From winning just one Assembly seat in 2018 to becoming principal contestant to the ruling BRS in 2023, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has seen a dramatic rise in its political fortunes in Telangana.
The saffron party, which was confined to a few urban pockets a few years ago, is today confident that Telangana will become its second gateway into South India after Karnataka.
After winning four Lok Sabha seats in 2019, the BJP continued its forward march and consolidated its position by winning two Assembly by-elections and posting an impressive performance in Greater Hyderabad’s municipal elections.
In the 2018 Assembly elections held a few months before they were originally scheduled, TRS had retained power by winning 88 seats. BJP could win just one. It finished second in only nine constituencies, and in most of the seats its candidates forfeited the deposit.
However, BJP sprang a surprise in the Lok Sabha elections held a few months later. The party not only retained Secunderabad, but also wrested three other seats from TRS — Karimnagar, Nizamabad and Adilabad.
Two wins in byelections had also given a boost to BJP. However, BJP’s hopes to score a hat-trick of byelection victories in Munugode were dashed by the Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) in November last year.
The saffron camp was looking to gain a psychological edge ahead of the Assembly elections by winning Munugode after imposing a bypoll with the resignation of sitting MLA Komatireddy Rajagopal Reddy of the Congress in August last year.
The importance attached to this bypoll by the BJP was evident from the fact that Home Minister Amit Shah had personally visited Munugode to welcome Rajagopal Reddy into the BJP and urged people to elect him.
Shah had also predicted that within a month of Rajagopal’s win, TRS government in the state would collapse.
The BJP was confident as a similar strategy had paid off in Huzurabad in 2021. Eatala Rajender, who had defected to the BJP after being dropped from the state Cabinet, won the seat as BJP candidate.
The Huzurabad win came a year after the BJP won the first byelection in Dubbak by a narrow margin to wrest the seat from TRS.
Impressive performance in the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) polls in 2021 had also boosted the saffron party’s morale.
The party, which roped in its top central leaders including Amit Shah and President J.P. Nadda for an aggressive campaign, drastically improved its tally in the 150-member municipal body to 48 from just four in the previous elections.
Following the victories, the saffron party started to see a realistic chance for itself in the coming elections and it is for this reason that the party is pumping in all its energy here.
Hectic activities in the party camp during the last few months, a series of visits by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Shah, Nadda and several Union ministers indicate the importance the party is giving to Telangana.
The BJP’s focus on Telangana is also because of Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao eyeing a key role in national politics and turning his party TRS into BRS for pan-India expansion.
As the BRS chief is also taking the initiative to bring together anti-BJP parties on a common platform at the national level, the saffron party will go all out to check him on his home turf.
It is no wonder that several Union ministers and senior BJP leaders are making a beeline to the state.
Political analysts believe that the BJP is looking to continue the tempo built last year with a series of visits by party top guns and party programmes.
The Prime Minister himself is expected to lead the efforts by addressing a public meeting in Hyderabad in February.
The BJP is looking to unleashing an aggressive blitz. In the next few days, several Union ministers are scheduled to descend on Telangana.
As the elections draw nearer, the saffron party is likely to intensify its efforts to capitalise on sensitive issues for polarisation along religious lines.
The BJP has been raking up emotive issues which could help in garnering votes of the majority community, especially in constituencies in and around Hyderabad and other urban pockets of the state.
After Bandi Sanjay became the state BJP President in 2020, the party went into an overdrive to draw political mileage from sensitive issues.
In what is seen as an attempt to challenge AIMIM on its home turf, Sanjay launched his statewide Praja Sangram Yatra from Bhagyalaxmi temple abutting historic Charminar.
In fact, this temple, whose legality was questioned several times in the past sparking communal tensions, has become the focal point of BJP’s politics over the last couple of years.
However, BJP’s Mission 2023 may be impeded by crowded political space in the state. The presence of multiple parties may lead to split of anti-incumbency votes, thus helping the BRS.
As a party claiming to be the only viable alternative to BRS and which believes that it can come to power on its own, the BJP may be averse to the idea of pre-poll alliance.
Political observers say that BJP will focus on north Telangana, the region which gave the party three Lok Sabha seats in 2019. The party will also eye a sizeable number of seats in Greater Hyderabad and the districts surrounding it.
“Though BJP does not have a strong presence on ground in several constituencies, its leaders believe it can come to power because of strong anti-incumbency. The party is building a narrative that it will be a BRS versus BJP election,” said political observer Palwai Raghavendra Reddy.