India’s youngest state has seen just one party at the helm – the Telangana Rashtra Samiti, rechristened the Bharat Rashtra Samithi – since its birth in 2014. One of the key reasons behind the BRS’ electoral success has been that it was at the forefront of the statehood movement and voters credit the party, and its president K Chandrashekar Rao, with fulfilling its promise and ensuring that a separate state of Telangana was carved out from Andhra Pradesh.
A week, it is said, is a long time in politics and, by that yardstick, nine-and-a-half years is an aeon. This is the challenge that BRS and K Chandrashekar Rao were facing as they went into the 2023 Assembly elections, seeking a hat-trick of terms in the state, and the Congress and the BJP were acutely aware of it. This is also one of the reasons why most exit polls, including the NDTV Poll of Polls, have predicted that the BRS is losing power in the state and is likely to be replaced by the Congress.
Of the state’s 119 seats, the Poll of Polls predicted that the Congress will win 62 seats, two more than the majority, and the BRS may be reduced to 44 seats. The BJP-Jana Sena alliance was predicted to win seven seats and the AIMIM five.
The state’s turnout in the November 30 election was 71.34%, two percentage points less than in 2018.
Anti-incumbency has been building up against the ruling party and it was banking on welfare measures, including the Rythu Bandhu and Rythu Bima schemes for farmers, Dalit and BC Bandhu schemes for the deprived classes and the Gruha Lakshmi scheme to give housing to the poor.
The party and the IT and industries minister, KT Rama Rao, have insisted that job creation and GDP growth in Telangana have been the highest in the country, but many sections have complained that getting employment has been an issue. The implementation of some schemes has also given an inordinate amount of power to MLAs to decide on the distribution of funds, leading to allegations of discrimination as well as corruption.
Another perception that is hurting the party is that KCR and his son KT Rama Rao run it in a way that leaves little room for dissent.
Sensing what is probably the first real opportunity to form a government in the state, both the Congress and the BJP carried out high-decibel campaigns, with the ruling party at the Centre organising several rallies not just by its talisman, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but also several Union ministers. Both parties have also tried to paint the BRS into a corner by alleging that it is a B-team of the other, a charge strongly denied by KCR.
The Congress, which claims it had a big role to play in Telangana getting statehood because it happened under the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the Centre, revamped its Telangana unit in 2021 and appointed Revanth Reddy as the chief. Under Mr Reddy, the Congress is seen to have mounted a spirited campaign and he has also indicated a willingness to lead from the front by taking on KCR in the Kamareddy constituency.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has also addressed several rallies in the state and a video had gove viral when he had interrupted Revanth Reddy, taken the mic and shouted “bye-bye, KCR”, in a dig at the chief minister.
One of the aspects working in the party’s favour is the six guarantees it has given to the voters. The guarantee formula was seen as a big factor in the Congress’s victory in neighbouring Karnataka in May and the party is hoping that it will help it win in Telangana as well. Mr Gandhi has promised that the six guarantees would be approved in the very first cabinet meeting if the party came to power in the state.
The guarantees include Rs 2,500 per month for eligible women, free bus travel for women, gas cylinders for Rs 500, 200 units of free electricity, 24-hour power to farmers and Rs 4,000 monthly pension for eligible senior citizens.
While central heavyweights have played a big role in the BJP’s Telangana campaign, the removal of its fiery state chief, Bandi Sanjay Kumar in July, seem to have hurt its prospects, according to experts and some people within the party. It was after Mr Kumar’s removal, and replacement with Union Minister G Kishan Reddy, that the perception of the party softening its stance against the BRS began gaining ground.
The BJP had won just one seat in the 2018 Assembly polls but, after his appointment, Mr Kumar led the party to wins in nearly a third of the seats in the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation in 2020, an outcome that surprised most observers. He also contributed to the party’s victories in two bypolls.
Mr Kumar’s acerbic speeches and direct attacks on Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao energised the party’s base in the state but his provocative statements, including one on BRS leader and KCR’s daughter K Kavitha, were seen as reasons for his ouster.
Campaigning in the state, both PM Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah have repeatedly attacked the chief minister to quell the perception of an “understanding” with the BRS. The party has said it will appoint a person from the backward class as its chief minister if it wins the elections.