To go from five legislators to 60 by any stretch of imagination is a long shot but the BJP in Telangana is not shying away from dreaming big. Its mind space is occupied by the idea to form the next government in Telangana in 2019. What's more, it has even hit the ground running by appointing 110 Vistaraks (which translates to spread and propagate) who are youngsters who have been recruited by the party for a year. Their profile - young, most in their 20s or early 30s, who have not been rooted in the party. They have been given a motorbike and will get Rs 10,000 per month. Their job will be to knock at every house in the patch assigned to them and tell them about the “good work Narendra Modi is doing” and the BJP ideology. All the Vistaraks before they were appointed were put through a two-day party training programme this week in Ibrahimpatnam on the outskirts of Hyderabad.
There are reasons why the BJP has got into election gear a good two years before elections are due in Telangana. One, it suspects polls could be advanced, and two, the more important reason is it senses a political vacuum in the opposition space in the state. It also knows its cadre base is not as large as the other parties but it wants to punch above its weight so that it can at least emerge as the main opposition player in Telangana.
Telangana offers an opportunity because the BJP's erstwhile ally, the Telugu Desam is all but reduced to nothing, with 12 of its 15 MLAs and its sole MP, migrating to the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samiti. The Congress strength in the Telangana assembly too is down from 21 MLAs to 12. The YSR Congress shop in Telangana has folded up, so have the BSP and CPI. The opposition space is up for grabs and the lotus wants to take roots.
The BJP has done a SWOT analysis of its rivals. It believes the Congress with its internal differences in Telangana and a comatose state nationally, will be unable to pick itself beyond a point. While it admits the anti-incumbency against the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samiti is not so acute, it wants to be the party of choice for any voter looking to vote the TRS out.
Apart from the Vistarak route, the BJP is looking to ride on the Muslim reservation bill that chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao got passed in the Telangana Assembly in April. During the debate, only the five BJP lawmakers objected, leading to their suspension from the House. The BJP accuses KCR of indulging in Muslim appeasement and wants to use the plank to woo the young Hindu voter in its favour.
The BJP wants to combine it with an attack on KCR's ally, the MIM, who it accuses of providing legal help to youth arrested in terror cases in the Old city. The ruling party's reluctance to celebrate Hyderabad Liberation Day - the day Hyderabad joined the Indian Union in September 1948 - as an official function will also be used to prove that KCR holds the Nizam in high esteem while the erstwhile ruler is anathema to the BJP.
However, not everyone is convinced this ploy will work in Telangana. For one, KCR is seen as a very Hindu CM, given his habit of performing yagnas at the drop of a fire-hundi. In December 2015, he conducted a yagna for five days at his farmhouse, 60 km from Hyderabad, on which a sum of Rs 7 crore was reportedly spent. This February, despite criticism from the Congress, he got the Telangana exchequer to fund the fulfillment of his private vow to gift Rs 5 crore worth of jewellery to the Tirumala temple.
BJP leaders admit KCR is more than Hindu than many of their leaders. They point to his move to develop the Lakshmi Narasimha Swamy temple at Yadadri, making it Telangana's answer to Tirumala-Tirupati. The redesigning of the temple is likely to be completed by Diwali this year, at cost of Rs 2000 crore. The temple city spread over 1000 acres is expected to be a major tourist attract once complete, and will enable KCR showcase the power of soft Hindutva making it tough for the BJP to criticise him.
The caste factor is also being looked at closely. The Reddy community has traditionally backed the Congress in united Andhra Pradesh but finds the present Reddy crop of leaders uninspiring. At a closed-door meeting of the Telangana BJP recently, it was suggested that the party needs to look at a pan-Telangana face, preferably from the Reddy community. Its leader in the Assembly G Kishen Reddy is not seen as fitting the bill but exports like Revanth Reddy from the TDP are unlikely to find favour with the present leadership.
Amit Shah is expected to tour Telangana in May and meet people at the district level. But what makes the rank and file at the local level unsure is the suspicion that there exists a KCR-Modi equation. KCR was one of the few non-NDA chief ministers who supported demonetisation in November last year and took the lead to make Telangana use less cash. Also at the party plenary public meeting in Warangal this week, KCR went after the Congress but spared the BJP.
Lastly, there is an informal diktat to the Telangana BJP on how much KCR can be attacked. On the no-no list are terms like ‘jungle raj’ and ‘goonda raj’ though Amit Shah last year labelled KCR regime as one of the most corrupt. Clearly, even as the BJP looks at Telangana as a window of opportunity, it wants to keep the door a little open for a post-poll arrangement with KCR should it fall short of numbers in the Lok Sabha in 2019.