These days, Ramulu, who runs a tea shop on BK Guda Road in Sanathnagar constituency, is an expert on the political issues plaguing the state. As his customers sip on some Hyderabad Irani chai and exchange political banter, Ramulu tunes into these conversations, often sharing his political insights on issues. As a custom-built vehicle for the poll campaign displaying the picture of Bhawarlal Varma, the BJP candidate for Sanathnagar, rolls past the tea shop, a young customer pops a question to Ramulu, “Anna, do you think BJP has any chances of winning here?”
Without skipping a beat, Ramulu responds, “The BJP has no chance in Telangana, they may get a few extra seats but won’t form the government.” I almost choked on my tea listening to his verdict, as Ramulu’s analysis echoed the gist of what two political analysts told this reporter on the national party’s prospects in Telangana.
As Telangana gears up for polls on December 7, the BJP has been “parachuting” union ministers and senior party leaders to campaign in Telangana. The BJP has lined up all the party’s A-listers to campaign for the Telangana elections, but how impactful their efforts will be on the ballot is open to debate.
The BJP’s election campaign in the state began at Mahbubnagar in September. The party’s national president has since then visited the state three times. The party has centred its election campaign in the state around minority appeasement policies, the unkept promises made by the Telangana chief minister K Chandrashekar Rao (KCR), and his dynastic politics. The party has also been banking heavily on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, his achievements and the Centre’s contributions to Telangana. Very little is heard about their manifesto promises that hinge on alcohol prohibition, VAT reduction on fuel, and, of course, cows.
In 2014, the BJP contested the state elections along with their then ally Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and managed to bag just 5 seats for themselves. However, the party is contesting solo this time around. Political observers say this could dampen the chances of increasing the seat share for a party that is already perceived as weak in the state
“The BJP stands no chance, it doesn’t make any difference who campaigns for them, not even Narendra Modi’s speeches will help them win. In the past four years, the Telangana BJP has not made any efforts to strengthen the party on the ground,” points out political scientist Professor K Purushotham Reddy.
Even Amit Shah would agree with Prof Reddy on the state unit’s lacklustre engagement in politics. Earlier at an RSS Parivaar meeting in Hyderabad in July, Shah reportedly told his party cadre, “The good work of Narendra Modi is not being propagated well enough. You are not doing what you are expected to do, for which you get a monthly salary and have been given a vehicle to move around.”
Later that month, the Telangana BJP unit was left in an uncomfortable position when Prime Minister Narendra Modi praised KCR for his developmental initiatives on the Parliament floor during the no-confidence debate. “Disgruntlement within the party local leadership has decreased a little only after Modi attacked KCR in his Nizamabad and Mahbubnagar speeches in November, but then again the people are not taking this move of the BJP seriously as Modi attacked the Congress using KCR as a platform, and not attacked KCR directly,” says Telakapalli Ravi, writer and political analyst.
The BJP has fielded candidates in all 119 Assembly constituencies just like in the 2014 state elections. Many of those candidates who lost the last elections are again contesting in this time’s election. When a senior BJP leader was asked why many of these losing candidates were fielded again, he replied, “The party has a rigorous candidate selection process and all candidate profiles were selected based on party loyalty and the work they have done for the party.”
To promote their largely unpopular line up of candidates, the national party has been importing leaders from Delhi.
Union ministers Nitin Gadkari, Rajnath Singh, Jual Oram, Sadhvi Niranjan Jyothi are just a few of the orators the party has roped in for the Telangana election campaign. Among chief ministers, Yogi Adityanath and Raman Singh are the most notable names.
“Most of these leaders who they bring in have no direct connection with the public, the high-profile names may just pull the crowds,” says Ravi, pointing out that union minister Sushma Swaraj was not fully utilised. “Earlier people would call Sonia Gandhi “amma” and Sushma Swaraj as “chinnamma”, that kind of pun intended terminology is missing this time. “Sushma came just as a ritual, she is a great orator but certainly being sidelined,” he adds.
When Sushma Swaraj campaigned in November, her attack on KCR’s family politics and India-Pakistan relations made news as part of a press conference only. Her poll campaign effort was limited to a mahila sammelan meeting at Medchal Assembly constituency that did not receive much attention.
Analysts are of the view that the national party has been reduced to a ‘shadow party’ in Telangana, focused on trying to keep the Congress and the People's Front out of power.
Prof Reddy points out that the reason the BJP is weak in Telangana is their lack of participation in issues related to the public. “The BJP often brings in people who are successful in their career for an intellectual discussion. They range from army personnel to celebrities, but these invitees do not work and connect with the locals, their reach is limited to certain circles. They never took up any public issue, they never bothered about the people, then why should the people bother about them?” he asks.
“My vote is for the TDP,” says Ramulu who voted for the party in 2014 too and is still upset with Talasani Srinivas Yadav, who won from Sanathnagar on a TDP ticket but later defected to the TRS. “At least in this constituency, people vote for the party and not the candidate,” says the tea seller, hinting at a TDP win in Sanathnagar.
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