Telangana Bypoll: Hope for TRS Defectors as Eatala Survives Standoff With KCR?
The BJP's Eatala Rajender's fight in Huzurabad was also a battle for political relevance without the TRS.
On 2 November, when counting neared conclusion in Huzurabad constituency in Telangana, a new political equation has emerged in the state where the regional party, Telangana Rashtra Samithi, has been ruling the roost since 2014.
As the Bharatiya Janata Party's Eatala Rajender emerged a winner with a margin of 23,255 votes in the constituency, it has become apparent that even without the TRS, leaders with ground support can make it big in the state. That is, Rajender who was with the TRS till he joined the BJP in July 2021, has shown the way by winning his home borough back.
Rajender was unceremoniously removed from his post as Health Minister of Telangana in May 2021. As the TRS accused him of land misappropriation, he quit the party and joined forces with the BJP. This had necessitated Huzurabad by-election.
Will more TRS leaders look at the BJP as alternative for their political career growth?
Huzurabad: Eatala's Fight for Relevance
The bypolls in Huzurabad could be considered small, given that just over 2 lakh votes were polled in the constituency. However, it was one of the epic poll battles in the state, as it was a fight for political relevance without the TRS.
Why? TRS, the party founded by KCR, as Rao is known, has near absolute hold in the Legislative Assembly and the state's political scene. The party had upped its MLA count in the Legislative Assembly from 63 in 2014 to 88 in 2018, by keeping detractors at an arm's distance.
Moreover, TRS hold in the Assembly only improved when 12 Congress MLAs jumped ship and joined the former in 2018. Telangana Assembly has 120 members.
Meaning, CM KCR has been running a tight ship for years, even as Congress has been struggling to stay relevant in the state and the BJP trying to make inroads. Given this scenario, most ambitious political leaders in the state have been scrambling to remain in good graces of KCR, for fear of being left with no alternative party to go for.
Rajender, in Huzurabad, won this battle for relevance. Despite joining the BJP, which is not as powerful as the TRS in the state, he managed to convince his constituents to choose him.
Moreover, he achieved this triumph at the cost of KCR.
Standoff with KCR
In Huzurabad, even as Eatala Rajender had locked horns with TRS's Gellu Srinivas Yadav, it was apparent that the former's fight was with Chief Minister and TRS president K Chandrasekhar Rao.
TRS under Rao has always been a party that keeps detractors at an arm's distance. For instance, Harish Rao, KCR's nephew and inimitable leader of the party who has ground support across the state, has been silent despite several allegations that he was sidelined within the party.
Instead, KT Rama Rao, the suave younger leader of TRS and CM KCR's son, has been the emerging face of the party.
Hence, Rajender joining the BJP was dealt with as a serious affront to the TRS. Rao treated it as a political tendency which had to be nipped in the bud.
The CM made Huzurabad a prestige battle as he himself announced welfare schemes to woo the voters. It was in Huzurabad that KCR launched Dalita Bandhu scheme, which promised Rs 10 lakh for each Dalit family to build entrepreneurship. The scheme is expected to cost the state's exchequer anywhere between Rs 80,000 to Rs 1 lakh crore.
Rajender, however, remained optimistic and took on the TRS by promoting the BJP as a national party which can make a difference in Telangana. Moreover, he promoted himself as the flagbearer of BJP in the state.
As both TRS and BJP pumped in money to sway the elections, Rajender's posturing, as against that of KCR's, seems to have won the voters.
Does this mean, TRS men who jump ship can survive like Rajender?
Ground Presence, Party Backing Alone to Help
As Rajender was declared a winner, his political detractors refused to call it the BJP's win. The magic will not repeat if it were to be any other candidate against the TRS, social media comments read.
In a way, this is true as both the BJP and the Congress have not attracted other charismatic leaders from the TRS.
"In the future too, only those who are absolutely sure that they can win on their own will move away from the TRS," a political analyst close to the party said.
But are there other leaders who can repeat such wins for themselves without the TRS's support?
"Most leaders of the TRS live under the shadow of KCR. Not many are as prominent as Eatala," a political observer said.
If the BJP, with its power position in the Centre, manages to win over the TRS, it will have to select the leader who has absolute control over his constituency. Meaning, Rajender's win, even though it gives hope to those who want to break away from the TRS, can remain an aberration.
TRS's KT Rama Rao tweeted, "In the last 20 years TRS has seen many highs and lows and this one election result will not be of much significance or consequence...".
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