As the old adage goes, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a Lifetime.” But the new political adage of Congress and Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) in Telangana is “Feed the voter today with a condition by reserving the vote for tomorrow”, until they get enlightened with what is empowering, welfare scheme and freebie.
As KCR failed to deliver his promises in the last two terms, he has come out with a completely new face and freebie manifesto to score a hattrick on November 30, 2023. The power-hungry Congress and quiet Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seem to be making their moves to prevent that from happening.
Dissatisfaction with BRS
At the helm for close to ten years now, the BRS, the new avatar of Telangana Rashtra Samithi, is seeing the first sign of rebellion in its ranks. With lower level corporators not getting upgraded to MLA candidates, giving tickets to non-performing MLAs and the all-pervading corruption charges against the ruling family in Telangana have created a huge anti-incumbency against KCR’s Government. A belligerent Congress, fresh from its unexpected win in Karnataka, has gone on an aggressive mode, enticing disgruntled leaders from BRS.
On the other hand, BJP has kept its cards close to its chest, releasing its list of candidates just five-weeks before the poll, indicating that a last-minute surge is what the party is banking on. With 119 seats at stake, KCR will look at getting his party close to the halfway mark and then banking on his trusted ally AIMIM which will surely get seven to eight seats in the Muslim-dominated old city of Hyderabad, to get past the simple majority on the floor of the house. In the event of Congress coming well short of the halfway mark, KCR will use his tried and trusted method of ‘buying’ Congress MLAs. He did this with unfailing regularity in 2014 when four Congress MLAs walked over to the TRS camp. In 2018, 12 of the 18 MLAs of Congress defected to TRS. The BJP has been using this as a reminder that voting for Congress is as good as voting for BRS, and has been challenging Congress to include a promise that its MLAs will not cross over to TRS after the elections, this time around.
BRS has also been playing to its advantage a reminder about the early days of Telangana Congress Chief Revanth’s Reddy’s as an ABVP karyakarta and insisting that RSS is driving the Congress agenda. Any kid will tell you that this has been done to scare away any possibility of a part of the Muslim-Christian vote bank voting for Congress in Telangana. It’s not a small factor that Muslims can make a difference in about 24 seats whereas Christians can tilt the balance in 40 seats, in case of a three-way contest. That in all is around half seats in the elections to Telangana Assembly which is up for grabs.
BJP, on the other hand, is reportedly working on constituencies bordering Maharashtra, where the party does well. In fact, the party won the Nizamabad and Adilabad Lok Sabha seats in addition to Karimnagar and Secunderabad Lok Sabha seats in 2019 polls. Convert the four Lok Sabha seats into Assembly seats and its total goes up to 28 Assembly segments. While that might work out arithmetically, converting into reality is a challenging task.
BJP is banking on the way the party did admirably well in the elections to the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation, where it won 48 seats. While BRS candidates, many of them sitting MLAs, had all the time in the world to campaign, BJP candidates may find that the time to campaign may not be sufficient. So, it has to be a blitzkrieg using Union Ministers, senior leaders from nearby States to run a juggernaut across the State.
While hurling of allegations of corruption by all the three major political parties continues, the season of manifestos is here. The BRS and Congress have doled out a long list of freebies in a bid to entice the voters.
There is little money left for creating quality infrastructure or schemes to empower sections of society which require support. Though manifestos talk of upgrading healthcare infrastructure, most of the funding for creating and upgrading of Primary Health Centres, Ayush Centres, plus ambulances are provided by the Union Government under the National Health Mission.
Congress Guarantees Sops
The Congress has tried to replicate the Karnataka model in its Telangana manifesto and has incorporated six guarantees including women below the poverty line get Rs 2,500, monthly, LPG cylinders at Rs 500 , Free bus travel for women , 200 units of free electricity to all households , Monthly pension of Rs 4,000 for senior citizens, Rs 10 lakh Rajiv Arogyasri Insurance Scheme .
KCR Bheema is targeting 93 lakh families registered as BPL families, with an insurance upto five lakhs, Annapurna Scheme, replacing the existing scheme of coarse rice with fine rice, Soubhagyalakshmi scheme to Rs 3,000 per month to all poor women. LPG cylinder at Rs 400.
Shunning Freebie Culture
The BJP is yet to release its manifesto, but the party has indicated that it will not get into the freebie race involving Congress and BRS. Going by its previous manifesto rolled out before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Telangana-unit might seek to replicate the major contours in its manifesto. All in all, the ensuing elections in Telangana will be a watershed moment in determining if BRS stays on course for a third term or will Congress seek to extend its southern boundaries beyond Karnataka. BJP, on the other hand might fancy its role as a king maker in the event of neither the Congress or BRS getting past the halfway mark.
In addition to this, KCR is facing corruption charges. His daughter Kavita’s name is in Delhi liquor scam and son KTR is trying to replace his father, son-in-law Harish Rao playing the safe game are influencing the voters. The current anti-incumbency factor against BRS may differ from constituency to constituency or between candidates. Then there is the caste and community based voting which add up to the final tally of the parties. The BRS candidates list shows that it has kept the winnability factor as the reason for giving tickets to a number of candidates belonging to the Reddy and Velama communities. With the Congress drumming up the caste survey as one of its major promises, expectations among the party leadership are very high, but that is unlikely to get votes from this segment for the party. The minority vote bank will be another swing factor and that may upset the calculations of the Congress party since MIM has aligned itself with BRS. The final two weeks of campaigning will determine if BJP can sneak ahead of the so-called lead that the Congress party has in upsetting the BRS. For that to happen, the BJP will need to work on an extremely focussed, aggressive, no-holds-barred campaign if it wishes to establish a second beachhead down South. Or will BRS hold on to its first mover advantage?