While the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) won the Munugode by-election after a fierce neck-and-neck battle with the BJP, the real story of the vote was about the Congress.
In a state that was once a major source of electoral strength, with two consecutive terms at the center in 2004 and 2009, the election result shows the party’s downward spiral.
Despite former Congress chief Sonia Gandhi often being credited with the formation of Telangana – even by TRS leader and Chief Minister KCR – the Congress failed to capitalize politically after Telangana was carved out of Andhra Pradesh in 2014.
The fury over the division of the state and the loss of Hyderabad ensured that the Congress was decimated in Andhra Pradesh as well.
In the 2018 Telangana elections, the party won 19 out of 117 assembly seats. Uttam Kumar Reddy became an MLA and resigned as an MLA in 2019. That same year, 12 MLAs defected to the ruling TRS, which already had a rough majority. with only six seats.
The rebels split the legislative party and thus avoided punishment under the anti-fugitive law. The Congress was left humiliated as it lost its status as the opposition party in the assembly.
It was in these circumstances that Munugode began to emerge as a test case to prove that the national party was still in the reckoning in the state.
Munugode was a Congress bastion won in 2018 by Komireddy Rajagopal Reddy. Mr Reddy quit the party in August this year, jumping ship to the BJP.
The Congress chose Palvai Sravanthi, whose father had served the area for a long time. They also hoped that 1.2 lakh women voters would support him at a time when TRS and BJP are betting big on liquor.
But against TRS and BJP, Congress had no money to spend. His leadership’s attention was divided between polling in the state and Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra a week before the elections.
Despite being in the state, Rahul Gandhi stayed away from the Munugode campaign. Senior leaders dismissed it as “just a by-poll” – a stark contrast to the TRS, which is fighting as if the survival of its government depends on it.
With the Congress a distant third in Munugode, with the by-poll not considered a trend-setter for the assembly elections, it looks like the party will lose its narrative of being in the race to form the government in 2023.
Political analysts say what worked for the TRS was to merge with the Communist Party of India (CPI) in an assembly where the Left party has significant influence.
Anger over former MLA Kotireddy switching sides against Rajagopal also helped the TRS as it won votes from those who wanted to see it defeated.
Locals say Mr. Rajagopal’s votes are not because of the BJP but because of his own profile and the goodwill he has earned through generous handouts.
Many say that TRS could not have won if Mr. Rajagopal had contested again as a Congress candidate or an Independent candidate.
It is a double win for TRS. They managed to keep the BJP out. Komireddy Rajagopal Reddy, who along with his brother Komatireddy Venkat Reddy wields a lot of influence in Nalgonda, has been cut down and the Congress is also likely to take drastic action, possibly expelling the rebel’s sister, senior leader and MLA.
BJP too can’t be too unhappy, even if it lost only after putting up a good fight. They managed to come second in Munugode without a significant cadre or leaders, simply by using a leader who could sway the electorate on his own.
This will help them create a narrative and perception that they are fighting to challenge the TRS in the 2023 elections, leaving the Congress far behind.
However, a victory could give the BJP a big boost, creating momentum for the party to recruit and attract new talent from other parties, compensating for lack of cadre and leadership strength in the regions.
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