17 Lok Sabha constituencies in  Telangana, the 29th and newest State (formed in 2014) in the Indian Union.

 Constituency profile 

The Zahirabad Lok Sabha constituency has, as per the 2011 census data, nearly 15 lakh eligible voters. Of this, the SC, ST voters constitute nearly 25 percent or 3.9 lakh. The Muslim voters are nearly 12 percent or 1.8 lakh. The urban voters make up just 12% with the rural voter dominating. There is also a good sprinkling of Lingayats and Marathas, who have settled long time ago from the neighbouring Karnataka and Maharashtra states.  The literacy rate is quite low at 54.26 percent.

The constituency has 7 Assembly constituencies-4 in Nizamabad district: Jukkal (SC), Banswada, Yellareddy and Kamareddy. The rest 3 are in Medak district: Narayankhed, Andhole (SC) and Zahirabad (SC). 

Polling in Zaheerabad (Image Source: Hindustan Times)

What could be the main issues before the electorate? The people of the constituency are concerned about developments issues-jobs, industries, infrastructure, education and health. The base of industrial development exists and needs acceleration. The large number of youth aspires for jobs. Being predominantly rural, the demands for better education and healthcare too resonate when we talk to the people. 

The sugarcane farmers are a worried lot. One of the farmers Venkat Reddy (54 yrs) has 15 acres in Algol village. “My father had 30 acres and he divided by half to two brothers. I have a son & daughter both employed. One is the in software. They are not keen, so I continue,” he said. The produce is sold to the nearby Sugar factory at market prices. With no MSP and Rythu Bandhu incentives from government it’s a hard bargain sometimes, as sugar factories are not doing well and don’t offer the best price. 

The Triangular contest

In the 2024 elections, it’s a triangular contest between Gali Anil Kumar from Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS), B B Patil from Bharatiya Janata Party and Suresh Kumar Shetkar from Indian National Congress.

The Cong (I), with Suresh Kumar Shetkar (MP in 2009) clearly should be the favourite in this race. To start with in the 2023 Assembly elections, which saw the ouster of the K Chandrasekhar Rao led BRS government, the Party won 4 of the 7 seats—Jukkal, Yellareddy, Narayankhed and Andhole. So, the enthusiasm among the cadre to attract the voter does seem to continue.

Of these, Damodar Raja Narasimha (Andhole) has also become a minister in the A Revanth Reddy government. Secondly, Madan Mohan Rao (Yellareddy) gave a tough fight to the BRS candidate, B B Patil in the 2019 Lok Sabha election and lost just by 6600 votes.   

If the Cong (I) works as a cohesive team Suresh Shetkar could also reap dividends from the below par performance of his rival B B Patil during the last decade.  By splitting the votes of the Lingayats and garnering those of the sizeable Muslims he can considerable weaken the BJP candidate. 

The BJP is in a confused situation. It was building up a momentum with Jaipal Reddy, an industrialist throwing in his claim for the seat. Son of 9-time MP and MLA and Union Minister, M Baga Reddy, Jaipal put up posters and publicity for the BJP and was galvanising the cadre.

However, the sudden switch of B B Patil, who influenced the Party high command and got the ticket, has dampened Jaipal and his supporters. B B Patil, a big time contractor who won in 2014 and 2019 on the BRS ticket (though with reducing majority), sprang a last minute surprise by jumping into the BJP and getting a ticket. This could also be a negative factor for him. 

BB Patil and the loyal BJP supporters, which is not huge (In 2019 the BJP candidate Bandla Laxma Reddy  polled about 1.3 lakh votes) are betting big on the Modi charisma, Ayodhya Ram temple and advantages of being part of the Union Government to help overcome the disappointments among the leaders and cadre and swing large sections to vote for it. The other positive factor for the party is the potential impact that the giant killer from Kamareddy constituency, K V Ramana Reddy, who convincingly defeated both Chief Minister, KCR and CM candidate, Revanth Reddy of Cong (I) in the 2023 election. 

The crushing defeat in the November 2023 Assembly elections in the State and the last minute developments in Zahirabad have caught the BRS completely off guard. Gali Anil Kumar, the candidate is not a familiar faces and needs to work hard to hold the drifting flock of BRS voters and aggregate them to put up a strong fight. All is not lost, however, as the schemes of the KCR government which benefited the pensioners, widows, girls and Rythu Bandhu still find positive echo. The difficulties in the Cong (I), implementing its promises can be exploited by Anil Kumar.

With 17 seats, Telangana cannot boast of a big role in the national politics. But, with the BJP desperately searching for every extra seat from the South to retain a record third term for Modi, the newest State of the Indian Union assumes importance. If Cong (I) gets double digit it would boost the national party which is at its lowest. The BRS faces a huge crisis as it may perform, as is projected, badly. 

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