Hyderabad calling

With the BJP flying in top guns for the civic polls in the city, the party is hoping to wrest Telangana in 2023

The ruling BJP is relentlessly pursuing its goal of “one party, one nation” if its efforts to supplant federal power in State after State are any indication. And while it seems hyperactive in Bengal, determined to win it at any cost, it is just as keen about strengthening its footprint down south, where it has Karnataka. Nothing else explains why it is paratrooping a battery of its top leaders for polls to the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) slated for December 1. Led by Home Minister Amit Shah, BJP chief JP Nadda, Union Ministers and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, the party has literally swamped the city, hoping to consolidate its voters to its advantage and making the city a gateway to capturing Telangana in the next Assembly election in 2023. But why is the BJP so obsessed with Hyderabad’s local body polls, where it could win just four wards, against the Telangana Rashtra Samithi’s (TRS’s) 99 and the Asaduddin Owaisi-led AIMIM’s 44, last time? What sense does it make to get aggressive in the civic polls when even during the 2019 Lok Sabha election, it won four of the 17 seats? Perhaps the conversion rate between 2014 and 2019, from one to four seats, and its recent bypoll victory in the Dubbaka Assembly seat have given the BJP enough reason to hope that it could get there if it starts sowing the seeds now. Dubbaka is adjacent to the seat that Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao (KCR) won from and the BJP wants to sharpen this psychological edge. And considering that the Congress is all but decimated, the BJP wants to claim its space as rightful challenger as early as possible. But more than everything else it is what Hyderabad represents that is up for grabs. First, as a cyber hub, Hyderabad has an upper crust brand worth next only to Bengaluru and the BJP wants to be seen as having the endorsement of the knowledge economy and a digitally-empowered India. Second, the municipal limits include as many as 24 Assembly constituencies and touch upon parts of Lok Sabha seats, so no time would be better than now to do the spadework. Third, Hyderabad’s largely Muslim character that has held out against the BJP’s kind of Hindutva. After the Ram Mandir at Ayodhya — whose impact is largely confined to North India — it needs an ideological conquest in the south. And if the party can indeed swing votes in a Muslim-dominated territory, it could justify its political philosophy that has spun around polarisation. Hyderabad is that bastion of syncretism that looks down upon divisive politics. Most importantly, it would help the BJP get rid of Owaisi, who crafted his political survival by undercutting secular forces, saying that they shortchanged Muslims on real issues, earning him the tag of being a vote-splitter and the BJP’s tacit B-team. Now that his appeal is no longer confined to Hyderabad and is expanding to Maharashtra, Bihar and may be Bengal, the BJP doesn’t want a counter-polarisation to happen pan-India among Muslim voters, who may look up to him as their true representative and not want to be traded for votebank politics. Winning Hyderabad would mean taking Owaisi down on home ground. This is already apparent from the BJP leader Tejasvi Surya’s statements calling Owaisi an avatar of Mohammad Ali Jinnah and attributing his Bihar win to his clout in Hyderabad. The campaign is, therefore, high-pitched, where local civic issues have completely been swamped by rhetoric on Pakistan, Osama Bin Laden, terror, Rohingyas and by extension foisting them all on the encouragement of Hyderabad’s Muslims. This is easy for the BJP for it is still not well-entrenched enough to talk about local problems or peddle their solutions.

Where does this leave KCR? There was a time when he could claim advantages by tacitly supporting the BJP, helping it in the passage of crucial Bills in Parliament and staying neutral on controversial issues. But the mammoth Lok Sabha verdict for the BJP in 2019 means the national party doesn’t really need him as an ally and would rather have its own man in the State. A role in New Delhi is also out of question now that the BJP is the enemy knocking at his gate. Besides, as the Bihar verdict showed, the appeal of the Modi persona is still intact and Rao needs to rebuild himself as a leader who birthed the State, led a social rather than religious movement and championed the people’s rights that no outsider can ever understand. Hence the TRS has stepped up the anti-BJP rhetoric and got in almost all its bigwigs to monitor each of the wards and ensure there is recall value. KCR must realise that the BJP still has trouble pushing out Trinamool Congress in Bengal or couldn’t dislodge the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Delhi because both had built their stock on mobilising a people’s movement on issues that mattered, the former on land rights in Singur and the latter on clean governance. So KCR must avoid falling into the Hindu-Muslim trap set by the BJP and revive the social causes he stood for, something which he has ignored recently. He is distancing himself from Owaisi, fearing the loss of the Hindu vote that’s still in his favour, and Modi, too, particularly on the divestment of PSUs. The last stance has helped him win the support of trade unions of LIC, BSNL and South Central Railways for the GHMC polls. He is also planning a meeting of non-BJP, non-Congress leaders next month. But will he be as convincing, considering his initial enthusiasm for stitching up a federal front before the general elections waned like quicksilver the moment he sensed bigger takeaways from a tradeoff with the BJP? Of course, trust deficits are quickly forgotten in politics but does KCR have it in him to be convincing to others?

Source: The Pioneer

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