Telangana’s caretaker Chief Minister and Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) president K Chandrashekar Rao's decision to dissolve the state Assembly eight months before the end of the term was a calculated move in more ways than one.
A deeply superstitious man with immense faith in numerology, KCR announced this decision on September 6, as six happens to be his lucky number. On the same day, the TRS also released a list of 105 candidates, out of 119. Incidentally, the sum of the digits in 105 is also six. However, this wasn't the only arithmetic behind KCR's decision to push the state towards early elections instead of holding them along with the Lok Sabha elections, as per schedule.
If the Telangana Assembly elections were held along with the Lok Sabha polls, the TRS would have been caught amidst a national contest between the BJP-led NDA, and a possible Congress-led Mahagathbandhan. The Telangana-centered narrative that KCR has assiduously tried to weave would have gone for a toss.
Hypothetically, if the Congress had ended up winning at least two out of the four states bound for polls later this year — Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram and Rajasthan — it would have emboldened the party's Telangana unit, making matters difficult for KCR.
By advancing the elections, KCR has placed himself in a perfect position to preempt the Congress’ strategy, and more importantly, grab a sizable chunk of the BJP vote in Telangana. His aggressive attack on Congress President Rahul Gandhi — even going to the extent of calling him "India's biggest buffoon" — must be seen in this context. KCR wants to put the Congress on the back foot and also take a part of the anti-Congress vote from the BJP.
The reason for this is pure arithmetic — it lies in the fact that a section of TRS voters are those who voted for Narendra Modi as Prime Minister in 2014.
For this, we must examine the data from the 2014 elections in which Telangana's electorate voted for the state government and the Centre simultaneously, where a large chunk of voters voted differently in the two elections. The BJP's vote share in the Lok Sabha elections was 10.5%, while in the Assembly elections it was 7.1%. This means that nearly one in every three voters who voted for the BJP in the Lok Sabha polls did not vote for the party in the state elections.
In 71 Assembly segments out of 119, the BJP-Telugu Desam Party (TDP) alliance did significantly better in the Lok Sabha polls than in the Assembly polls. Effectively, a large number of Telangana voters who chose the Modi-led NDA for the Centre did not vote for the alliance in the state. It seems that a majority of the shifting NDA votes went to the TRS.
In 22 constituencies, this trend is particularly evident. Compared below are the votes secured by the NDA and TRS in these segments.
For instance, the TRS polled 17,741 votes more in the Assembly elections than during the Lok Sabha polls in the Choppadandi Assembly Constituency. At the same time, in the same constituency, the NDA received close to 16000 votes lesser in the Assembly elections when compared to the Lok Sabha polls.
Difference in votes polled between Assembly and Lok Sabha polls
(*figures have been rounded off)
Source: Election Commission of India
Interestingly, most seats where a sizable chunk of the NDA's votes in the Lok Sabha elections transferred to the TRS in the Assembly elections are urban or semi-urban seats in Hyderabad, and nearby districts like Mahbubnagar and Ranga Reddy.
For instance, in the Mahbubnagar Assembly segment, the BJP was leading in the Lok Sabha elections while the TRS stood third. However, the TRS ended up winning the Vidhan Sabha seat.
This trend of transfer of votes from NDA to TRS is less evident in rural constituencies, where the Modi factor wasn't as strong and the NDA's support was based largely on local factors. Also, the Congress consistently did better in the Assembly elections compared to the Lok Sabha elections.
The TRS' calculation is that with the Assembly elections now being separated from the Lok Sabha elections, it will be able to win over an even larger chunk of BJP voters. With BJP no longer a winnable alternative in several seats following TDP severing its alliance with the BJP, there is a possibility that many of its voters would switch to the TRS.
While a good relationship with the Modi government has helped KCR get more funds for Telangana, his reluctance to openly criticise the BJP also stems from his need to keep BJP-leaning voters in good humour.
The TRS has often sided with the NDA government on critical occasions, such as the recent election for the Deputy Chairperson of the Rajya Sabha.
The fear of offending BJP-leaning voters is also partly the reason why the TRS hasn't entered into a formal alliance with the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), despite the clear bonhomie between the two parties. It would have ended up vindicating the Telangana BJP's allegation that KCR is “appeasing” Muslims.
However, in its first list, the TRS fielded just one Muslim in the five AIMIM-held seats in the Telangana Assembly. This indicates that the TRS isn't keen on eating into AIMIM's votes. The party is also yet to declare its candidates in two other seats held by AIMIM.
Defections and expansion
The biggest difference in the NDA's Lok Sabha and Assembly vote tally is in Nalgonda – nearly 20,000. But here, the beneficiary isn't the TRS but an independent candidate - Kancharla Bhupal Reddy. A former TDP leader, Reddy joined the TRS in 2017.
Reddy's defection is symptomatic of a larger trend of the TRS poaching leaders from Assembly segments where it performed relatively poorly. The TRS won 63 seats in the 2014 Vidhan Sabha elections. But by the time the Assembly was dissolved, it had 91 MLAs, having secured 26 defections and winning two seats in bye-elections. 12 out of 15 TDP MLAs, 7 out of 21 Congress MLAs, all 3 YSRCP MLAs, both Bahujan Samaj Party MLAs, one Communist Party of India MLA and an Independent legislator, have defected to the TRS in the past four years.
These defections have enabled the TRS to expand into Andhra-dominated TDP strongholds in Hyderabad and Secunderabad as well as the Congress stronghold, Khammam.
Interestingly, the only parties whose MLAs the TRS failed to win over or chose not to win over are the BJP and the AIMIM. The reasons for this are both the TRS' friendly relations with the two parties, as well as its desire to steer clear of any link with communal politics.
KCR has played his cards well and has so far ensured that the TRS sets the agenda in the Assembly elections. With his political arithmetic in place, KCR would hope that the half-way mark of 60 in the Telangana Assembly will also prove lucky for him.
Disclaimer: Views expressed are the author's own.