While most people in the country were (obviously) interested in the results of the Bihar elections and probably Madhya Pradesh by-elections too, a very gripping story was building up in the bye-election results of the Dubbaka constituency in Telangana. The tension was increasing with every passing round. While BJP maintained a lead in the early rounds, the TRS picked up in the later rounds (even picking up a slender overall lead at end of round 19) but the BJP bounced back again, eventually winning the seat by – 1100 votes!
Now, Dubbaka is an interesting Assembly constituency. Dubbaka’s neighbouring constituencies are Gajwel (represented by KCR), Siricilla (represented by KCR’s son, KTR) and Siddipet (represented by KCR’s powerful nephew, T. Harish Rao)! With such powerful neighbours, one would easily assume that the election will be a cakewalk for the TRS party! Congress is anyway a sinking boat. BJP lost deposit in Dubbaka constituency in the 2018 election. T. Harish Rao was made in charge for this election, and yet again people assumed that since Harish Rao doesn’t lose elections, this is a done deal for the party.
Except that the BJP and people had different plans. BJP’s candidate in Dubbaka (in 2018 and now) is one of the most prominent faces of the party in the state – Raghunandan Rao. He is a spokesperson of the party; is the party’s face on most TV debates; is articulate; is aggressive enough to match the style of TRS; is a lawyer; has been in politics for a long time; is a native of Dubbaka and was with TRS since inception and joined BJP post-2014 because his growth in the party was being stunted by KCR and Harish Rao. Today, Raghunandan Rao is at the centre stage at what can very well be the most defining moment of the state BJP.
In the 2018 Assembly elections in Telangana, the TRS party, led by KCR, won a whopping 88/119 seats. BJP had won just 1 seat and lost deposits in a whopping 106 seats! KCR was actually hoping to win 100 seats. So, within just 3 months, he had further inducted 12 Congress MLAs (out of 19 total) into the TRS bandwagon – thereby taking TRS’s number to 100! With friendly MIM having 7 seats, you can very well imagine the control KCR had on the Assembly.
The first rude awakening came to KCR in the form of 2019 LS elections, because 1) His daughter lost her Lok Sabha seat (Nizamabad), and 2) BJP also won the Karimnagar Lok Sabha seat – the home turf of his son KTR! A shock to the dynasty was something no pollster could remotely predict. Both the BJP and Congress won 4 seats each (out of a total of 17), but the BJP wins were also credited to the Modi wave of 2019.
The BJP still didn’t have a strong voice in the Legislative Assembly. With the numbers you have seen above, you can now very well imagine how the Assembly sessions progress here. There is occasional friendly fire between MIM and TRS leaders; no one cares about what Congress MLAs speak; BJP’s lone MLA T. Raja Singh is no match when it comes to preparing deftly on various policy-related issues or catchy phrases to grab eyeballs/headlines; TRS and KCR get hours and hours of talking time on the basis of their strength in the house and equally large space in the media.
In addition to continuing to focus on the delivery of many of PM Modi’s flagship schemes, the BJP needed faces and voices that were as aggressive yet articulate as KCR, KTR, Harish Rao etc. They found those faces and voices in leaders like the newly appointed BJP President, Karimnagar MP, Bandi Sanjay Kumar; another MP, D. Arvind (who beat KCR’s daughter) etc. In addition, the party at the national level gave the good position to a few OBC leaders, thereby extending their outreach. Whilst the building up of a new BJP was happening, the sitting TRS MLA of Dubbaka assembly constituency passed away, thereby necessitating a by-election.
Raghunandan Rao hit the streets well before the party announced his name. His articulation helped him cash in on the rising resentment against KCR. Sensing the mood, TRS deployed their entire party machinery to fight Raghunandan Rao and the BJP. Some analysts even saw this as KCR’s ploy to control his nephew Harish Rao (a loss here would be Harish Rao’s responsibility. Remember – While the son and daughter lost their home turfs in 2019, TRS handsomely won the Medak LS seat for which Harish Rao was the in-charge).
The new BJP also didn’t back off. They went equally aggressive in their campaigning. The state police raided the houses of Raghunandan Rao’s relatives (I, along with many, had wondered why KCR is resorting to such tactics. It is clear now!), lathi-charged the BJP state President, and KTR even alleged that the BJP is trying to foment communal disturbances (isn’t it cute how everyone falls back to this argument!). Nothing stopped the BJP’s aggressiveness – the cadre and leader alike took up this challenge and put in their sweat to beat the TRS.
One cannot think of a better MLA than Raghunandan Rao to represent the BJP in the Assembly. His articulation would certainly amp up the debate quotient in the Assembly (today, it’s a one-way street in the Assembly). This is the BJP that the Modi-Shah combination wants to nurture across the country. The 2018 state unit wasn’t up to the mark for this. The new BJP has realised what many other state units are doing and has begun to put in the hard work. Dubbaka victory is undoubtedly one of the greatest first steps towards further growth. The party now has an uphill task ahead to live up to this expectation and emulate this across various areas of the state. Exciting times lie ahead for the state’s political scenarios!