Harnessing the Modi factor and Hindutva: Will BJP’s game plan in Telangana work?

In addition, the BJP is also banking on the series of defections from opposition parties to strengthen its voter base.
Harnessing the Modi factor and Hindutva: Will BJP’s game plan in Telangana work?
Harnessing the Modi factor and Hindutva: Will BJP’s game plan in Telangana work?
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The series of defections of disgruntled Congress and TDP leaders to the BJP seems to be the starting point for the latter to expand its political base in Telangana. On August 18, BJP National Working President JP Nadda visited Hyderabad to preside over the string of defections. After successfully executing Operation Lotus in Karnataka, the BJP leadership is now concentrating on Telangana as it views the state as a second gateway to south India.

For the last five years since the state of Telangana was formed, the BJP, which did not have a prominent political presence in the state, has managed to turn its fortunes around. The party had gained a mere 7% vote share during the Assembly elections in 2018. This number shot up to a significant 20% during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections with the party bagging four parliamentary segments from the state.

By making such progress in just one year, the BJP is now planning to roll out its strategy – Namo Bharat, Nava Telangana – to strengthen its base in the state. The grand political strategy has six specific components, ranging from harnessing the nationalist image of Narendra Modi to mobilising disgruntled leaders against the KCR regime.

How the BJP broke into TRS bastions

Within a few months of devastating defeat in the Assembly elections of 2018, the BJP made a grand comeback in the Lok Sabha elections. This can largely be attributed to the pro-Narendra Modi sentiment that prevailed over the entire country, and Telangana was no different. The BJP had won five seats in the Assembly elections in 2014. The party’s fortunes declined as it won only a single seat in the 2018 Assembly polls. BJP heavyweights in the state, like incumbent Union Minister G Kishan Reddy and BJP state President Dr Laxman, suffered a massive defeat at the hands of the ruling TRS. In most of its bastions, the BJP was reduced to holding the third position, which indicated the gravity of the defeat it suffered at the hands of its political rivals.

But, surprisingly, the party bounced back during the Lok Sabha elections and won four seats. Its candidates also defeated Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao’s daughter, K Kavita, in the Nizamabad segment. BJP also won the Adilabad (ST reserved), Secunderabad and Karimnagar seats, thus causing a major dent in the TRS’ voter base in northern Telangana, an area considered the latter’s stronghold since the days of the separate statehood movement.

For the first time, the BJP, which was looked upon as a party that appealed to urban Telangana, penetrated into rural areas during the Lok Sabha elections. It was this defeat that has Chief Minister KCR and his son KT Rama Rao cautioning TRS leaders of the possibility of the BJP sweeping the municipal elections in the state.

Although the Congress suffered a humiliating defeat in the Assembly elections, the party bagged three seats in the Lok Sabha elections. The Congress had won 19 out of 119 seats during the 2018 Assembly elections. Soon after, 12 Congress MLAs defected to the TRS and TPCC Chief Uttam Kumar Reddy resigned from his MLA post for the Lok Sabha elections. This ensured that two-thirds of the Congress legislators had defected to the TRS, thereby facilitating a merger of its legislature party into the ruling TRS. This merger gave the BJP a political boost in Telangana. The general sense of disillusionment among Congress leaders across the country too has an impact on the BJP’s game of perception building.

NaMo Bharat, Nava Telangana

Propelled by the changing political landscape after the Lok Sabha elections, the BJP has put in place an organisational and political plan to wrest power from the TRS in the 2023 Assembly elections. The BJP leaders are using the recent spate of defections to build morale among its cadre.

The party is banking the pro-Modi sentiment at the state level. The BJP believes that it has created a positive sentiment by abrogating Article 370, which it believes will increase its chances of harnessing the pro-Narendra Modi sentiment at the grassroots level.

Unlike in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, where the party is seen as a villain for denying the promised special category status, the BJP in Telangana has the additional advantage of supporting the formation of a separate state for Telangana in Parliament.

The BJP is also planning to implement its Hindutva agenda in Telangana, just like it has in other states that have a strong political mobilisation of the Muslim community. The BJP believes that the demography and polity of Telangana offer the perfect setting for this brand of politics. It has been gaining significantly in states that have political consolidation of Muslims, like in Kerala and Assam. It has also gained substantially in states ruled by secular parties by building perception that secular parties bank on appeasement of the Muslim community, like in West Bengal.

Telangana is an illustration of both these trends. The AIMIM led by Asaduddin Owaisi has not only affected political consolidation of Muslims, especially in the state capital Hyderabad, but has forged an alliance with the ruling TRS.

Politicising Operation Polo

With its newfound victory, the BJP is also planning to politicise the celebrations that mark the consolidation of Hyderabad into the Union of India. The party is planning to hold celebrations on September 17 as the day the erstwhile princely state of Hyderabad was integrated into India after Sardar Patel’s Operation Polo. The BJP is planning to use Sardar Patel as an icon who ensured that Telangana was a part of the country.

The ruling TRS, fearing negative backlash from the minority vote bank, has been hesitant to hold celebrations, a demand which it repeatedly asked for before the bifurcation. On the contrary, the BJP is calling September 17 as ‘liberation day’ by depicting it as a day on which the Hindus, who constituted a majority of the population ruled by the erstwhile Nizam of Hyderabad, liberated the region from a Muslim king.

In reality, facts are wrongly portrayed by both TRS and BJP. The people revolted against the feudal regime presided over by the Nizam. However, it was not a mobilisation on the basis of religion. The historic armed revolt had the backing of people from the Muslim community, while the Hindu feudal lords backed the Nizam’s stance of not integrating his princely state into the Union of India.

Decreasing power of opposition parties

It’s not just the recent spate of defections that is working in favour of the BJP but also the TRS’ strategy of weakening the opposition Congress and TDP. After the TRS poached more than two-thirds of Congress MLAs, the two TDP MLAs also defected to the TRS soon after the 2018 Assembly elections. This resulted in the defection of disgruntled Congress leaders to the BJP as the latter is in power at the Centre.

The changed political idiom post-bifurcation made TDP politically irrelevant in the state to a large extent. The Congress alliance with the TDP, led by the then Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu, is seen as a major disadvantage. Both the TDP and YS Jagan Mohan Reddy’s YSRCP are now viewed by the people of Telangana as Andhra-based parties despite their significant gains in the 2014 elections. The defections to the BJP are largely from the TDP, which is struggling to be active in Telangana, while YSRCP became defunct in Telangana since 2014.

The BJP is also working towards strengthening the party’s organisation structure from the grassroots level. But its ambivalent stand towards the ruling TRS between 2014- 2019 proved to be a stumbling block in the way of expansion in the state. Post 2019, the BJP has altered this strategy. The national BJP no longer needs the support of the TRS. The party is confident that its majoritarian agenda is sufficient to retain power in 2024 too. Thus, the BJP has now unleashed a no-holds-bar fight against the ruling TRS by portraying itself as an alternative.

The failure of the TRS to challenge the BJP’s ideological project is evident from its stand on Triple Talaq and Article 370, which can prove to be counterproductive for KCR.

As Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh still remain a difficult political terrain while in Kerala it can only gain but not win, the BJP is investing heavily in Telangana.

Professor K Nageshwar is a senior journalist and former Member of Legislative Council from Telangana.

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