Stung by its electoral reverses in the recently-held Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) election, the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), under the instruction of party president and Telangana chief minister K. Chandrashekar Rao, has swung into action to do some course correction.
The TRS won 55 seats in the 150-seat council and the BJP 48 seats. The TRS’ vote share, 35.81 per cent, only marginally better than the BJP’s 35.56 per cent, is worrisome.
KCR now plans to undertake an extensive tour of the state to inaugurate the TRS district party offices beginning with Telangana Bhavan in Siddipet on December 10. All these party offices, of a common design, built on government land allotted to the party, are nearing completion. Before setting out, KCR announced on December 7 the release of the Rythu Bandhu, an investment support scheme of Rs.5,000 an acre for farmers for the rabi season between December 27 and January 7. This is a direct benefit transfer into the bank accounts of farmers that was to be paid in October but was delayed because of the assembly election and the Covid-19 crisis. The state has earmarked Rs 12,000 crore in the budget for 2020-21 to provide this benefit to 58.33 lakh farmers across the state during the kharif and rabi seasons.
KCR had already announced that he would organise a conclave this month for non BJP parties to launch an offensive against the NDA government to try and arrest the growth of the saffron party, especially in Telangana. However, the mounting pressure against KCR’s governance from the BJP, riding on its two recent electoral wins, pitching the “development versus dynasty” rhetoric, is reinforcing the impression of growing anti-incumbency in the districts as it has happened in Hyderabad.
A high decibel campaign by the BJP, with several of its national leaders descending on Hyderabad ahead of the GHMC polls, hit the TRS hard. Rao had sensed trouble when the BJP won the assembly byelection in Dubbaka, in his home district on November 10. Rao swiftly advanced the GHMC polls scheduled for February, hoping to retain the decisive edge in the wake of the rising popularity of the BJP. The TRS polled 1,204,167 votes whereas the BJP 1,195,711 votes—a difference of just 8,456—in an election that drew less than half the electorate out on polling day. Significantly, the TRS vote share dropped by 8.04 per cent from the 2016 GHMC election while that of the BJP went up by 25.22 per cent.
The GHMC campaign and post poll-analysis reveal that the popular perception of the TRS has already been altered after the BJP campaign showed the TRS first family in poor light. The BJP also exposed KCR’s contradictions by reminding people that the All India Majlis e Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) was a TRS ally earlier, but was abandoned by the party in the wake of the BJP’s aggressive Hindutva campaign. KCR’s only consolation is that a woman of his choice can be the next mayor of Hyderabad (the post is reserved for a woman this time) in February with the support of the AIMIM.
Even before the election results were out, KCR’s apprehensions about winning were clear. He was afraid it might be the first election that the party is likely to lose, which it did by the fractured verdict.
Besides losing the connect with the people, KCR has failed to keep poll promises of 2014 and, later, of creating jobs, providing two-bedroom homes to the poor and pay revision for government employees. Rising anti-incumbency, coupled with complacency and allegations of corruption against its second rung leaders, besides those against the KCR family, have added to the TRS’s woes. KCR is now making changes. He is finally moving out of his office cum home Pragathi Bhavan, instead of shuttling between it and his farm house, and is trying to be more accessible to party activists and people at large. On December 2, he travelled to Makloor village to attend a ceremony to mark the 12th day of the death of the Nizamabad Urban MLA B. Ganesh Gupta and travelled to Palem village in Nalgonda district the next day to attend the funeral of party MLA Nomula Narasimhaiah. Then, on December 6, he showing solidarity with the agitating farmers and announced that the TRS will back a Bharat Bandh call. Asking TRS cadres to take part, he emphasised on the need to continue the protests until the new farm laws are repealed. Further, he plans to leverage the farmers agitation and take up a series of protests involving employees, farmers and workers against various policies brought in by the BJP-led government.
The TRS, having resorted to Machiavellian tactics in poaching leaders, notably from the Telugu Desam Party and the Congress, including MLAs to cripple Opposition and stifle criticism both inside and outside the state legislature, is also paying for that strategic blunder. Whittling down the opposition has contributed to the faster growth of the BJP whose upcoming onslaught will become a major challenge that KCR may find difficult to counter. Hopes of a third term in a row are showing signs of dimming unless KCR reinvents the TRS totally well ahead of the November 2022 election.
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