In a way, it was a case of sweet revenge for the Congress. The national party had to wait for nearly a decade to reap the full benefits of carving out Telangana in 2014, having been outfoxed all the way by a regional party, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi which renamed itself the Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS).
The Congress crossed the magic figure of 60 in style (the Telangana Assembly has 119 seats) — it won 65 seats — though no optimistic political pundit would have given the party a chance to touch this number even a year ago. Going by its past performance in the last Assembly elections in 2018, it had to cover a whopping 14 percentage point difference in vote share with the BRS. Though it appeared quite challenging, the party breached the wall of invincibility built by the BRS and cut short its ambitions of going national.
It is a great resurgence by all accounts, with the Congress picking up the momentum gained from Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra in 2022 and also infusing some dynamism by banking on a fresh face, the relatively younger A. Revanth Reddy, to lead the party in the State. Having moved from the Telugu Desam Party, Mr. Revanth Reddy was not a quintessential Congressman. Overcoming the ‘outsider’ image and the anticipated resistance from the old guard, his style of targeting Chief Minister, K. Chandrasekhar Rao, by launching never-ending attacks on him, seemed to have helped the party in good measure.
Where the BRS faltered
If the Congress was made battle-ready by Mr. Revanth Reddy’s aggressive approach, strong anti-incumbency and voter fatigue topped by corruption and land grabbing charges faced by 30 to 40 MLAs of the ruling party (the BRS) made the Congress’s success appear much easier. Conversely, Mr. Chandrasekhar Rao’s “bold” and early decision of fielding, barring seven, all sitting MLAs (even those with a dubious track record) appears to have triggered the party’s debacle.
Mr. Chandrasekhar Rao was hoping to score a hat trick of three consecutive terms on the strength of his carefully cultivated image of a messiah who not only secured Telangana through his struggle but as one who pioneered a slew of cash transfer schemes such as Rythu Bandhu, Dalit Bandhu, Aasara, Kalyana Lakshmi, and Shaadi Mubarak, covering virtually all sections of society. But his government claims of ‘saturation coverage’ had gaping holes, with those left out expressing their resentment by alleging that most of these benefits were cornered by the supporters of the BRS.
The angriest of the lot were the youth who felt that the BRS government had not done enough to create employment for them in the last 10 years. They recalled that government jobs was one of the contentious issues that sparked the demand for a separate Telangana — but, ironically, a party that won two terms failed to address it. Sensing early, the slow but steady wave building against the BRS government, the Congress coined the slogan vote for change to “liberate Telangana from a corrupt family rule”, and offered a better package of cash transfer schemes through its ‘six guarantees’. It ended up being rewarded handsomely.
For all his well-thought out vote-catching schemes — even if it meant a big strain on State finances — and riding on Telangana sentiment, his unchallenged 10-year tenure made Mr. Chandrasekhar Rao overconfident. Many feel that he did not pay heed to growing criticism that he had become “too arrogant” and “inaccessible even to his own partymen”; that he ran the administration from his home, Pragati Bhavan or farm house rather than Secretariat, and had systematically side-lined co-travellers of the Telangana movement while suppressing those protesting against his policies. Not realising that a decade was moving by, he continued to depend on Telangana sentiment to bail him out.
Constituency-wise wins and leads show that the Congress having done exceedingly well both in North Telangana and South Telangana while the BRS’s performance was better in the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation limits. Apparently the infrastructure push to Hyderabad, development projects around the Nehru Outer Ring Road and a solid vote from people from Andhra Pradesh who settled down in and around the city, have all gone in the BRS’s favour.
On player three, the BJP
The third player, the Bharatiya Janata Party, has vastly improved its vote share but its ambition of making inroads into southern India have again come to a grinding halt. As in Karnataka, the BJP initially banked on communal polarisation constantly picking up issues such as the controversial Bhagyalakshmi temple at the iconic Charminar, the role of the Razakars during the last Nizam’s rule and “appeasement of minorities”.
The sudden change of guard at the State level, from a rabble-rousing Other Backward Classes Member of Parliament Bandi Sanjay Kumar to a softer Union Minister, G. Kishan Reddy, led to perception that it was done to defeat the Congress and help the BRS. The reverse happened as it helped the Congress with Mr. Gandhi making “this secret understanding”, among the BRS-All-India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM)-BJP a forceful campaign point. This perception, it appears, made Muslim minorities gravitate towards the Congress in seats other than the nine contested by the AIMIM. The AIMIM won its seven seats.
A significant feature of the Assembly elections in Telangana was the absence of a virulent campaign of seeking votes on communal polarisation though Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, Yogi Adityanath did try to up the ante a bit by reiterating the BJP’s promise to change Hyderabad’s name to Bhagyanagar. Otherwise, competitive ‘welfarism’ took centre stage, forcing even the “anti-revdi” BJP to join the bandwagon and offer more cash transfers.
K. Venkateshwarlu is a senior journalist