The BJP in Telangana is on cloud nine. And the party has every reason to be. It is no mean feat to win four Lok Sabha seats in the face of an aggressive Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) campaign that was boasting that it will fulfil Mission 16, which meant winning 16/16 seats, leaving Hyderabad, the 17th seat to its ally, Asaduddin Owaisi of the AIMIM.
What’s more, this is the first election in 21 years that the BJP in Telangana or Andhra fought alone without any ally. It last contested alone in united Andhra Pradesh in 1998, when it won four seats out of 42.
What contributed to the victories in the four seats? This is how BJP strategists and voices from the ground have interpreted this triumph.
Secunderabad : This was a sitting seat of the BJP but the party denied Bandaru Dattatreya another shot and gave the ticket to a younger Kishan Reddy. The BJP gained from the strong urban Narendra Modi votebank that existed in Secunderabad especially the educated class and the advantage of Kishan Reddy being a familiar face in the city.
Two, the TRS had given the ticket to Saikiran Yadav, the son of Animal Husbandry minister Talasani Srinivas Yadav. This led to heartburn among other TRS leaders in the constituency who thought it was unfair that all the political goodies should go to one family. The internal dissension was another factor contributing to Yadav’s defeat.
Three, Saikiran’s image of being an entitled son also played out during the campaign. The fact that he had no previous experience weighed on the minds of the voters. In contrast, Reddy has served as the leader of the BJP legislature party in the Assembly besides having been BJP state president.
Four, the sympathy factor played out for Reddy as well. He had lost by just 1016 votes from Amberpet assembly constituency in December 2018.
Incidentally, whichever party has won from Secunderabad since 1998, has gone to wield power at the Centre. Reddy’s victory continues that trend.
Karimnagar : Bandi Sanjay is a well-known local leader. His victory is seen as a combination of his espousal of the Hindutva cause and Brand Modi’s magic in the urban parts of Karimnagar constituency. Besides Sanjay also took up several issues against the TRS government and emerged as a strong pro-people voice. He could not win the assembly election in December and therefore the BJP believes the voters made a clear distinction that they were voting for Delhi. Therefore they plumped for Modi and not KCR, who they believed they had given a job in Telangana to do.
TRS suspects that an element of match-fixing was at play here between Sanjay and Congress candidate Ponnam Prabhakar, in order to defeat sitting MP and senior leader B Vinod of the TRS.
Nizamabad : This was the biggest upset, the defeat of a dynast politician, K Kavitha, the daughter of chief minister KCR. This election became a talking point due to the presence of 178 turmeric farmers filing their nominations as independents. That necessitated the use of 12 EVM machines inside every polling booth. This created an impression that Kavitha during her tenure had failed to address the grievances of the farmers.
There was also a problem of perception. Local analysts say an anti-Kavitha sentiment prevailed in Jagtial, Balkonda because she was seen as not responsive. The manner in which she targeted the BJP candidate D Arvind’s father, D Srinivas who was in the TRS, was seen as bordering on arrogance. Srinivas is one of the seniormost leaders in Telangana and was PCC chief when he was in the Congress.
Three, Congress candidate Madhu Yashki Goud virtually withdrew from the campaign and there were instructions reportedly to the Congress cadre to transfer the vote to the BJP. For Goud, Kavitha was the bigger rival and he in any case, was not interested to contest this time from Nizamabad and the High command had forced it upon him.
KCR had realised half way into the campaign that Kavitha needed help. To achieve that, he reached out to former minister Mandava Venkateswara Rao who though inactive in politics now is influential in parts of Nizamabad and inducted him formally into the TRS. Clearly it did not prove enough.
Adilabad : BJP’s Soyam Bapu Rao was at the forefront of the agitation on behalf of the Gond community against the Lambadas. The conflict between the two tribal communities over matters of reservation turned into a BJP vs TRS fight. The Lambadas in other states are listed as Backward class or OBC in some states and as SC or ST in other states. The Gonds have been demanding that the state and central governments must remove Lambadas from the ST list.
What makes these wins significant is that three of the constituencies are in north Telangana, that is considered a TRS bastion. The fourth Secunderabad will hurt because Malkajgiri, the other constituency in Hyderabad city, went to the Congress. This meant the TRS effectively has no MP from the Hyderabad city now.
In terms of vote share, the BJP has almost doubled it from 2014 when it polled 10.5 per cent. This time, its vote share is 19.4 per cent. This performance will mean the BJP will flex its muscles now and try to build on this momentum. With the party drawing a blank in Andhra, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, only Telangana and Karnataka have brought cheer to the BJP in south India.