After back-to-back electoral losses, the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) in Telangana will face another test of its popularity with the Nagarjunasagar Assembly seat by-election, which is yet to be announced.
The bypoll will be of utmost importance to also gauge whether the Bharatiya Janata Party (BHP) has fully replaced the Congress in the state, which is still fighting for its survival after recent poll debacles.
The by-election is set to take place in what is considered to be a stronghold of the Congress. The TRS, which was riding on a high horse since it came to power in 2014, as cut to size recently after first losing the Dubbak bypoll to the BJP, and later by managing to win only 56 wards out of 150 in the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) elections.
While the BJP has never made serious inroads in Telangana until now, it will be a tough fight even for the saffron party, given that it does not have credible leaders or faces across all 33 districts of Telangana. In fact, political buzz over the past few weeks has been that Congress leader and former state cabinet minister K. Jana Reddy is likely to jump ship and contest on a BJP ticket.
“He (Jana Reddy) is saying that he will not go anywhere, but we don’t know. He has been in the Congress since 30 years. People are even talking about Uttam Kumar Reddy (current Congress chief in Telangana), that he may join the BJP given that Gudur Narayan Reddy (formerly with Congress), his close aide, did the same recently. We have to wait and see,” said a senior Congress leader, who did not want to be quoted.
Jana Reddy, old Congress hand, had contested the seat in 2018 and lost to the TRS’s Nomula Narsimiaha, whose death has necessitated a bye-poll. The deceased MLA won by securing 83,655 votes, while Jana Reddy got 75,884 votes, and was not too far behind. The BJP’s candidate, K. Nivedita, came fourth with just 2,675 votes, clearly indicating that the saffron party has no sway in that area.
“Jana Reddy will have to spend money to contest election, and he is not ready for that. He will go wherever he gets a good deal. However, it is a fact that for the TRS, this won’t be an easy bypoll, and even now in Telangana the Congress in rural areas is a formidable opponent. It managed to retain its vote share even in the Dubbak bypoll,” said a TRS functionary, who did not want to be quoted.
Whatever be the case, things will get clearer once the by-election is announced by the Election Commission of India. What it will make clear with its results is whether the BJP has managed to usurp the Congress completely, or whether the grand old party still has some fight left in it, at least in the rural areas.
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).
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.