Hyderabad: About half a lakh voters shifting their political loyalties within a year is indeed unprecedented in the electoral history. TRS lost the Huzurnagar seat in 2018 Assembly elections by a relatively smaller margin of around 7,000 votes. Now, in the by-poll, the ruling TRS wrested the seat from the opposition congress in a prestigious contest by a whopping margin of over 43,000 votes indicating a shift of 50,000 votes from the Congress to TRS. The remarkable change of voters' political loyalties within one year is certainly something to be seriously analysed.
In fact, in the Assembly elections held in Haryana and Maharashtra too, there has been a massive fall in BJP's vote share as compared to 2019 Lok Sabha elections. While the BJP lost over 21 per cent vote share in Haryana, it had to forego a massive 9 per cent vote share in Maharashtra. The ruling BJP-Shiv Sena coalition got 51 per cent votes in 2019 Lok Sabha polls while it could get only little over 42 per cent now. Similarly, the BJP which got a record 58 per cent votes in 2019 Lok Sabha elections was reduced to only 36.5 per cent. The fall would have been much steeper if the Congress was not in such a dilapidated condition post-2019 drubbing.
However, there is a significant boundary to be noted between the two states and the Huzurnagar by-election. It is challenging to compare by-election in a single seat with Assembly elections. The fall in these two states is a comparison between Lok Sabha elections where national political narrative dominates and the state Assembly elections where local issues decide the mandate. In the two states, the ruling party or coalition suffered the erosion while in Huzurnagar the opposition lost its voting massively.
Huzurnagar is certainly a Congress stronghold, and TRS was fighting against all the odds. The state Congress chief won the seat in the last three Assembly elections. His wife was the candidate this time around. The by-election was necessitated as Uttam Kumar Reddy won from the Lok Sabha seat in which Huzurnagar Assembly segment falls. Uttam Kumar and the Congress party proved its strength twice in one year during 2018-19. Congress won both the Loksabha seats in the undivided Nalgonda district in which the Assembly segment falls. The TRS could not win this seat despite a statewide wave in its favour in the 2018 Assembly polls.
BJP, TDP and the Left were substantially marginalised helping the Congress rally all anti-incumbency votes, more specifically the anti-government votes. Uttam Kumar enjoys a lot of political influence in this constituency. Voters across the social and geographical divide in the Assembly segment told this author that the constituency witnessed development during Uttam Kumar's tenure both as a minister and as a legislator. The widespread feeling in the constituency is that the TRS government ignored this Assembly segment as the opposition leader represented it. The constituency has a sizable presence of Reddy voters who find a natural affinity with the Congress than the TRS. The Assembly segment has a significant presence of Scheduled Caste (Madiga) and the Scheduled Tribe (Lamada) voters among whom the Congress, especially Uttam Kumar, has a strong support base. Still, TRS could wrest this seat, that too with an unprecedented margin much to the surprise of political leaders and psephologists alike.
What factors have contributed to this political shift? An understanding of this will help in forecasting the political landscape of Telangana to be unveiled in the next four years. The ruling TRS could retain the support among people despite its ugly political machinations in the form of encouraging brazen defections. The ongoing RTC strike failed to evoke any antipathy towards the ruling dispensation as well.
The opposition may cry foul over the alleged misuse of official machinery to carry out large-scale poll management, a euphemism for distribution of money and liquor. The Election Commission of India could enforce a reasonably strong vigil, thanks to repeated complaints from BJP along with the Congress. Yet, the ruling TRS has certainly overwhelmed the Congress in undertaking poll management. However, this is not strange. Every ruling party enjoys such an advantage, especially in a by-election that too when the party will be in power for another four years.
Another allegation against the ruling TRS is that the party has virtually descended its army of leaders including a score of ministers on the constituency in a frantic bid to wrest this prestigious seat from Congress. On the other hand, Uttam Kumar was restrained. All this may be true. Still, all this cannot explain such a massive margin that TRS managed to register. This is precisely the reason perhaps for the Congress to speak in muted voice after the serious electoral drubbing.
The ruling TRS is alleged to have affected defection of several grassroots Congress workers and leaders of this constituency to its fold on the eve of the elections. Even this is not unusual when compared to the defection of the majority of party legislators within months after elections.
Then what defined this massive mandate in Huzurnagar in favour of ruling TRS?
Despite significant electoral reverses in the Lok Sabha elections that followed, the KCR-led TRS has conclusively proved during the 2018 Assembly polls that the KCR regime enjoys formidable public support mainly due to the plethora of welfare schemes implemented in the state. Rythu Bandhu, which is essentially a homegrown innovation of KCR, Aasara pensions, and Kalyana Laxmi schemes are hugely popular among the socially and economically marginalised sections, which formed the core support base of Congress in Huzurnagar. Thus, this victory is a definite positive vote for KCR rather than the TRS nominee in the elections.
Even the critics acknowledge that Uttam Kumar has a development track record in the constituency. However, voters felt that when Congress is not in power both at the state and at the centre, even if its nominee wins, precious little could be done for the constituency. This has been the poll plank of TRS as well. The voters seem to have been largely convinced with this argument.
With the virtual disappearance of TDP, the backward class vote has shifted to the TRS. The OBC voters form a significant chunk of the electorate in Huzurnagar as well. The BJP has been making pompous claims of its growth ever since it won four Lok Sabha seats much to the dismay of TRS. However, this election result reveals that the saffron party is no way nearer to even Congress, let alone trouncing TRS. KCR has pooh-poohed the claims of BJP citing the Huzurnagar verdict in his first reaction after the election result was announced. At a time when every election including that of a by-poll witnesses presidentialisation, KCR enjoys a clear edge compared to his opposition rivals. TRS thus immensely benefitted from the campaign that said vote for TRS is a vote for KCR.