Coming close on the heels of an unexpected bypoll victory, upsetting the TRS on its home turf, the BJP is clearly the party to watch out for in the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation elections the voting for which will take place on December 1. With the party rallying bigwigs from Union Home Minister Amit Shah to UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and party national president J P Nadda and the young MP Tejasvi Surya, apart from pulling in former Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis to release the party manifesto for the civic body, the BJP has made its intentions abundantly clear.
The newfound excitement in the Telangana BJP, whose leadership has been able to make the maximum noise and drive the agenda for electioneering in their favour, pushing the TRS into a reactionary mode, is the result of a change in approach which fetched positive results for them in recent assembly bypolls in Dubbak where it could upset the ruling party. If Dubbak was a morale booster for the party which does not have many victories in Telangana to boast of, winning a significant seat share in GHMC will mark its arrival at TRS’ citadel and emerge as a possible contender for power in the state in 2023 elections.
Phrases like a surgical strike on the old city, and flushing out Rohingyas and Pakistanis from Hyderabad have been repeatedly heard, the names of Babur, Akbar and Jinnah were called for political comparisons, and a promise to change the name of the city from Hyderabad to Bhagyanagar made in ways never seen before for a municipal poll here. With the campaigning raking up a communal cloud, chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao himself has announced that the police will get a “free hand” to deal with “anti-social elements trying to incite communal tensions in the state”.
In 2016, the TRS and AIMIM had won 99 and 44 seats, respectively in the civic body with the BJP, Congress and TDP making up the rear with three, two and one seats each. While TRS won an absolute majority, Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM remained unmoved in the Old City, its stronghold. However, the contest this time around in Greater Hyderabad is between TRS and BJP in 99 divisions and between TRS, BJP, and the AIMIM in the rest of the 51 seats.
The TRS is contesting all 150 divisions, whereas the BJP has fielded its candidates in 149 seats. The Congress is contesting in 146 seats, and AIMIM has given tickets to 51 contestants. As many as 1,122 candidates are in the fray. The polls are scheduled for December 1, and the counting of votes will be held on December 4. The high-pitched campaign came to an end Sunday evening.
Campaign: Not just toxic
The Hyderabad civic body has always been a hotly contested one. In the past, when TDP and Congress were major forces to reckon with, the BJP was in the fray, sometimes alone and sometimes in alliance with the TDP. Even before the BJP was conceived, its predecessor Jan Sangh used to contest municipal polls in the old city.
Syed Aminul Hasan Jafri, a senior journalist and AIMIM MLC, recalls: “Between 1978 and 1990, communal polarisation was happening in Hyderabad. Soon after any elections, a curfew used to be imposed in Hyderabad. Even in those times, this kind of language, narratives, and provocative statements were never made by both sides.”
Top BJP leaders, including PM Narendra Modi, have campaigned in the city in the past too. “But the kind of language used by the local leaders as well as others who have come for campaigning from elsewhere was never heard before. This means that the BJP sees the corporation polls as a precursor to the battles for the next general elections. They want to gain a foothold in Hyderabad and pose a challenge to the TRS” says Jafri.
Prof K Nageshwar, a political commentator, agrees the campaign has not just been toxic but also highly objectionable. It has been a fight between top leaders of either party, with none revealing their Mayor candidate, to settle political scores rather than solving the people’s problems, he says, adding that the issue of civic governance are being relegated to the backseat in the political slugfest. “This political fight will close after December 4. If the mandate is for terrorism, Rohingyas, etc, which are not a concern of the people of Hyderabad, how can you hold parties accountable to civic governance,” he asks.
Opportunity for BJP to occupy space vacated by others
BJP’s confidence also stems from the fact that they have at different times in the past tasted success in Malakpet, Karwan, Goshamahal, Musheerabad, Uppal, Khairatabad, Amberpet assembly constituencies, all located within the city. The BJP has also been winning the Secunderabad Lok Sabha seat regularly. According to Jafri, the BJP is now targeting the entire belt of LB Nagar, Uppal, Malkajgiri, Secunderabad Cantonment, Quthbullapur, Kukatpally, Serilingampally, Chevella, and Rajendranagar.
In the 2016 GHMC polls, at a time when it had five MLAs from Hyderabad, the saffron party allied with TDP and could win only Gowlipura, Ghansibazar, and Begumbazar, all three divisions in the Hyderabad parliament constituency, whereas it lost all seats in Secunderabad parliament constituency that was considered a favourable ground. “The TDP, though contesting in over a hundred seats now, has virtually disappeared from the scene. The space vacated by the Andhra parties (TDP, YSRCP and Jana Sena), and the decline of the Congress, is an opportunity for the BJP.”
Internal surveys conducted by TRS have indicated that the party might end up with around 80 to 85 seats in the upcoming council. This means that AIMIM would retain its 45 seats and the rest (about 20 to 25 seats) would go to BJP. The AIMIM is hoping to better its performance and take its tally close to 50 seats.
According to Jafri, despite putting up a decent show in governance, the TRS will not have an easy run this time around. “In 33 seats of the 44 seats AIMIM won in 2016, the TRS came second. The party could get the majoritarian votes in the old city because the TRS wanted an end to coalition politics in the corporation and sought a full majority to ensure the city’s progress. There were no communal overtones. But that’s not the case today. The fight in the old city is three-cornered,” he says, suggesting that BJP will be able to cut into TRS vote share here. The AIMIM is not contesting 10 seats — Gowlipura, IS Sadan, Saidabad, Musarambagh, Gudimalkapur, Jiaguda, Begumbazar, Goshamahal, Mangalhat and Gun Foundry — in the Hyderabad parliament segment, making it a direct fight between TRS and the BJP like in the rest of Greater Hyderabad.
Prof Nageshwar feels BJP’s growth in Greater Hyderabad will be spread across and not limited to any pockets. “The BJP phenomena is not geographical (like MIM in Seemanchal region of Bihar) but purely political. TRS has a sizeable lead wherever they are strong. Whereas the BJP has only a marginal lead wherever it is strong. It still means BJP is coming closer to TRS,” he points out.
A strong BJP is a creation of the TRS
However, Prof Nageshwar feels for the BJP the GHMC elections is a political project to formulate its narrative for 2023. “The BJP is aggressive because it knows it cannot have the Mayor’s post at any cost. With 31 ex officio members at hand, the TRS needs to win only 75 seats. Since there cannot be a tie-up between AIMIM and BJP in the council for the Mayor’s post, the possible alliance, if required, will be between TRS and AIMIM,” says Prof Nageshwar.
Regardless of the absolute numbers or electoral verdict, he predicts five outcomes to the GHMC elections, barring a miracle. “The TRS will suffer significant erosion of vote share and seat share. The BJP will expand significantly. Congress will be relegated to the third position. The AIMIM will retain its hold. And the TRS will get the Mayor’s seat.”
According to him, the apparent rise of the BJP in Telangana is the doing of TRS itself. “Debilitating the Congress was KCR’s biggest mistake. It led to the invention of a strong and potential opponent in the form of the BJP. It will be more difficult for TRS to face a surging BJP than the Congress which is on a slippery slope. The BJP is an ideology-driven cadre-based party ruling the centre. It can polarise the voters and has all the wherewithal to face election,” he points out.
BJP says communal agenda set by TRS
The BJP’s strategy so far seems to have worked to some extent and it finds K Chandrasekhar Rao jittery. BJP Telangana spokesperson K Krishna Saagar Rao explains: “KCR’s usual narrative is about Telangana and his competence to lead. From day one this time, his party has been asking the voters if they want peace and development or communal disturbance. That is directly implying to us. Why did they make us their competition?” Rao says this shows KCR knows there is a shift on the ground. “He is unsettled after recent bypoll loss”.
The BJP believes the communal agenda is actually TRS’s doing. Rao says it all started after the BJP first released a chargesheet against the TRS misgovernance. “The response from KT Rama Rao was ‘do you want peace or communal disturbance’. If he made it their central campaign theme, we had to react. And the communal agenda that KTR feels he has successfully trapped us in is the agenda they have led with, to send a negative connotation of BJP to the voters. We didn’t fall into the trap,” he says. “If we were to fall, there would have been communal disturbance. It didn’t happen, right?. It is all a build-up to send fear among the electorates.”
The BJP feels their electorate is every voter in the city. “Our target is not at all a Hindu vote bank. It is a perceptive image, the paint they want to brush us with. We have a track record of development across corporations in the country. We will protect the integrity of the local body because GHMC has lost its sanctity and has become the fiefdom of KCR’s family,” says Rao.
So who does the BJP think will vote for them? The party is capitalising on the anti-incumbency factor against TRS. Rao says all those disillusioned and dissatisfied with the TRS’ performance, those who have lost people and property in the recent Hyderabad floods, those who wished the city would present them with better opportunities, jobs, roads, sanitation, and housing, etc would vote for the BJP.
“We are aiming for 100 seats. Both the AIMIM and TRS are our rivals as they are conjoined twins. Except for our three seats, every other seat will be a close fight for BJP. It will not be an easy win but we are working hard to win even if the majority is wafer-thin,” Rao notes.
TRS will uphold the spirit of Hyderabad
TRS party’s spokesperson and Social Media convenor Manne Krishank countered that his party is doing everything to uphold the spirit of Hyderabad and the people are aware of that. The TRS is relying on its efforts to ensure a clean administration, a track record of no communal clashes, improved infrastructure, and global investments. “We overcame water and electricity issues. We don’t say 100 per cent of our promises were achieved but the good work has to continue. But is that the debate today?,” he asks, underlining how the agenda has “shifted to what we should eat, and what should be the name of our city”.
“For the municipal polls, the CM of UP wants to change the name of Hyderabad. Who is he to decide?”
He says Hyderabad is witnessing textbook style communal politics now. “We have seen such jumle baazi across the country and laughed at them. It is unfortunate to see it happening in our city. A lot of lies, deceit, and fake news are doing rounds,” he says, claiming that the TRS did not use the vaccine against COVID-19 for electoral gains as the government, even after GHMC polls, will continue to do what it does for the public. “Till this minute, we have been talking about integrity, infrastructure, and investments. We did not fall into the BJP’s trap of communal agenda,” he notes, adding that a defeat of the BJP in the GHMC will give the right signal to the party’s central leadership.
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