Telangana, once known for the armed uprisings and peasant struggles, since its formation as a new state in 2014, has become a citadel of Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), now rechristened as Bharath Rashtra Samithi (BRS), a regional party inheriting the legacy of decades-long struggles and agitations for an independent state bifurcating ‘Vishal Andhra’ (undivided Andhra Pradesh). Around 3.17 crore voters are scheduled to exercise their franchise on November 30, 2023, to elect 119 members to the State Assembly.
Out of the 3 distinct regions (Coastal Andhra, Rayalaseema and Telangana) of undivided Andhra Pradesh, Telangana was the most backward and underdeveloped area for decades, with issues of social, economic, linguistic, political and cultural exploitation. While parts of South Telangana remained almost barren with an acute shortage of power and irrigation waters, North Telangana, a citadel of different Left Wing Extremists groups, notably the People’s War Group/CPI-Maoists, had been a battlefield for many years. These factors had contributed to the protracted movement/ struggles for the separate state.
Of the 33 districts of Telangana, around half of them are facing varying degrees of threat from the Left Extremist groups. Of the total population in Telangana, over 85 percent are Hindus; 13 percent Muslims and around 1.5 percent Christians. The Reddys and Vellamas are the landed forward castes. More than 75 percent of the total population belong to subaltern groups such as OBCs- 50 percent, Dalits-16 percent and STs- 9.5 percent. These sections, especially Malla and Madiga (SCs), Chenchus, Lamadas (STs) Gouds, Yadavs and Munnuru Kapus (OBCs) play a decisive role in state politics. There are 31 reserved seats – SCs (19) and STs (12).
The genesis and the growth of the TRS can be traced to the mass movement in the Telangana region of the undivided Andhra Pradesh for the formation of a separate state. While the intellectuals, civil-society outfits and sections of political leaders in the Telangana region laid the foundation of the movement for separate Telangana, soft-spoken K Chandrasekhara Rao, popularly known as ‘KCR’ became the face of the ‘Separate Telangana Movement’ by floating the TRS in 2001. His ‘Fast unto Death campaign’ in November 2009, reminiscent of the historic fast unto death by Potti Sriramulu in 1952 demanding a separate state of Andhra Pradesh, had elevated him to the status of the great hero of Telangana. The rest was the history of the spectacular growth of the TRS as well as ‘KCR’.
The TRS showed its strength during the maiden elections to the state in 2014 by capturing 63 seats (34 percent votes) in 119-member state assembly. The Congress won 21 seats (25 percent votes); the Telugu Desam Party -15 (14. 5 percent votes), the AIMIM-7 (3.7 percent votes), the BJP- 5 (7 percent) and others-8 (15.6 percent). Significantly, after 5 years, the party improved its position by winning 88 seats (46. 9 percent votes) during the 2018 assembly polls. Though Congress has increased its vote share by over 3 percent, its tally of seats has come down to 19. The BJP won 1 seat with 7 percent votes. The AIMIM maintained status-quo and won 7 seats with almost the same percentage of votes as in 2014. The TDP which has been declining its support in Andhra and Telangana got 2 seats. The general debacle of the Congress during the 2019 Lok Sabha polls has reflected in Telangana, where over two dozen MLAs have deserted the party and joined other parties. The strength of the Congress legislature party has reduced to 5.
One noticeable trend during the last two Assembly elections in the State was the dominating influence of the TRS/BRS among the major subaltern groups, notably Dalits, Adivasis and sections of OBCs belonging to the agrarian sector. In 2018, out of the 31 Reserved seats, the TRS won 22 seats (SC- 16, ST-6). The party has enhanced its strength to 28 when 4 ST and 2 SC legislators from other parties joined the BRS. The present election strategy of the BRS is to maintain the status quo for which they have announced several welfare measures/schemes to these sections. Some of these measures include: enhancement of reservation of STs from 4 to 10 percent, an extension of Dalit Bandhu scheme for more families- a financial grant of 10 lakhs to eligible Dalit families, launching of Girijan Bandhu for landless tribals and ownership rights on ‘Podu lands’ to tribals. Moreover, cultural festivals, literary fests, community meetings, etc. of different Tribal/ Dalit castes have been organised at different places. Recently, Adivasi Bhavan, Banjara Bhavan with modern amenities have been opened in Banjara/ Jubilee Hills of Hyderabad for the tribals to organise cultural functions free of cost. The new Telangana Secretariat complex is named after Dr BD Ambedkar. Above all, many prominent Dalit/ Tribal/OBC leaders in BRS have been accommodated as State Ministers, MLAs or elected to the Local Self Governing (LSG) bodies. The party has fielded over two dozen members of these groups as candidates in the impending elections.
The Congress, the main opponent of the BRS, also targets the above subaltern groups, besides the Muslims who have their pockets in more than three dozen constituencies. Its main propaganda is to the effect that many of the BRS welfare programmes for these groups were not effectively implemented on the ground and failed to reach the real beneficiaries due to corruption and mis-governance. To this effect, the party alleges that the BRS’ much-propagated Rythu Bandhu Scheme for farmers, has excluded tenant farmers and landless workers, whereas it was extended to the middle-class/ well-off farmers. Instead, the Congress has come out with alternative schemes and guarantees for the poor sections of farmers, Dalits, Adivasis and backward communities. Through such campaigns, the effort of the Congress is to project the BRS, as a party of the elite-landed gentry, whose rhetoric on the welfare and development of the subaltern groups in the state is nothing but propaganda. The party, to a great extent, could send this message across the state during the ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’ and the subsequent organisational campaigns. Despite its serious debacle in the 2019 LS polls and the subsequent defection of more than one dozen MLAs, the party could make some headway in building up its organisation at the grassroots level.
On the other hand, the BJP is struggling hard to maintain its support base. The only matter of consolation for the party is its performance in the 2020 Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) elections in which the BJP came second by capturing 48 seats in the 150-member Council. In an attempt to revamp the party, Kishan Reddy, the Central Minister was appointed as the new State president. Its main endeavour is to make inroads into the Dalit voters, especially the Madiga community, which constitutes over 50 percent of the total SC population in the state. The strategy of the party is to work out a consensus formula on the long pending demand of Madiga for more reservation in contrast to the socially and economically advanced Malas, who enjoyed more reservation facilities in undivided Andhra for decades. Despite best efforts by mainstream parties, including the BRS, decades-long intercommunity conflicts between the Malas (SC group) and Madiga on reservation issue remain unresolved. However, the organised propaganda by the Congress and other parties that the BJP has been functioning as the ‘B-Team’ of the BRS has marginally eroded its support base. Since the first elections in the state in 2014, the BJP vote share in Telangana remained almost static by 7 percent except in 2019 LS polls when its share had multiplied by almost threefold. This was largely due to the popular image of Prime Minister Modi, which the BJP uses extensively in the impending elections. The All India Majlis-e-Ittehadu Muslimeen (AIMIM) which has its main pockets of influence in the Old city of Hyderabad and its suburbs, is also in the fray by fielding 9 candidates. The party which has been traditionally winning more than half a dozen seats in this area is likely to repeat the trend.
Unlike the past assembly elections when the TRS/BRS virtually dominated the scene, the rejuvenated Congress has posed some challenges to the BRS. This challenge arises not out of the organisational strength or its mass support, but due to the dynastic-feudalistic image of the BRS which has evoked considerable discontentment and frustration among intellectual groups, civil society organisations, NGOs, Dalit organisations and rural folk which were the backbone of the ‘Telangana movement’ that had paved the way for the emergence of the TRS to power. Many such bodies like Revolutionary Writers Association (RWA) led by prominent leaders like poet Gaddar or the Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee (APCLC)/ Peoples’ Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Centre for Telangana Studies or NGOs like ‘ Laya’, ‘ASMITA’, etc. which were actively associated with statehood movement are critical of the functioning of the BRS/ state government. A few prominent leaders from such outfits have extended support to the Congress and entered the election fray under the banner of the party. More than the anti-incumbency factor, the dynastic-feudalistic image of the BRS and its hierarchy has alienated the party from sections of its traditional supporters. Capitalising on such issues, the Congress, no doubt, attracts some of these disgruntled sections to their camp. Added to this are the pro-corporate policies and allegations of corruption against the senior leaders of the BRS. But the crucial question is whether Congress can fill the gap of over 18 percent of votes between it and the TRS in the 2018 Assembly polls. It appears to be a herculean task unless there is a strong ‘Pro-Congress wave’, especially among the subaltern groups. At the same time the parties like the BJP, the Leftists and the AIMIM play a ‘spoilt game’ in the elections to checkmate the flow of anti-BRS votes to the Congress camp.
Views expressed by the author are personal and need not reflect or represent the views of the Centre for Public Policy Research.