Hyderabad: Telangana has given reason for the Congress to celebrate as the results of four assembly elections were announced on Sunday. The grand old party has completed a comeback in the state, where it seemed all but decimated when its legislature party was merged with the Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS, then TRS) after 12 of its 19 MLAs defected in June 2019.
Here are five trends emerging from the third legislative election in India’s youngest state.
A clear urban-rural divide
The results show a clear urban-rural divide in the state, with the Congress winning a majority of seats in the rural parts of the area but the BRS performing well in the capital’s districts of Hyderabad and Rangareddy – a sign of “pro-incumbency”. Of the 29 seats in the two districts, the BRS emerged victorious in 20 and the Congress just one.
In 2014, in the first elections in the Telangana state, Hyderabad and Rangareddy were BRS’s weak spots. Its excellent performance there in this year’s election has saved face for the pink party, whose tally may well have been in the 20s – a massive drop from the 88 it won five years ago – otherwise.
Hyderabad’s landscape has witnessed a sea change over the past decade, in terms of development in infrastructure and the IT industry. This perhaps persuaded voters in the capital to choose the incumbent again.
However, a major complaint in the erstwhile united Andhra Pradesh state – from people in rural parts of Telangana and Seemandhra – was that development was concentrated in Hyderabad. K. Chandrashekar Rao promised that this model would be changed. If the voting patterns in rural Telangana are any indication, he has failed to do so.
‘Karnataka model’ works for Congress again
In Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, welfare schemes dominate the political agenda. As The Wire had reported, the character of the BJP’s manifesto was markedly different from those of the Congress and BRS in this aspect.
The Congress party’s success in Karnataka was attributed to the ‘guarantees’ – all of which had themes of social justice and welfare – it promised to implement. It replicated these guarantees in Telangana, which created a lot of buzz among the rural districts.
Like in Karnataka, many civil society actors threw their weight behind the party. This was not necessarily because they support the party, but felt the BRS’s authoritarian style of governance needed to go. Their sentiment was not pro-Congress as much as it was anti-BRS.
Nevertheless, the party benefitted from these two factors. But the results of elections in the Hindi heartland suggest that the appeal of the Congress’s so-called ‘Karnataka model’ may be limited to south of the Vindhyas.
BJP posts gains, but big names lose
Even before the elections, the BJP was accused of dropping the ball in the state. The Congress’s renewed energy was largely attributed to the BJP’s decline and the confidence that it gained from its victory in Karnataka.
The BJP is set for its largest tally in the state, although it still is a distant third. As expected, most of its gains came in North Telangana, where the party has managed to polarise the electorate over the previous few years.
But there is also cause for concern for the saffron party. Apart from controversial legislator T. Raja Singh (Goshamahal), many big names that the party fielded were defeated. Bandi Sanjay, under whose leadership the BJP had emerged as the apparent primary opposition in Telangana, lost in Karimnagar. Two other MPs, Dharmapuri Aravind and Soyam Bapu Rao, also lost.
Etela Rajender, a former BRS leader, showed great confidence by challenging his former boss KCR in his bastion, Gajwel. Rajender lost not only in Gajwel, but also in his own turf of Huzurabad. He won in Huzurabad just two years ago after joining the BJP, even as the BRS allegedly used all its power and force to try and defeat him.
The party lost in Amberpet, a constituency that BJP state president and Union minister G. Kishan Reddy has represented in the past.
It is also noteworthy that the BJP’s big names fell not to the Congress but to candidates from the BRS. The Congress’s resurgence may well have played a role in their defeats, as the grand old party’s tally was greater than the winning margin of the BRS candidates in most of these seats.
BRS’s expansion plans under threat
When KCR expressed his ambitions to go national and changed his party’s name to Bharat Rashtra Samithi, many eyebrows were raised. The party claimed that the country needed an “alternate development agenda”, one which would be set neither by the BJP nor the Congress but by a loose coalition of regional parties. He had hoped to rope in other regional players like Mamata Banerjee, Nitish Kumar, H.D. Deve Gowda and M.K. Stalin. His enthusiasm, however, was not reciprocated.
After these elections, far from trying to expand, the BRS faces a battle in its own base. Did KCR take for granted the gratitude and goodwill that he enjoys among the people for his role in the statehood movement? Over the past few years, there have been grumblings about the implementation of several government schemes. But the BRS showed no signs of addressing them, and KCR’s conduct and attitude were increasingly perceived by the public as reminiscent of doras (feudal lords) who lorded over the people before Independence.
If Revanth Reddy and Congress choose to emulate KCR’s strategy of systematically weakening the opposition, the BRS may well find itself in a fight for survival.
Minority vote was in spotlight, but what about minority representation?
Many predicted that the Muslim vote could prove decisive in Telangana. While the Asaduddin Owaisi-led AIMIM was expected to retain its base in the Old City of Hyderabad, both the BRS and Congress made efforts to win over the Muslims in other districts like Adilabad, Nizamabad, Mahbubnagar and Karimnagar. A quick glance at the results suggests that the minority community voted for BRS and Congress candidates who were best placed to defeat the BJP.
While minority voting patterns have received much attention, the question of representation has not. And analysis shows that all Muslim candidates put up by the Congress and BRS were trailing – including big names like Mohammed Shabbir Ali and former Indian cricket captain Mohd Azharuddin. This means that apart from AIMIM’s seven legislators, there will be no Muslim MLA in the assembly.