As the dust settles on the Lok Sabha elections, there is no doubt that history has been created. A jump of 6% in vote share from the previous Lok Sabha election is unprecedented and surely sent the government’s detractors into a tizzy. While there has been much talk about the BJP’s success in the Hindi Heartland and its meteoric rise in Bengal and Odisha, there’s one state which has surprisingly slipped under the radar. KCR was expected to sweep Telangana owing to his complete decimation in just concluded Assembly elections and in the case of a hung verdict, propel him to the post of Deputy Prime Minister. Unfortunately for KCR, it wasn’t the case and BJP’s unexpected gains in Telangana is sure to give him sleepless nights. BJP has largely been a fringe player in this state, trying to get a toehold. TRS was expected to sweep the state but it somehow managed to reduce its tally from 11 to 9 in the Lok Sabha elections. In 2014, the BJP could only bag one seat(Secunderabad) in Telangana but this time the party has managed to win 4 of the 17 Telangana Lok Sabha seats including the scalp of KCR’s daughter K Kavitha from Nizamabad.
Before the elections, it would have been preposterous to even think, that KCR’s daughter would have lost her seat and that too to the BJP. The BJP had never won the seat since 1952. K Kavitha had clinched Nizamabad convincingly in 2014 with over 1,50,000 votes and her party Telangana Rashtra Samiti(TRS), had won all the seven segments in the December Assembly elections, that too with thumping margins. However, the seeds of unrest had begun in January itself, with farmers upset of the KCR government’s unfulfilled promises especially of setting up a turmeric board being turned into a burning issue. This led to 185 turmeric farmers filing their nominations from Nizamabad and this proved to be Kavitha’s undoing. Together they polled 94,653 votes leading to K Kavitha’s defeat by a margin of over 70,000 votes to the BJP’s Dharmapuri Aravind who was contesting elections for the first time. Kavitha was seen to be unperturbed by the agrarian distress which was capitalised upon by the BJP when Ram Madhav promised to have a Turmeric Board within 15 days if the BJP was voted to power. Her refusal to hike the price of Red Jowar was the final nail in the coffin and the farmers had decided to vote against TRS. It came down to either Congress, the principal opposition or BJP, riding high on the Modi factor. Ultimately, the Modi factor triumphed which led to Aravind’s thumping victory.
This defeat will come as a body blow to brand KCR as his national ambitions lie in tatters. In a matter of just four months, BJP’s vote share increased from 7% to 20% in Telangana. The magnitude of KCR’s daughter’s defeat is significant thus denting the invincible image of KCR. There were murmurs of a tie-up between BJP and TRS, but they were soon laid to rest by KCR in the run-up to the assembly elections and his efforts of forming a Federal Front. That’s when the BJP decided to up the ante against KCR. Nizamabad was supposed to be a safe seat for the party as it has a sizeable chunk of the Muslim electorate which was widely expected to rally behind Kavitha especially with AIMIM being an ally of the TRS. The BJP had decided to strike KCR where it would hurt the most and strategically chose Nizamabad where Amit Shah also held a rally. The arrogance of Kavitha also played a role in her defeat. Telangana is part of the Mission-7 states listed out by Amit Shah for expansion, which traditionally have been a difficult state to crack. It is said that with these results, Telangana is set to be the second southern state where BJP’s entry will change the equations after Karnataka. Congress after it’s demoralising rout in the assembly elections, wasn’t up for a fight especially in Nizamabad and the BJP gained from Congress’s unwillingness to fight. Such was the magnitude of BJP’s victory that the Congress candidate Madhu Goud lost his security deposit.
The BJP’s second scalp in the state was Karimnagar, which is a very interesting case. Karimnagar earlier used to be KCR’s seat during his days in Lok Sabha. So much was KCR’s confidence that he declared TRS Karimnagar candidate B Vinod Kumar, a possible Union Minister in case the Federal Front came to power. Vinod Kumar is a part of KCR’s inner circle and even attended KCR’s meeting with MK Stalin. All that BJP needed to be was one error to pounce on TRS. KCR during a rally in Karimnagar made derogatory comments on Hindus, inviting an Election Commission notice. The move was aimed at attracting the 12% Muslim electorate. But this statement proved to be TRS’s undoing in Karimnagar as BJP successfully attempted reverse polarisation and reaped rich rewards. Be it the Congress or TRS, whoever is in power in Telangana have managed a cordial relationship with Owaisi’s AIMIM. They don’t touch his stronghold in Hyderabad in return for the majority chunk of the Muslim vote in the rest of the state. But with this statement, it seemed that KCR had crossed a line. KCR in a desperate bid to preach minority appeasement made Mahmood Ali his deputy Chief Minister. Like Bengal, BJP made Muslim appeasement politics its major plank in the state and going by the results, it seemed KCR faced a huge backlash from the Hindu community and ended up losing the prestige battle in Karimnagar to BJP’s candidate Bandi Sanjay Kumar. Interestingly, he had unsuccessfully contested the assembly elections from Karimnagar in December. However, Bandi Sanjay Kumar defeated Vinod Kumar by a margin of over 90,000 votes.
In Adilabad, the BJP broke convention by fielding an Adivasi, Soyam Bapu Rao a Congress dissident. The parliamentary seat encompasses seven assembly segments and what makes it a spectacular victory is the fact that TRS’s candidate Nagesh was third in Khanapur and Nirmal assembly segments, despite the fact that TRS had its MLAs in all the seven assembly segments. Nagesh led in only two of the seven assembly segments and finished second only by about 4,00 votes. His poor track record as MP also severely hindered his chances.
Secunderabad was the lone Lok Sabha seat that the BJP captured in Telangana and hence it was imperative that BJP keep hold of the seat at all costs to harbour any intentions of expanding in the state. Bandaru Dattatreya had won the seat in 2014 by over 2,00,00 votes but wasn’t given a ticket owing to the party policy of promoting the younger candidates. In came, G Kishan Reddy who defeated T Sai Kiran by over 62,000 votes. Reddy had lost Amberpet assembly election by a little over 1,000 votes. In what can be said a resounding slap on dynastic politics, T Sai Kiran is the son of TRS leader and minister T Srinivas Yadav and was defeated convincingly by Reddy. Secunderabad still remains out of the grasp of TRS, with the party never been able to win the constituency.
None of the BJP candidates had ever won a Lok Sabha election and with BJP winning just one assembly seat in the December elections, the unprecedented surge of the party played a spoilsport to TRS’s plans of winning 16 seats and sending KCR to Delhi. It could only muster 9 seats while supporting Owaisi in Hyderabad. Hyderabad is known as an impenetrable stronghold of AIMIM but at various rounds of counting, Owaisi was found trailing, summing up BJP’s meteoric rise in a space of months. One sentiment that was found common in all the seats won by the BJP especially in Nizamabad was that the vote was against the KCR family than the BJP candidate, signalling alarm bells for KCR. The BJP lost deposits in 100 seats out of the total 117 seats in the Assembly elections and it seems the party has come out a long way in just four months. The party was leading in 30 assembly seats in the Lok Sabha elections, creating a fertile political space for the BJP. Be it Owaisi trailing or the magnitude of BJP’s wins, it’s clear that a solid consolidation of the Hindu vote did take place which severely dented the TRS. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP was in an alliance with the Telugu Desam Party(TDP) in Telangana and never focused its resources in the state, aiming to piggyback on TDP. Fast forward five years and now BJP in Telangana alone has more seats than TDP has managed to muster in the entire country. The breaking away from the TDP has certainly helped the party in the state. Telangana is increasingly mirroring the situation in West Bengal, albeit it is much more peaceful. BJP has five years to shore up its organisational strength to upset KCR’s cart in the next assembly elections. But for that to happen, a recognisable face to lead the party in Telangana is imperative to challenge a tall leader like KCR.
If BJP could increase its vote share in double digits in a space of just four months, imagine what the party can do with sustained efforts in five years. Things are looking ominous for the KCR-led TRS.