In Munugode, Nalgonda, the CPI(M) is weak, the Congress is in crisis and the TRS is on a safe bet. But the BJP will lose its much heralded momentum in Telangana if it loses the bypoll battle for which the stage is set.
Munugode Legislative Assembly bypoll, which is expected to be held in the months ahead, was made possible by the resignation of Komatireddy Raj Gopal Reddy from his parent party – the Indian National Congress – in August 2022.
Reddy joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) shortly after leaving the Congress and will contest to win back his Munugode seat. The Congress has fielded a woman candidate Palvai Sravanthi in the seat. She is the daughter of veteran Congress leader and five-time MLA Palvai Goverdhan Reddy. Meanwhile, the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), which has not yet fielded a candidate, is expected to exert all its might to wrest the seat from the sitting MLA.
Ironically, this poll battle is set in a district which was once the bastion of the Communist parties – primarily the CPI(M).
The triangular fight in Munugode is important for the BJP, political observers say, because the party will lose face if Raj Gopal Reddy suffers a loss. “The BJP is riding a tiger in Munugode. If it loses, it will be considered a party that allowed the fall of Raj Gopal Reddy, a successful Congress candidate. It will not be considered a reliable party for defectors,” Prof K Nageshwar, political analyst and former MLC told The Quint.
Why Is Munugode Important for the BJP?
The BJP went for a major push in Telangana when its National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting was held in the city in July 2022. The party’s leaders from across the country had come down to Hyderabad to pose a direct challenge to the TRS, which has been in power in the state for two terms since 2014. Meanwhile, the party has also been positioning itself as a one-stop destination for Congress and TRS leaders who want to look for better political careers.
In the recent past the BJP had attracted at least four top-level leaders – three from the Congress and one from TRS – to join it ranks. While Eatala Rajender, former health minister of the TRS government, joined the party after a fallout with Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao in 2021, top Congress leaders Konda Vishweshwar Reddy, K Raj Gopal Reddy, and Srravan Dasoju joined the BJP in 2022.
Unlike in other states, in Telangana the BJP state leadership does acknowledge the contribution of politicians who have joined the party from other political outfits.
“In Telangana our Legislative strength is weak. When this is the case, it is important to strengthen the party not just from the ground but also from the top. While we rely heavily on our home-grown leaders, we acknowledge that leaders coming from other parties are important to give us traction on ground,” Krishnasagar Rao, BJP spokesperson in Telangana told The Quint.
While being a defectors’ paradise is important for the party which is only growing in Telangana, the Munugode polls could also have an effect on voters’ perception, the BJP leadership thinks.
For the BJP, Munugode is a “high-stakes” seat, Rao admitted. “We do contest to win each seat. But the party has stakes in this election, especially since a senior leader Raj Gopal Reddy is contesting to retain his seat (under the BJP’s banner).”
The BJP leadership, however, has been maintaining that a loss in Munugode will not signal a loss for party in the state Assembly elections scheduled to be held in 2023.
“We are aiming for two birds with one stone. If we win, the Congress will be wiped out. At the same time, it will raise questions about TRS’ relevance as people could ask why Raj Gopal Reddy opted for the BJP and not the TRS,” BJP’s spokesperson Krishnasagar Rao said.
For the Congress, meanwhile, the stakes are equally high. The grand old party, under the leadership of Revanth Reddy, is in the fray to remain relevant in Telangana.
Congress’ Fight to Retain Relevance, TRS’ Fight for Moral Victory
“We cannot lose the seat to the BJP or the TRS. We have to show our rungs that the Congress can win even if turncoats leave the party and join the enemy camp,” a Congress leader, on the condition of anonymity, told The Quint.
For the Congress, Munugode win could also ensure Revenath Reddy’s acceptance within the party. It is believed Raj Gopal Reddy and his brother Venkat Reddy have been at loggerheads with the newly appointed TPCC president, over what can be considered a turf war between the new office bearers in the Congress and the older brigade.
While Revanth Reddy left the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) to join the Congress in 2017, he was made the Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee (TPCC) president in 2021, in what was seen as a quick rise to the top ranks of the party.
Ever since, Revanth Reddy has had to deal with several hurdles posed by senior Congress leaders of the old brigade, including the rebellion of the Komatireddy brothers. Venkat Reddy who is still a Congress MP had issued statements against the TPCC president right after his brother Raj Gopal Reddy announced his exit from the party.
Revanth Reddy, however, has been holding on to what seems to be a battle to win back Congress’ clout in Telangana, a region where the party was in undisputed power before 2014. “A win in Munugode will dispel all doubts about Congress’ relevance in the state,” a senior Congress leader said.
The TRS meanwhile, has been fighting off the BJP on its home turf. For the party, a win in Munugode will be a moral victory and a bonus.
“For TRS, the focus has been to raise a national front against the BJP. But in Telangana, the opposition to BJP is rather stiff with both Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao and TRS Working President K T Rama Rao leading the way,” a TRS leader said.
While CM Rao has been dropping hints that he would float a national party, his son and IT Minister KTR, has been issuing several statements foregrounding the BJP’s national political debacles. “For the TRS a Munugode win will be a boost as it will be an additional seat. But if the party loses the election, it won’t be a major loss as Munugode has not been TRS’ sitting seat,” K Nageshwar said.
If the Congress manages to retain at least 40,000 of its traditional votes, the scales will tilt in the favour of the TRS, Nageshwar predicts.
The TRS has not officially responded to The Quint’s queries on why the party has not yet fielded a candidate in the bypoll. “This election cannot be called a precursor to 2023 Assembly elections,” Nageshwar remained skeptical. “In the past, bypoll performance of the BJP has not ensured it a win in Assembly and vice versa.”