In light of the vociferous campaign by the Congress in Telangana and the increased anti-incumbency against the ruling Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS), the top brass of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is re-strategising its plan for Telangana to win a higher number of seats than projected to push for a hung Assembly, two senior BJP leaders told The Quint.
"If you cannot play to win, then you play to be a spoiler," said a senior BJP leader, who has previously been a Member of Parliament, indicating the party's intent to split votes.
The nuts and bolts of this blueprint was finalised on Thursday, 19 October, at the BJP's election committee meet attended by Home Minister Amit Shah, national general secretary BL Santhosh, state in-charge Tarun Chugh, and the three state leaders – G Kishan Reddy, Bandi Sanjay Kumar, and Rajya Sabha MP K Laxman.
The meeting was also convened to discuss and finalise the first list of candidates which will be announced by the state leadership before Dussehra. About 20-25 names are expected to feature in the first list, with the names of the remaining candidates to be announced towards the end of the month.
'Took Inputs From Senior Leaders'
In the election scheduled for 30 November, the BJP is looking at winning at least 25 seats in order to play the spoilsport and hold the trump card to who will form the government in the state, according to another leader who has knowledge of the meeting in Delhi.
From focused campaigns by central ministers in winnable constituencies to backing its candidates with enough resources to contest and win the seats, the saffron party has taken inputs from senior local leaders, The Quint has learnt.
"I have collated inputs from close to 10 senior leaders from our party and have placed it before the central leadership. We have spoken of how we can make the most of the anti-incumbency against the BRS and focus on specific issues in constituencies where the Congress has a higher chance of winning," said the former MP who is now with the BJP.
What Prompted a Strategy Rethink?
The initial rumblings of the possibility of a hung Assembly were brought up by BL Santhosh during the all-hands party meeting in the first week of October when BJP president JP Nadda and several other leaders from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the BJP addressed about 1,000 party leaders from all mandals, talukas, and districts.
While laying out an electioneering strategy for the state, BL Santhosh predicted a hung Assembly, stating that he was confident about the party coming to power in the state.
While this was initially dismissed by many political analysts and BJP party workers themselves, a few pertinent developments prompted the top brass to rethink their game plan in the state.
"The Congress' vociferous campaign and a steady increase in the number of BRS leaders joining the party has made the BJP sit up and take notice of the Congress targeting a win or vying to be a strong second. This is what makes the BJP interested in a hung Assembly," said Prof E Venkateswarlu from the Hyderabad Central University.
It is important to note here that there has never been an uncertain verdict in united Andhra Pradesh since 1956. The Telugu-speaking population has always given a clear majority to one party or the other during an election year.
Until the advent of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in 1982, the contest was between the Congress and the Communist parties, and after 1982, it was always between the TDP and the Congress until Telangana was formed.
An Internal Crisis?
Political surveys conducted by reputed third-party agencies and internal electoral committees of the three parties (BRS, Congress, and BJP) have indicated that there would be a change in the way the electorate is going to cast its vote this season. In fact, the ABP C-Voter poll highlights the possibility of an unclear verdict, citing just a 5-6 percent difference in the vote share between the BRS and Congress.
"It is this margin that the BJP is looking to net in certain constituencies and I see this being much more than a nuisance and a serious worry for the BRS especially," Prof Venkatewarlu said.
What has also forced the BJP to play for bronze while simultaneously eyeing gold is the likelihood of splitting votes in case of a multi-party fight in close to 30 constituencies. The entry of the Telangana TDP, YSR Telangana Party, and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) fielding candidates heightens the feasibility of a disbursed voting pattern where no candidate is able to win with a convincing majority.
'If I cannot win, I will not anyone win' seems to be the BJP's ploy in a few regions where it will be a close contest.
However, a few senior political observers point out that an internal crisis also prompted the national party to reconsider its strategy for Telangana. Almost 10 senior politicians who joined the BJP from various parties seemed to have expressed their displeasure about the party's preparation for the elections, with some even threatening to quit the BJP.
Vivek Venkatswamy, Konda Vishweshwar Reddy, actress Vijayashanti, Enugu Ravinder Reddy, and Komatireddy Venkat Reddy, in fact, skipped the all-hands meet and Amit Shah's visit to Telangana, clearly demanding that the BJP accede to their requests of being a serious contender.
"That we all met is no secret. We had all our options open at that time, but we see more intent from the party now," said one of the these leaders whom The Quint spoke to.
In It To Win It
"Contrary to the speculation which speaks of our non-intent to put up a fight, we are resolute in our objective to win more seats in this election. We are focused on concentrating our efforts in a limited number of seats and win decisively from those constituencies," NV Subash, Telangana BJP spokesperson and grandson of former Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao, said.
This seems to be the dominant plan of action of the BJP in Telangana.
"The central ministers will be visiting only select constituencies and focus on a hard-nosed campaign to win decisively in these constituencies," said the senior BJP leader whose input has been considered by the party in Delhi.
While the BJP will field candidates in all 119 constituencies, a targeted approach will be focusing on Hyderabad and Greater Hyderabad regions where there are 24 seats. Here is where the party is looking to do an encore of Bengaluru in Hyderabad where it won 16 out of 28 seats in Bengaluru city and surrounding districts.
Susarla Nagesh, a senior journalist and political observer said, "One thing I can say that after the statements made by the Prime Minister during his visit to Hyderabad, it will have an impact and amplify the anti-incumbency among those who are already looking for an alternative to the BRS."
If you notice the change in the BJP's campaign language of late, they are vehemently criticising the BRS – and this will affect the BRS, he added.
The BJP is already taking many steps to ensure the dissident views are accommodated and those that are seen to create trouble over non-issuance of tickets are being rehabilitated. The appointment of the BJP old-timer Indrasena Reddy as Tripura's Governor is one move to free up the Malakpet seat from where Reddy has lost twice.
The alliance with Pawan Kalyan's Jana Sena Party is also seen as another step in the right direction where the BJP will look at cornering a higher number of Munnaru Kapu (a sub-caste of the OBCs) votes with the actor campaigning for the BJP.
"The BJP neither has a big sell-out manifesto nor a dominant presence in the state. After the Karnataka debacle, they cannot use their go-to campaign theme Hindutva either. Therefore, it has to rely on creating a political crisis, destabilise the order of things, and be preferred the coalition partner besides throwing its weight behind its two-dozen odd winnable candidates," said Susarla Nagesh.