Congress faces an existential crisis in Telangana

The Congress came a distant third in the Dubbaka bye-poll with just 22,196 votes.
Telangana Congress chief Uttam Kumar Reddy during a road-show
Telangana Congress chief Uttam Kumar Reddy during a road-show

The BJP pulled off a major feat in the Dubbaka bye-polls by upsetting the TRS in its own bastion. The victory by Raghunandan Rao, which is seen as a referendum on the KCR-led Telangana government also threatens the existence of the Congress party in the state. A series of debacles since the 2018 Telangana Assembly elections and the consecutive bye-polls in Huzurnagar and Dubbaka has raised questions on whether the grand-old party, which bit the bullet and granted statehood to Telangana, will be relegated to the margins.

With the win in Dubbaka, though the BJP has just two MLAs in the state, they have efficiently created a perception that they are the alternative party to the TRS, and that the Congress is a sinking ship. Before the Congress leadership could even conduct a review of the humiliating loss in Dubbaka, where they came a distant third with just 22,196 votes, the rift in the party again became evident, with followers of Malkajgiri MP Revanth Reddy burning the effigy of Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee president Uttam Kumar Reddy and squarely blaming him for the poor performance.

Supporters of Revanth Reddy (who is also the working president of the Telangana Congress unit) have demanded that the high-command give reins to Revanth, to revive the Congress party.

This political development has naturally not gone well with the Bahujan Congress leaders, who are expressing their angst at Revanth for his “opportunist move.” 

Senior leader V Hanumantha Rao, the face of BC leadership in Congress, speaking to TNM, said, “Because of the Reddy leadership, the party has suffered already, now again one more Reddy wants to take over. How is this fair? This is a drama by Revanth’s supporters. The BCs have 54% votes, SCs 23%, minority 12%. We constitute for a majority, and yet again they want a Reddy chief?”

He added, “We had a vote-bank of the majority SC, ST and BC voters, these voters have now shifted sides because of the upper caste leadership. To retain these voters there needs to be a leader from the BC community.”

In the Dubbaka bye-election, BJP candidate Raghunandan Rao won with a small margin of 1,079 votes. He secured 63,352 votes while TRS candidate, wife of former MLA Solipeta Ramalinga Reddy, Sujatha, secured 62,273 votes. 

After Congress’ loss in the Huzurnagar bye-election, where Uttam Kumar Reddy’s wife Padmavathi had contested, the TPCC chief offered to resign from the post. However, he was told to continue until the party found a replacement.  

Despite having two MLAs — Goshamahal MLA Raja Singh and Raghunandan Rao — and four MPs, the BJP has been staking claim that they are the main principal Opposition party in the state. The rise of the BJP in Telangana is KCR’s own doing, which would prove to be a huge challenge for him, say political observers. 

“KCR has decimated the Congress, this led to the rise of the BJP. You cannot replace the Opposition, the Opposition will simply take a new form,” noted Hyderabad-based political analyst K Nageshwar.

In the 2018 state election, the Congress won 19 seats, however, the TRS poached all their 12 legislators and virtually became a party without an Opposition. While several have written off the Congress party, Nageshwar said that the Dubbaka bye-election can neither be seen as a “referendum” nor as the “extinction” of the Congress. “We have to see the Dubbaka bye-elections in isolation. It is definitely not a referendum,” Nageshwar pointed out. 

He argued that if the recent election was a referendum, the Huzurnagar bye-election, held a year ago, after the BJP snatched four MP seats, should also be seen as a referendum. In the Huzurnagar bye-election the BJP secured a mere of 2,639 votes. 

Statistics also show that the Congress voters did not shift their loyalty. In the 2018 elections, Congress had a vote share of 16.31% in Dubbaka and presently secured 13.48 % — a mere decline of 3%. 

Umamaheswar Rao Vaidya, another political observer said, “The Congress still has a traditional vote-bank of the Bahujan communities. The perception being created by both KCR and BJP is nothing but a propaganda. The Congress will not go extinct no matter what these bye-election results reveal.”

The Congress party too attributes the Dubbaka victory to Raghunandan and not the BJP.  

A Congress leader on condition anonymity said, “While we were campaigning, several people had asked if our candidate will not go back to the TRS after being elected.” Congress candidate Cheruku Srinivas Reddy had left the TRS after he was denied a ticket to contest the bye-election, and it was widely propagated that he will return to the TRS fold after the election. “This dented our opportunity,” the Congress leader said.

The visibly upset Congress party will soon conduct a review meeting on the Dubbaka elections, party leaders said.

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