The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has seen a significant jump in its seat share in the Telangana Assembly elections 2023. From winning just one seat in 2018, its tally has gone up to eight seats this time, mainly in the northern Telangana region bordering Maharashtra and Karnataka. A range of reasons could be attributed to the BJP’s rise in these parts, from communal polarisation to anti-incumbency, focus on local issues and a pro-BJP ecosystem.
BJP has gained new seats in Sirpur, Adilabad, Mudhole, Nirmal, Nizamabad (Urban), Kamareddy, and Armur, while controversial legislator Raja Singh retained Goshamahal in Hyderabad.
The most surprising result is in Kamareddy, where a relatively unknown candidate, Katipally Venkata Ramana Reddy, has managed to defeat two bigwigs – Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao, and Congress state president and now frontrunner for the CM post, Revanth Reddy.
While this could also be partly due to communal polarisation, a major issue in the region has been the government’s Kamareddy draft master plan which proposed expanding the town by merging agricultural lands in surrounding areas. The farmers responded with a major agitation, and even threatened to file hundreds of nominations to disrupt KCR’s chances after he announced his plan to contest from Kamareddy. Following this, outgoing Municipal Administration and Urban Development Minister KT Rama Rao assured to withdraw the draft plan.
“The movement against the Kamareddy master plan bolstered Venkata Ramana Reddy’s image, as he fought on behalf of the farmers. More than BJP’s image, his success is possibly due to his involvement in the movement, which helped him establish a solid base in the rural areas around Kamareddy,” said former TNM journalist Charan Teja who hails from the region. He added that the BJP had also worked on mobilising local unemployed youth from BC and privileged caste groups along communal lines.
Academic and political analyst K Nageshwar noted in his analysis of the Telangana election results that some of the constituencies where BJP has seen gains – especially Nizamabad (Urban) — have a high Muslim population. Here, BJP’s Dhanpal Suryanarayana defeated Congress leader and former Minister Mohammed Ali Shabbir by a wide margin. Shabbir was originally meant to contest from Kamareddy, where he had won twice in 1989 and 2004. But with KCR entering the fray in his place, Congress fielded Revanth Reddy from there.
Nirmal and Mudhole constituencies, both of which come under the Nirmal district, have always had a significant BJP presence, and have also been prone to communal tensions, along with parts of Nizamabad. Bhainsa, which falls under Nirmal district and Mudhole constituency, witnessed communal clashes in 2020 and 2021, among the few such rare occurrences in the state. The BJP’s gains in these areas seem to be a direct result of the communal polarisation.
Adilabad, Nizamabad, Nirmal, and Bhainsa along Maharashtra’s border have also witnessed communal polarisation attempts by the BJP, particularly by erecting statues of the late king Chhatrapati Shivaji, projecting him as a ‘Hindu icon’, especially to mobilise BC youth.
Like the rest of Telangana, Nirmal district has a significant BC population. Rama Rao Patel Pawar, who won from Mudhole, was a Congress leader who switched to BJP about a year ago. The BC leader defeated sitting BRS MLA Gaddigari Vittal Reddy by a huge margin. In Adilabad too, BJP’s Payal Shankar defeated sitting BRS MLA Jogu Ramanna.
While the exact vote share will become clear only later, political observer Palwai Raghavendra Reddy pointed out that BJP has almost doubled its vote share from just about 7% in 2018 to around 15% in 2023.
“This is primarily due to the consolidation of the Hindutva vote in segments where Congress failed to field a strong candidate who would defeat the BRS nominee. In north Telangana, BRS failed on its promises to tribal people (over podu lands) and to Dalits (over the Dalit Bandhu scheme). Moreover, BJP’s strong campaign over the past five years led to the saffron party gaining ground,” he said. He added that historically, north Telangana has been a fertile ground for the right-wing party, and efforts put in by the RSS, Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram, and other groups created a “pro-BJP ecosystem” which has paid rich dividends in an election with a strong anti-incumbency wave.
“Another key factor is the Telangana sentiment itself. While the north Telangana districts were considered a safe zone for KCR's party, the disorientation of people in this region, and Congress' failure to tap into the changing mood here to help the BJP gain more ground,” he said.
In Nizamabad, one of the major election issues has been the demand for a Turmeric Board. This longstanding demand of turmeric farmers also led to the defeat of CM KCR's daughter Kavitha in the 2019 Nizamabad Lok Sabha elections. She was defeated by BJP MP Dharmapuri Arvind, whose unfulfilled promise of a turmeric board remained a major point of contention since then. But on a recent visit to Telangana, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that the Union government has finally initiated steps to set up a National Turmeric Board in Nizamabad. Both Nizamabad (Urban) and Armur fall under this district, where the sitting BRS MLAs have been dethroned by BJP’s Dhanpal Suryanarayana and Paidi Rakesh Reddy.
Sirpur is the constituency Telangana Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief RS Praveen Kumar contested from. He came in third, trailing behind BJP’s Palvai Harish Babu and BRS’ Koneru Konappa, polling in 44646 votes. In an interview with TNM, RSP said that he chose to contest from there because the people of Sirpur “desire to be liberated from the clutches of Andhra landlords,” referring to sitting BRS MLA Koneru Konappa’s leadership.
Goshamahal was perhaps the most expected win for the BJP. MLA Raja Singh, who is infamous for his communally polarising statements and has been booked in several hate speech cases, was suspended by the BJP’s central leadership last year for passing derogatory comments against Prophet Mohammed which triggered widespread protests in Hyderabad. His suspension was revoked only recently, a day before BJP announced its first list of candidates which included him. Raja Singh continued with his hate speeches in the lead-up to the elections as well.
Interestingly enough, the biggest wins for the BJP were of relatively unknown leaders. Prominent leaders like Huzurabad MLA Eatala Rajender, ex-state BJP chief and Karimnagar MP Bandi Sanjay, Dubbak MLA Madavaneni Raghunandan Rao, and other MPs including Soyam Bapu Rao, and Dharmapuri Arvind, faced a defeat.