Business Standard

Blues after the pink slip

BRS is preparing to come back strongly in Telangana. But Congress and BJP are not giving it any breathing space.

- ADITI PHADNIS reports from Hyderabad

Saffron pran pratishtha flags marking the consecrati­on of the Ram temple in Ayodhya flutter from hundreds of rooftops in Patancheru, Telangana, braving the dust-laden winds. Barely 30 km from Hyderabad, Patancheru is the recipient of the rapid infrastruc­tural developmen­t the city has seen. Suspended particulat­e matter in the air is an inevitable byproduct. The township hugs the Mumbai hyderabad highway and is home to hundreds of stone crushers, small and big, that sit between massive skyscraper­s coming up in the area. The dust creates spectacula­r sunrises. And sunsets. That is the only upside.

Patancheru was devoted to the Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) until recently. “Until a few months ago, the flags were all pink,” says Ramesh, a small kirana shop owner. Pink is the colour of the BRS, previously the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), which was unseated from the government in the 2023 Assembly elections. As the Lok Sabha elections approach, the politics of Telangana — which sends 17 members to the Lok Sabha — is undergoing tumult. With the Congress in power in the state and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) snapping at its heels, the BRS is now fighting an existentia­l battle.

Patancheru illustrate­s this best.

On October 5, 2022, at exactly 1.10 pm, as astrologer­s had advised, K Chandrashe­kar Rao

(KCR), then chief minister, changed the name of his party from the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) to the

Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS), signifying new national ambitions for a party that had come into being only about two decades ago.

The astrologer­s got it wrong. After its defeat in the 2023 Assembly elections, the clamour within the BRS to return to its original name is growing. Politics in Telangana is taking a new turn.

After the state was created in 2014, making it one of India’s newest states, it was the TRS that claimed the spoils as victor. The Congress, the dominant party in undivided Andhra Pradesh, was identified with pushback to the division and this cost the party in terms of voter support. The TRS quickly moved into that space, claiming the backing of the Vellama caste of KCR. The TRS formed the government and ruled Telangana for 10 years. The central issue was: Telangana belongs to the people of Telangana, not “outsiders” from Andhra Pradesh.

The slogan quickly ran its course. Believing that the support for its welfare scheme would help it carve a place for itself outside Telangana as well, the TRS turned itself into the BRS, moving to Maharashtr­a and setting up its “national” office in Delhi. Its preeminent position in the state was confirmed by its electoral performanc­e: It won not just two Assembly elections but the most seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

But a political riposte to the BRS was inevitable. The struggle was also to claim the principal Opposition slot, and the contenders were the BJP and the Congress. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP won 4 of the 17 seats, winning 19.65 per cent of the vote, pushing the Congress to third position. In December 2020, the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporatio­n results saw the BJP winning 48 seats in the 150member House, finishing a close second to the BRS that had 56.

In the 2023 Assembly polls, everything changed. According to political analyst Ashok Tankasala: “The BRS took some decisions on candidate selection which were not wise. As a result, the Congress won 64 Assembly seats, attaining a 39.69 per cent vote share, while the BRS bagged 39 seats with a 37.62 per cent vote share in the 119-member Assembly”. “Assuming an average of seven assembly constituen­cies in every Lok Sabha constituen­cy, the outcome in the Lok Sabha election could be unpredicta­ble,” he adds.

Tankasala explains: “The Congress government is about to complete 100 days in office. It had committed itself to a number of promises during this period. Many of these are still to be implemente­d. Meanwhile, as summer approaches and temperatur­es rise, water is becoming a big issue”.

Water has always been an issue in dry Telangana. In the Assembly election campaign, the BRS claimed it had taken more water to farmers than any other government. The Congress contested this with evidence of engineerin­g defects in the Kaleshwara­m dam, leading to a high-octane blame game. But now reality has come to bite. Chief Minister A Revanth Reddy warned last week that the state is staring at drought-like conditions with water levels depleting in all reservoirs. A former minister and an architect of the BRS, KT Rama Rao, says: “Within three months after the Congress assumed power, the farmers of Telangana are now fully aware of its inefficien­cy to address their problems.”

The BJP is making rapid moves to promote itself. Amer Ali Khan, who was nominated to the Telangana Legislativ­e Council by the Governor, notes: “Many of those leaving the BRS are joining the BJP.” But he says the overall situation favours the Congress. “Every (legislativ­e assembly) constituen­cy has around 300,000 people who belong to Scheduled Castes or the Muslim community. The BJP will not get their votes.”

But the BJP, buoyed by its recent victories, including the rise in its presence in the Assembly (it won eight seats for the first time in 2023, and doubled its vote share to 14 per cent), is visualisin­g a good Lok Sabha outcome.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meeting in Sangareddy, Telangana, last week drew massive, delirious crowds. Sandeep Vempati, a member of the BJP from Telangana and spokespers­on for the party, says: “From 2004 to 2014, Telangana got an outlay of around ~41,000 crore. But after the award of the 15th Finance Commission, Telangana state got ~1.6 trillion in the last nine years. The question we’re asking the government­s in the state is: When the BJP government gave you so much money, what did you do with it? I am sure Telangana will give us seats in double digits in the Lok Sabha.”

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