Much to the dismay of Union Home Minister Amit Shah and other top leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) who appealed for a “Congress mukt Bharat” after the 2014 General Elections, early trends on Sunday showed that Congress would wrest the ruling Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) in Telangana—achieving its second victory in South India in almost six months. The grand old party’s win in Karnataka in May officially closed the gateway to South India for the BJP.
In what is being seen as a major setback for the K Chandrasekhar Rao-led BRS that has been in power since 2014, when Telangana was granted statehood, early trends show that Congress is leading in 65 out of the 119 seats in Telangana. The majority mark is 60 seats.
While it might be too early to predict the exact reasons why, upon Outlook’s ground visits to Telangana, a wave of disillusionment with the current leaders and their unfulfilled promises related to jobs and welfare schemes was noticed. Even as several BRS leaders claimed that there was no anti-incumbency against the KCR government, local journalists and election experts say that 10 years is too long for any government to be in power.
Are Congress’ Promises Working?
For many youths and women in Telangana, who were at the forefront of the agitation for a separate statehood, giving the BRS government a third term is not in their list of options. “We waited for 10 years for a job. They keep promising they will give and make elaborate promises right ahead of polls. Where were they all this time?” asks Mahendar, a government job aspirant from Telangana.
For many such job aspirants, hope lies within a change of the government. “The Congress government has promised to implement a job calendar and to form a committee to probe the cases of exam paper leaks. We see more initiative within this party,” Mahendar says.
While the BRS manifesto also promises a job calendar for government job recruitment, back-to-back exam cancellations or rescheduling of the TSPSC exam for government jobs in the past 10 years, has surely dented the image of the party.
Where is BJP in This Race?
While it is well-known that the BJP has a strong presence in the northern belt, Karnataka was a gateway for the party into South India where it has limited presence. Despite the grand roadshows and electoral campaigns of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, the BJP couldn’t make inroads into the region.
Apart from Karnataka, the BJP’s focus has always been on Telangana as well, in not-so-subtle ways. The civic body elections of Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHM) in 2020 witnessed a high-decibel campaign by the BJP leaders, with many election analysts agreeing that the election for the Hyderabad Mayor seat has never been so intense as it was then. Why then would national-level leaders like Modi, Amit Shah and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath come down to Hyderabad for a municipal election?
These BJP leaders used familiar rhetoric of promising to rename Hyderabad to Bhagyanagar; BJP MP Bandi Sanjay Kumar called for a “surgical strike not to kill but to weed out” Rohingyas, illegal immigrants from Pakistan and Afghanistan from the Old City. While there might not be any proof that these narratives had a hold over voters, the huge jump in seats for the BJP in the GHMC polls might indicate that its Hindutva rhetoric was gaining steam across some parts of the city.
Moreover, BJP’s vote share appears to have increased this time. In 2018, BJP won just one seat. But this time, early trends show that the BJP is leading in six seats. However, with Congress winning yet another state in the country ahead of the Lok Sabha elections in 2024, the goal of breaching the southern fortress in the way BJP wants to remains unfulfilled for the party.