Telangana Election: 6 Reasons Behind Congress' Thumping Victory Over BRS and BJP

In the run-up to the elections, Revanth Reddy emerged as the cynosure of the Congress party.

5 min read
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The anti-incumbency coupled with voter fatigue suffered by ruling Bharata Rastra Samithi (BRS), and a series of self-defeating strategic maneuvers by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), combined with carefully crafted electoral strategy by the Congress, catapulted the latter to power in Telangana at a time when the party suffered humiliating defeats north of the Vindhyas.

The south of Vindhyas continues to stand by the Congress once again testifying the historical trend. When the Indira Gandhi-led Congress was decimated in north India in the 1977 post-emergency election, the Telugu people firmly stood by the Congress.

The MPs of the then-united Andhra Pradesh were instrumental in heralding the Congress-led UPA regime at the Centre, both in 2004 and 2009. Close on the heels of a popular mandate in Karnataka, the Congress made a spectacular comeback in Telangana, though the grand old party still remains politically anaemic in Andhra Pradesh.


Reason 1: KCR's Costly Mistake

The BRS supremo and chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR) took a risky gamble of re-nominating most of the sitting MLAs at a time when people’s resentment against nearly 40 sitting MLAs was so palpable. The election results clearly vindicated the thesis that KCR's decision to field sitting MLAs was disastrous. The BRS won eight of the 10 constituencies where it denied tickets to sitting MLAs.

However, KCR chose to renominate most of the sitting MLAs despite suggestions to change them coming from within and outside the party. There are two reasons for this. Changing a significant number of sitting legislators would have caused a big internal disturbance in the party benefitting the Opposition in building a narrative that the party is on a losing track.

The other reason was perhaps, KCR's overconfidence that pro-incumbency for him would help overcome the anti-incumbency at the constituency level. But exactly the reverse has happened. The anti-incumbency at the constituency level made a dent in whatever pro-incumbency KCR enjoyed.


Reason 2: Sporadic to General Anti-incumbency:

Thus, the anti-incumbency against many legislators and other party leaders at the local level expanded into general anti-incumbency against the ruling party. The high-level corruption, and unbridled exploitation of natural resources like sand, mud, land encroachments, etc, by MLAs and their followers incurred the wrath of the people.

The MLAs had complete sway over police and revenue administration resulting in strong resentment among the people, who suffered from the heavy political handedness by the ruling party members. Besides, the commissions charged by MLAs and their henchman in the disbursal of certain welfare schemes like double bedroom houses for the poor, Dalit Bandhu, Kalyana Lakshmi etc., has further strengthened the anti-incumbency at the constituency level.

Meanwhile, there was sporadic anti-incumbency against the KCR regime among youth, government employees, etc. Though the farmers were happy with the Rythu Bandhu scheme (capital support of Rs 10,000/year), there was discontent over the faulty implementation of the loan wavier. The tenant farmers and the landless labourers were left out of the Rythu Bandhu scheme.

The tenancy farming accounts for nearly 30 percent in Telangana. Those who did not till the land were getting money much to the chagrin of landless and tenant farmers. Meanwhile, the Congress promised cash support for both tenant farmers and landless labourers exactly exploiting the gaps in the KCR brand of welfarism. Thus, the sporadic anti-incumbency slowly extended to the general electorate.

Similarly, BRS faced a strong negative political wind in southern Telangana. This has also spread to other regions barring Hyderabad city.


However, the BRS still enjoyed a reasonably high degree of pro-incumbency too. This is precisely the reason for a mere two percent difference in the vote share of winning Congress and the losing BRS. KCR's political stature, a slew of welfare schemes, and fairly good track record in providing power, water, etc., are the reasons for some of the pro-incumbency BRS enjoyed. This is the reason why there was no uniformly devastating anti-incumbency against BRS.

The AIMIM support and the positive sentiment due to development helped BRS to register a good show in Hyderabad. Similarly, the strong presence of the BJP in several constituencies seems to have helped BRS more than the Congress.


Reason 3: Revanth Reddy

The multiplicity of leaders with competing political ambitions was the Congress' bane. However, the high command successfully ensured that various chief ministerial aspirants did not work at cross purposes. These warring leaders presented a united picture at least on the election eve. The optics did certainly matter.

The Telangana Congress suffered from an absence of political ownership. It was hurting Congress much more as it was pitted against BRS which has a formidable leadership in KCR.

But in the run-up to the elections, Revanth Reddy emerged as the cynosure of the party. The evolution of political ownership in the form of Revanth Reddy helped Congress galvanise the anti-incumbency vote in its favor.

Reason 4: BJP's Self Goals

A series of self-goals and strategic blunders made by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have inflicted heavy damage on the saffron party. Though the BJP could double its vote share compared to 2018 and increase its tally from one to eight seats, the party slipped into a distant third position in the Telangana political landscape.

The sudden dropping of Bandi Sanjay Kumar, who epitomised the Hindutva political narrative created a lot of heartburn among the loyal supporters of the BJP. Bandi Sanjay with his vitriolic anti-KCR tirade could ensure an emotional connection with the anti-incumbency voter. His replacement inflicted irretrievable damage on the saffron party.

On the other hand, Revanth Reddy of the Congress has not only matched and at times was superior to Bandi Sanjay in anti-KCR polemics helping the grand old party to rally the anti-incumbency vote as the BJP left the battle mid-way.

Eatala Rajender, on whose insistence the BJP high command reportedly resorted to this change of guard, has lost from both the seats he has contested. It may be recalled here that Rajender, who was once an influential minister in the BRS cabinet won with a massive 25,000 margin as a BJP nominee in the by-election even when KCR moved heaven and earth to defeat his estranged comrade.


Reason 5: Congress' Effective Strategy

Meanwhile, the Congress carefully selected its candidates with winnability as the sole criterion, even braving the criticism that parachute leaders are accommodated at the expense of loyal foot soldiers.

Earlier, the Congress successfully wooed many disgruntled leaders from both BRS and BJP creating the popular perception that the Congress is on the comeback trail.

The all-India leaders descended on the Telangana battlefield, yet, cautiously supplemented rather than sub-planting local leadership in the electioneering. The Congress consciously scripted its brand of welfarism to counter KCR's welfare politics.

Thus, the Congress which delivered the Telangana separate state a decade ago, staged a historic comeback.


Reason 6: Post-Karnataka Mandate

Prior to the Karnataka elections, the Congress was plagued by consecutive electoral defeats in the by-polls and elections to the greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC). The party was witnessing defections. The BJP and the BRS could successfully propagate the narrative among the people that the Congress was in no way capable of challenging KCR.

Thus, the BJP immensely benefitted from rallying the anti-incumbency vote in these by-polls and GHMC elections. But the Karnataka mandate for Congress has punctured this hostile narrative giving the grand old party perception advantage.

(Prof K Nageshwar is a senior political analyst, faculty member of Osmania University, and a former MLC. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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Topics:  Telangana   Revanth Reddy 

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