Hyderabad election was the trailer, the real battle is for Telangana


Irrespective of which party wins the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) elections on Friday, one thing is certain. The bitterly fought local body polls have changed the political landscape in India’s youngest state, Telangana. Because of the way the BJP upped the ante in Hyderabad, the TINA (There Is No Alternative) factor seemed irrelevant.

The exit polls have indicated that Bhagyanagar Biryani — which could become a gastronomic reality if Hyderabad’s name is indeed changed to Bhagyanagar — is not yet ready to be served. Independent and party-sponsored pollsters are giving the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) a decisive edge in the elections.

Political Laboratory, an independent agency gives the TRS 80-83 seats in the 150-member Council, which is not a sharp drop from the 99 wards it conquered in 2016. It projects the BJP to move from 4 seats in 2016 to between 10-21. While the agency is clear about the 10 seats the BJP is certain to win, it says there is a neck-and-neck fight in 25 other wards.

The exit poll findings are in sync with the surveys commissioned by the TRS. While two surveys give the TRS seats in the 85-90 range, another exit poll commissioned by a Telangana minister’s son is more ambitious, with TRS perched at 101 seats.

Poll strategists within the TRS with their ear to the ground are, however, circumspect. They point out that the voting by slum dwellers and lower middle class — the traditional vote base of the TRS — dropped this time and educated middle-class voters were seen in larger numbers at the polling booths. The apprehension is that this vote may not come to the TRS en bloc and could end up upsetting the calculations.

A couple of days before polling day, Union minister of state for Home G Kishen Reddy informed the party leadership in Delhi that the BJP is poised to win 35 seats. Most of these seats are set to come from the outskirts of Hyderabad.

For a party that has just one MLA from Hyderabad in the Telangana Assembly, this will be seen as a credible showing.

But given how the party raised the stakes and punched above its political weight in Telangana, it has reason to be disappointed with the lukewarm response of the Hyderabadi electorate. Though the BJP knew Covid fear could play spoilsport, it was pinning its hopes on an improved voting percentage to exploit the anti-incumbency factor. But only 46 per cent of the electorate turned up to exercise its franchise.

TESTING THE WATERS

But it is the big picture for Telangana that is more important than just the GHMC election results. The Hyderabad election was just the trailer, the BJP was testing the waters. The real battle will unfold in 2023 in the Telangana assembly elections.

With the Congress putting up a half-hearted fight, the politics of Telangana has become bipolar. This is bound to result in a reorganisation of political forces. The financially loaded Reddy community that has traditionally backed the Congress could gravitate towards the BJP because its political clout has diminished in this government. It is not without reason that Kishen Reddy has been made a minister at the Centre — it is to tell the Reddy community that the BJP cares.

On the other hand, the Scheduled castes and Christians, the traditional base of the Congress, could move to the TRS. The Congress vote share will shrink in the bargain.

In this election, the AIMIM is expected to remain unchallenged in its core area of Muslim-dominated localities and retain 35-40 seats in the GHMC. But beyond this election, it would be worried about the BJP making inroads by ‘polarising’ the electorate. The Old city that has been seen as the turf of the Owaisis will now have a strident BJP poking them at every available opportunity. Attacking Owaisi will be a certain weapon in the BJP arsenal to target K Chandrasekhar Rao.

So far the only political movement was seen from the Congress and the Telugu Desam to the TRS. The victory in the Dubbaka by-election in November and the GHMC election, irrespective of how the final result pans out, will pitch the BJP as a contender to attract political talent.

If the BJP ends up around the 25 mark and the Congress stays in single digits, it will serve as a warning to the ruling TRS not to take the BJP lightly. Especially when the next face-off is not too far away. It will take place in Nagarjunasagar assembly constituency where sitting TRS legislator Nomula Narasimhaiah passed away this week.

Keen to have the early mover advantage, the BJP has already begun work on the by-election.



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