A year after dealing a big blow to Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) by bagging four Lok Sabha seats, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) still appears far from reaching its goal of emerging as an alternative to the ruling party.
The continued domination of Chief Minister K. Chandrashekhar Rao over state politics and lack of strong leadership is what is believed to be preventing the BJP from building on the inroads it made in Lok Sabha elections in May last year.
As the BJP celebrates its formation day under the new state unit chief Bandi Sanjay Kumar, it faces a herculean task to take on the TRS, which virtually decimated the main opposition Congress since retaining power in 2018.
Sanjay Kumar, one of the four party MPs from the state who took over the reins of the party last month, will be hoping to at least replace Congress as the principal opposition party.
The 48-year-old leader, who belongs to the backward class and was associated with the RSS since his childhood, may find it difficult to challenge the TRS, which continues to hold a stranglehold over Telangana politics.
By retaining its lone Lok Sabha seat and wresting three seats from TRS, the BJP had caused a big political upset. It not only garnered 19 per cent votes but also dealt a huge blow to TRS by defeating Chief Minister and TRS president K. Chandrashekhar Rao’s daughter K. Kavitha in Nizamabad parliamentary constituency.
Bandi Sanjay Kumar himself wrested the Karimnagar seat from senior TRS leader B. Vinod Kumar. G. Kishan Reddy, who was defeated in Assembly elections, was elected from Secunderabad despite replacing veteran leader and former central minister Bandaru Dattatreya. Kishan Reddy’s induction as Union Minister of State for Home was also expected to give a shot in the arm to the party.
Buoyed by the impressive performance, the BJP’s central leadership started focusing on Telangana with the 2023 Assembly elections as the target. Union Home Minister and then BJP chief Amit Shah visited Hyderabad in July to launch the party’s membership drive and declared that formation of BJP government in the state is certain.
However, the BJP failed to build on the success in Lok Sabha polls. Continuing its good show, the TRS swept the polls for rural and urban local bodies. In the municipal elections, the BJP’s marginal gains were confined to a couple of Lok Sabha constituencies.
Though BJP leaders have been making tall claims that several TRS leaders will be switching loyalties, KCR kept his flock intact. Only a handful of Congress leaders joined the BJP ranks.
The BJP was expected to emerge as a major force in separate Telangana state and anticipating this, the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) had been opposing bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh.
However, the BJP, along with its then ally Telugu Desam Party (TDP), finished far behind the TRS in 2014 polls. Though subsequently, the BJP severed ties with the TDP as the latter was dubbed as party of Andhra Pradesh by its rivals, the saffron party faced humiliating defeat in 2018. It could win only one seat in 119-member Assembly.
“Though one out of the only two seats BJP won in the first-ever general election (1984) the party contested was from Telangana (Hanamkonda), it could never emerge into the force to reckon with in the region,” political analyst Raghava Reddy told IANS.
The lack of strong leadership has also hampered the party’s growth. “Though there were few leaders like Vidyasagar Rao, Bandaru Dattatreya who had strong connections at the national level, none could attain the stature of Venkaiah Naidu. Bangaru Laxman, who was installed as party chief but the elevation was short-lived and his fall was monumental.”
The analyst pointed out that the party leadership in Telangana and even Andhra Pradesh believed in coalitions and partnerships, instead of charting its own path.
Even younger leaders like K. Laxman and Kishan Reddy Acould not motivate the cadre to form a strong force that would take on more mainstream Congress or the TDP.
He believes that with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the top and ground being fertile enough to create religious polarization, the BJP will be hoping for a breakthrough in Telangana.
“Presence of a legislator like Raja Singh who is known for hate-filled speeches, and elevation of an activist like Bandi Sanjay to the post of party chief will do good to the saffron brigade,” Reddy said.