It is just an election to a large civic body, the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC), with an electorate of close to 75 lakh spread over 150 divisions, but it feels like a war is underway.
The BJP is trying to hard sell itself for the GHMC elections by pressing its top guns like Union home minister Amit Shah, BJP president J.P. Nadda and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, besides a slew of union ministers, into service with an eye first on occupying the opposition space, and then to take a moonshot.
However, it is Chief Minister and Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) chief K. Chandrashekar Rao who has taken the battle to the enemy’s gate. His pitch of a “national alternative” and asserting that he would lead it from the front seems to be getting on to the nerves of the BJP.
A civic body poll drawing national attention is apparently a first-of-its-kind phenomenon in India, with the BJP amplifying its multi-frontal rhetoric, while Chandrashekar Rao is trying to wrestle the initiative.
In effect, both parties want to grab the space emptied by the “voluntary retirement” of the Congress. The TRS wants to lead the pack of opposition parties at the Centre, while the BJP’s objective seems to emerge as the principal opposition in Telangana.
The TRS has launched a diatribe against the BJP by charging it with attempting to destroy the peace and tranquility of the city and causing communal divide among people. Unfazed by the TRS attack, the BJP continues its rhetoric, with BJP state president Bandi Sanjay and union minister Smriti Irani coming up with a veiled threat that their party would launch “surgical strikes” to ensure Rohingya and Pakistanis are driven out.
The BJP is trying hard to establish a perception that TRS and MIM are partners in crime, even though the TRS has “distanced” itself from the Majlis. Minister for municipal administration K.T. Rama Rao, who is leading the TRS fight, tore into BJP leaders’ observations and sought to know what they meant by “surgical strikes”.
The TRS won 99 seats out of 150 in the outgoing civic body, while the AIMIM bagged 44. The BJP won a mere four divisions. However, the BJP thinks its stock has soared in Telangana over the last few years, especially after it won four out of 17 Lok Sabha seats in the 2019 general elections. The most shocking win was wresting the Nizamabad Lok Sabha seat, defeating Kalvakuntla Kavitha, daughter of Chief Minister Chandrashekar Rao.
Buoyed, BJP began to spread its tentacles. This ‘sense of arrival’ has been bolstered by an unprecedented victory in Dubbaka Assembly by-elections, even though by a wafer-thin majority. This irked CM Rao, who loves to maintain an upper hand over rivals in any election or byelection.
Basking in an afterglow of the Dubbaka victory, BJP set its eyes on GHMC elections. The TRS is now facing a new challenger in BJP in the urban civic polls, with the Congress having debilitated itself, leaving a vacuum. The Congress is now blaming its rivals –TRS, BJP and AIMIM for conniving with each other in all possible combinations.
As things stand, I personally think the TRS may not be dented too much in the GHMC polls. The TRS urban brand ambassador Rama Rao has been able to challenge rivals by showcasing numerous development and welfare schemes implemented in the city. TRS has taken up “able leadership and stable governance” as its slogan, harping largely on development.
Reliefs on taxes announced by the TRS government, especially slashing property taxes up to `15,000 a year by half and free drinking water to households up to 20,000 liters a month have attracted several citizens. Rama Rao’s roadshows are big hits, as compared to any other leader. Chandrashekar Rao will be addressing a massive public meeting, which could be a game changer.
In contrast to TRS development agenda, the first point in BJP’s manifesto was observing September 17 as Hyderabad Liberation Day, corona tests and vaccine for all; scrapping of Layout Regularisation Scheme, `25,000 flood relief to affected and free power to saloons.
The BJP housing program, as opposed to 100,000 2BHK houses promised by TRS, establishment of three women’s police stations per year, free ride for women in metro rail and city buses smack of BJP’s amnesia. As Rama Rao said, many of the BJP schemes are “copycat versions” of TRS development works.
While the BJP has succeeded in projecting the GHMC election as a fight between TRS and itself, Chandrashekar Rao has already projected himself as a “national alternative” to Narendra Modi. Time will tell, whether the BJP can better the pink party, or the TRS can actually mount a challenge to Hindutva.