Elections to the 150 municipal wards of Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) will be held on December 1.
Rarely has any local election acquired so much significance in recent times as this one, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) deploying its top leadership to campaign for the polls, and the Chief Minister and Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) chief K Chandrashekar Rao (KCR) pushing his cabinet members, MLAs and MPs for the campaigning that ends on November 29.
BJP national president JP Nadda, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath, and former Maharasthra CM Devendra Fadnavis are among the BJP bigwigs taking part in the campaign.
The BJP has also picked Bhupendra Singh Yadav as the poll in-charg. Yadav was assembly election in-charge in Bihar assembly polls too, where the NDA retained power with the BJP bagging 72 seats in the 243-member house.
But why has a local body poll acquired such an unprecedented hype in a Southern state?
Prestige battle for KCR
For KCR’s TRS, it is a prestige battle. TRS dominated the last GHMC polls held in 2016. The ruling party won 99 wards or divisions. Local MP Asaduddin Owaisi-led All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (AIMIM) won 44. The BJP won four seats. In the 2019 general election, the TRS, which swept the 2018 Telangana Assembly elections, could win only nine of the 17 Lok Sabha seats. More recently, the party lost the Dubakka assembly bypoll to BJP.
In the recent past, the TRS has faced flak over its poor handling of floods in October this year in the GHMC areas. The party was also criticised for the poor management of relief distribution to the flood-affected families. The model code of conduct came into effect on November 17, leaving many people without relief.
No wonder, KCR showered a bouquet of poll sops to woo GHMC voters earlier this week. The promises include waiver of water bills to people, including those living in apartments, waiver of minimum energy charges to commercial and industrial power consumers, among others.
Opportunity for the BJP
With a weakened Congress, the BJP sees an opportunity of making its presence felt in Telangana. From 2016, when the BJP won just four seats, the party’s strength has increased in the state. It won four of the 17 Lok Sabha seats in 2019, and, more recently, one assembly seat in the bypoll, taking its tally to two in the assembly. The BJP doesn’t have much presence in the South, except in Karnataka.
BJP sources say the party senses an opportunity in Telangana, where there has been virtually no opposition as TRS has enjoyed a monopoly over the years since the state came into being in 2014. The party is reportedly considering the local body polls as an opener to challenge the ruling TRS, a party that has had often supported the NDA government in Parliament (Rajya Sabha).
“Win or loss doesn’t matter. What matters is that we will make people realise that we have a presence in Telangana,” said a BJP leader. The state polls are due in 2023. This is precisely why the BJP, in a first, has turned a low-profile local election into a star-studded exercise.
The BJP, like in Bihar, has promised a free COVID-19 vaccine in its manifesto, among other sops.
Owaisi’s M factor
The only party other than TRS that has a say in Hyderabad is Owaisi’s AIMIM. Hyderabad has 40 per cent Muslim population. Owaisi made headlines recently by winning five of the 20 seats his party contested in Bihar polls. The Hyderabad MP is often blamed by the opposition parties, including the Congress, for being a ‘vote-cutter’ and Team B of the BJP.
Though the parties have not announced any alliance, they often consider each other ‘friendly’. The BJP has questioned the ‘unholy’ alliance between the two parties by asserting that a vote for TRS would mean a vote for AIMIM. Union minister Smriti Irani, who was on Hyderabad this week, attacked the TRS-AIMIM for allegedly encouraging illegal immigrants to acquire fake voter cards.
Civic issues take a back seat?
In the past few days of campaign, civic issues have taken a back seat in a city of 74 lakh voters. It seems that instead of issues like roads, drinking water supply, sanitation, etc, biryani, Pakistan, Rohingyas, Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Osama bin Laden have dominated the local body polls, in what is one of the fastest-growing metropolis in the country.
KCR said on November 26 that some leaders have conspired to get political mileage by inciting communal emotions in Hyderabad, ahead of the polls. “We will not compromise on law and order,” he said.
As many as 1,122 candidates are in the fray. The results will be announced on December 4.