Out of steam, did the BJP overestimate itself in Telangana?

Hyderabad: After putting up good back-to-back electoral performances in the GHMC polls and Dubbaka bypoll last year, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) failed to perform when it mattered most in the recelty concluded Nagarjunasagar by-election. The saffron party’s candidate could muster just over 7,000 votes, belying its own claim of replacing the Congress as the main opposition in Telangana.

Many analysts were keenly watching the BJP, which has been staking claim as the main opposition to the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), led by chief minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR). Had the BJP even weaned away a good chunk votes from the Congress, it would have signalled a tectonic shift in Telangana’s politics. However, Congress veteran and former cabinet minister Jana Reddy lapped up about 70,000 votes, while TRS candidate (and son of deceased MLA Nomula Narsimiah) Nomula Bhagat won the seat.

So what went wrong for the BJP in the Nagarjunasagar bypoll? Unlike the Dubbaka by-election last year where the party had a strong candidate (Raghunandan Rao, who went on to win), the saffron party struggled to find a good candidate. It finally chose a member of the Scheduled Tribe (ST), Dr. P. Ravi, who could however only muster 7646 votes. While Jana Reddy secured 70,504 votes, TRS’s Nomula Bhagat won by securing 89,804 votes.

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A clear indication of the BJP replacing the Congress would mean that the latter would have also lost its pockets. However, it is clear that the Congress, or at least the big names in the grand old party, still have some clout in rural areas, while the BJP still doesn’t have credible faces. “The BJP doesn’t have anyone in villages. They could win earlier because of a combination of various reasons,” said a TRS leader, who did not want to be quoted.

The TRS leader told Siasat.com that the BJP managed to win many seats in the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) polls last year due to anti-incumbency and also anger among the public over how the TRS handled the October floods in 2020. “Even in Dubbaka our candidate was very weak,” he added.

In the 2018 state elections, the BJP could win only one seat out of 119, while the ruling TRS won 88 seats. The Congress and TDP (which were then in a grand alliance with other parties) could win only 19 and two seats. The saffron party garnered just 7.1% of the vote share then. However, in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP managed to win four seats, securing 19.4% of the vote share. The TRS won nine seats (two less than its 2014 tally), and the Congress bagged three Parliamentary seats in 2019.

It was after the 2019 general elections performance, when the BJP in Telangana was also riding on a (Prime Minister Narendra) ‘Modi wave’, that the saffron party began claiming it will replace the Congress as the main opposition in Telangana. However, the BJP under performed soon after in various local body polls. However, in the 2020 Dubbaka bypoll, BJP’s Raghunandan Rao managed to wrest the seat from the TRS. He secured over 62,000 votes, and managed to win with a slender margin of over 1,000 votes.

Soon after in the GHMC elections, the BJP surprised everyone by winning 48 out of 150 seats. The ruling TRS was restricted to 56, while the Congress and All India Majilis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) won 44 and two seats respectively. This was also seen as a major step towards the rise of the BJP in Telangana. It may be noted that the saffron party roped in national level leaders like union minister Amit Shah for its GHMC poll campaign, which had a very aggressive Hindutva tone and its members often passed communal remarks against Muslims.

However, thereafter it faltered. “Dubbaka was a different case altogether, as the BJP had a candidate who is visible and people have been seeing his logical arguments from many years. It was that individual who won the seat. The BJP of course added to the win. BJP won in GHMC also due to the Hindu-Muslim thing. The elections also took place when Modi still had aura, and his image has surely taken a beating now due to how the Centre has handled the COVID-19 situation,” saidpolitical analyst Palwai Raghavendra Reddy.

He added that now, In all social media groups, people who were earlier silent or neutral, are now also censuring Modi. “That discussion has started, and the moment it starts, people will not blindly follow him (or the BJP),” Reddy added. As of now in Telangana, all of the elections, be it assembly, Lok Sabha or even local bodies, are done, as there is nothing coming up in the near future. It is to be seen if the BJP will be able to actually dent the Congress in its rural pockets, where the former has traditionally been weak in the state.

When contacted, BJP’s chief spokesperson Krishna Saagar Rao said, “We tried to fight to win, but our adversaries held bigger sway. We only got 2000 plus in the last (2018) election, and in this bypoll, the incumbent had the advantage unlike in Dubbaka. Unfortunately there are no elections in the state unless there is a bypoll, till the next (assembly) election. Our plan is to become the sole opposition in Telangana, and to try and admonish the state government over its misgovernance.”

He also brushed aside the perspective that Modi’s image had anything to do with the BJP’s electoral performances in recent bypolls. “None of the bypolls were under his name. It is wishful thinking of analysts, and pretty juvenile because they are doing a post mortem when nothing has even happened,” Krishan Saagar Rao told Siasat.com.

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