Elections to the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) have always seen fierce political battles. However, the BJP has ratcheted up the competition this time to a level hitherto unseen. Sensing an opportunity to establish itself as a major player in a state where it has had only a nominal presence until recently, the party has assembled a battery of heavyweight campaigners — Union Home Minister Amit Shah and party chief J P Nadda are among those scheduled to campaign in the city before polling on December 1. With Bhupender Yadav, who played a role in strategising for the Bihar assembly election, in charge of the GHMC campaign, the BJP offensive has acquired a new edge.
The BJP’s hopes for the GHMC, which encompasses 24 assembly seats across four districts, ride on expectations born of its recent electoral success in Telangana. In the 2019 general election, the BJP won four of the 17 Lok Sabha seats in the state — one seat more than the Congress — and got nearly 20 per cent votes. It won an assembly by-poll earlier this month in chief minister K Chandrasekhara Rao’s home district — the party’s vote share rising from 13.75 per cent in 2018 to 38.5 per cent. Besides, the Secunderabad Lok Sabha seat, which falls in GHMC, has been electing BJP candidates. The BJP calculates that it is poised to replace the Congress as the main opposition in Telangana. A win in Hyderabad could become a launch pad for the party to expand in that state, and thereafter, increase its footprint in southern India, where its success has so far been limited to Karnataka.
The BJP has proposed an ambitious welfare agenda for GHMC, where the TRS is on the backfoot after the recent floods. Along with the welfarism, it is also raising the pitch on polarising issues — Hyderabad has a 30 per cent Muslim population and is the home turf of Asaduddin Owaisi and his party, the AIMIM. BJP leaders such as Tejaswi Surya have accused the TRS and AIMIM of sheltering Bangladeshis while Union Textile Minister Smriti Irani has claimed that thousands of Rohingya were illegally residing in the city. The party has also started a campaign to celebrate September 17, the day the Indian Army concluded its operations against the Nizam’s forces, as Hyderabad Liberation Day instead of remembering it as Telangana Merger Day. Hyderabad has come a long way since Operation Polo in 1948 and emerged as a software and education hub. It would be unfortunate if the competing visions for the cosmopolitan city’s future end up harking back to old fault lines and contested histories.