The BJP runs coordinated election campaigns on the streets with the precision of a surgeon’s knife – from Union Ministers to booth level karyakartas trained and assigned specific roles to win booths.

A collage of KCR and Narendra Modi
news Opinion Tuesday, November 24, 2020 - 13:37

After Karnataka, where? That was the million-dollar question for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and they might have just found an answer – Hyderabad, Telangana. The BJP operates strategically. Plays the long game, operating in stealth for many years before they take off and run well-coordinated campaigns on mainstream media social media and put in the hard work on the ground. Once they become a serious contender, they are willing to do whatever political adjustments needed to seize power. Remember Jammu & Kashmir? North East?

Hyderabad is always going to be a battleground for the BJP because of the presence of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM). The BJP seem to have recently found a formula to expedite things and capitalise on long-term investments based on prevailing local conditions. They always had this formula, but now have unprecedented resources to execute things on the ground and on air than ever before. The recent Dubbaka bye-election was a major victory for the BJP as it signalled to the party that the formula is working.

The formula has two aspects. One, create Hindutva sentiment that dwarfs all other issues, distracts opposition, resets media narrative. Two, run coordinated election campaigns on the streets with the precision of a surgeon’s knife – from Union Ministers to booth level karyakartas trained and assigned specific roles to win booths. Not constituencies, but booths. If all else fails, the time-tested Operation Kamala will enter the scene.

This takes enormous amounts of cash and feet on the ground, both of which the BJP can now mobilise better than ever before. Nearly 2,000 BJP members from different states assembled in Dubbaka to ensure victory in the bye-election. While BJP workers from UP and MP were assigned booths in the Rajarajeswari Nagara bye-election in Bengaluru, the campaign for the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) is headed by Bhupendra Yadav, who just steered the BJP to victory in Bihar. One can imagine the array of star campaigners.

The Hindutva campaign doesn’t need cash but a few loudmouths willing to sacrifice the dignity of public political speech to garner headlines and go viral on WhatsApp spreading hate. Here the headquarters plays a big role, constantly manufacturing stories and raking up issues like ‘Love Jihad’ that play in everyone’s minds everywhere. Local leaders then spring into action to localise the messages and bring up issues, all the way from accusing the sitting Chief Minister of links to terrorism to demanding changing a city’s name.

Why is Telangana the best bet?

While Amit Shah might have forced the big boys of the AIADMK in Tamil Nadu to publicly declare allegiance to the BJP just this week, the BJP knows it will take another 20 years to even dream of forming the government on their own in the state. Kerala is work in progress and may take a decade to even become a contender, thanks to the demographics. Andhra Pradesh has good prospects but no AIMIM and a friendly CM whose party is an undeclared member of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) makes it difficult to go after and create anti-sentiment.

Telangana, though, is an open field. The Telugu Desam Party (TDP) is dead. The Congress is around but suffering from usual Congress problems – too many leaders and too few workers. The Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) is in its second straight term; early signs of anti-incumbency are visible already and Dubbaka proves that the party can be beaten. Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao’s (KCR) strategy of recruiting anyone and everyone from all other parties left a political vacuum for BJP leaders to step in and position themselves as the primary opposition even though their vote share or seat share doesn’t quite justify it.

The BJP probably believes that the best chance to form a government in the south is Telangana 2023 and the GHMC polls are the semi-final to test that theory; hence the massive focus on a city corporation election from national leaders, which is rare even for the BJP.

KCR, the ultimate political strategist that he is, can see through this, and tried to disrupt the BJP by leveraging his power to suddenly announce elections giving very little time to the opposition, and jumping into the campaign himself personally, which he notably did not do in the last GHMC election which the TRS won hands down. Winning the GHMC polls is not going to be enough for KCR, he knows the stakes are very high and he cannot afford to be seen as losing even mindshare.

The BJP knows it can’t win GHMC outright; even if it wins majority seats in the 150-member council, it still can’t get the Mayor post as the TRS already has the unassailable power of ex-officio members that will tip the Mayor election in their favour.

Elections to a city corporation haven’t been this hotly contested in decades. But the unfortunate part of all this is that the very purpose of this election, the governance of one of India’s fastest growing cities, is not the primary focus. Citizens of Hyderabad were hoping to see urban floods debated but they are flooded with meaningless challenges and accusations.

Does the BJP’s march in the south find a footing in Telangana? We will get some clues on December 4.

Srinivas Alavilli was a software engineer and political worker and civic activist in his past life and now works in the development sector. Views expressed are the author's own.

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