Post-Hyderabad verdict, what KCR needs to do to keep BJP at bay in Telangana

Before it entered the election arena, the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) leadership had prepared a list of close to 50 corporators. These were TRS elected representatives in the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC); and political intel had indicated that they will lose if they were fielded this time. While the party denied the ticket to 26 corporators on that list, the others muscled their way in, using political heavyweights to lobby for them.

Changing the candidates helped the TRS as 21 of the 26 new faces won but a majority of those who were not replaced bit the dust. There is a lesson in this for the TRS as it looks at life in Telangana after GHMC. With the BJP snapping at its heels, the TRS can give in to political pressure at its own peril.

The GHMC verdict has been a reality check. For public consumption, the TRS would blame the GHMC results on the politics of polarisation by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) and the anger of people over flood relief. But to dismiss it as an urban vote which would have a negligible impact on how rural Telangana votes in 2023 would be akin to not waking up and smelling the coffee.

In this day and age of social media and instant communication, the voters from Adilabad to Mahbubnagar, from Khammam to Vikarabad know that the TRS now has a serious challenger and that it has tasted blood. How K Chandrasekhar Rao responds to the saffron surge will determine 2023.

The probable scenarios

Incidentally, a decision the TRS takes on the post of mayor of Hyderabad could well determine its political future. If it gets into an arrangement with the AIMIM to divide the Hyderabad mayor and deputy mayor posts between themselves, it will be handing an issue to the Telangana BJP on a platter. But if it refuses to ally with the AIMIM, the TRS runs the risk of antagonising the 12 per cent Muslim vote in Telangana because it would be seen as denying a Muslim corporator the chance to become deputy mayor.

Will the Muslims resent the treatment of AIMIM as a political pariah is the question?

File photo of a TRS rally ahead of GHMC polls in Hyderabad (Photo Credits: PTI)

Interestingly, the TRS cadre in private conversations wants the party leadership to resist the temptation of having its mayor. “Let the city not have a mayor” is the argument because it will help the party tell the people that even when it had an opportunity to get one of its women corporators elected as mayor, it did not do so.

The Hyderabad mayor post has been reserved for women in the general category for two terms starting this GHMC election. The flip side is that it will show that the TRS is fearful of the BJP.

Redefining the image

Even more importantly, the TRS will need to push the reset button on its imaging and messaging. Its leaders had gained goodwill in the past because they had participated in the statehood agitation and were seen as one among the people. In the last six years, the average TRS leader is seen as financially loaded and politically arrogant.

Take for instance how animal husbandry minister T Srinivas Yadav, who is an MLA from the city, reacted to reports of water stagnation in parts of Hyderabad after heavy rainfall.

“When it rains, if not water will there be fire?” Yadav had asked satirically.

KCR’s inaccessibility, his decision to construct a palatial bungalow as the chief minister’s official residence, the move to demolish the state secretariat and the concentration of all power in one family have not helped matters. All through the election campaign, the BJP taunted the CM, asking him to attend office.

Change in strategy could help

The internal buzz within the TRS suggests that going forward, KCR would focus more on irrigation and agriculture hoping that the farmer of Telangana will continue to stand by his Telangana bidda (son). The TRS focus will be on the non-Hyderabad districts, where the BJP neither has significant cadre nor pan-Telangana leaders of KCR’s stature. And to blunt the BJP Hindu-Muslim rhetoric, one can even expect KCR to show up more at temples and conduct pujas to showcase himself as the real ritualistic Hindu. KCR is aware that the BJP has used his friendship with Owaisi to dilute his Hindu brand equity.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah in Hyderabad ahead of GHMC polls (Photo Credits: PTI)

But in terms of realpolitik, the BJP’s attempt to forge an anti-Velama (KCR’s community) consolidation should worry the TRS. The Reddy community, politically powerful during the days of the Congress, finds itself out in the cold. With the Congress graph down, it would be tempted to bet on the BJP.

Congress revival a trump card

KCR also would need to revisit his policy vis-a-vis the Congress. For a politician hell-bent on demolishing the Congress in Telangana in his six years in power, now his interests will be better served by a revival of the Grand Old Party. If the Congress appoints firebrand leader Revanth Reddy as its chief in Telangana, it may rejuvenate the party to an extent and KCR would be more than happy with a more equitable division of the anti-TRS vote between the BJP and the Congress.

The success of ‘Operation Hyderabad’ for the BJP also means KCR will need to rejig political responsibilities within his inner circle (read family). Son KT Rama Rao, who is TRS working president and municipal administration minister, was the face of the GHMC campaign and the embarrassment of the result would mean finance minister Harish Rao (KCR’s nephew) – considered a seasoned political campaigner – could be given more responsibility in the party.

The second position in the GHMC election was a moral victory for the BJP. It has only increased its appetite to grab the real victory in the battle for Telangana three years from now.

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