Opinion: Congress rising in Telangana and what that means for 2024

It is widely expected now that the Congress could either beat – or come within touching distance of – Telangana chief minister K Chandrashekar Rao’s Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS).

By Ashraf Engineer  Published on  21 Nov 2023 11:42 AM GMT
Opinion: Congress rising in Telangana and what that means for 2024

Hyderabad: Of all the states going to the polls for State Legislative Assembly elections 2023, why is Telangana the most closely watched? It’s because many believe that how the state votes on November 30 will be an indicator of what’s coming in the Lok Sabha of 2024.

It is widely expected now that the Congress could either beat – or come within touching distance of – Telangana chief minister K Chandrashekar Rao’s Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS). There is a buzz on the ground for sure, at least partly, due to Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra, and opinion polls have begun suggesting a widespread change in voter mood.

For example, the CVoter opinion poll projected 43 to 55 seats for the BRS but 48 to 60 for the Congress. If the Congress does get to 60, it’ll have a clear majority in the 119-member State Assembly.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) remains a fringe player with a projected 5 to 11 seats.

That, however, is balanced by fresh reports from the field that there are rumblings against the Congress too – over ticket distribution, to begin with. If that is not fixed soon, the surge could ebb pretty fast.

If the Congress does manage to win or get within touching distance of the BRS, it would have national ramifications – perhaps more than a win in any other state. The Congress is expected to win Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh comfortably and could even eke out a win in Rajasthan which has a history of changing governments in every poll. However, whether these states will vote the same way in the general elections is an open question. The Hindi belt states might stick to their pattern of voting for the BJP.

A swing towards the Congress party in Telangana could signal a similar pattern across non-Hindi belt states. Telangana is among those likely to vote the same way in the state and general elections. Given the gains the Congress has made, and combined with a greater share of Lok Sabha seats in Telangana, it could change the equations at the national level significantly.

The spark in Karnataka

The sands may have begun to shift after Congress’ significant win in Karnataka. With strong allies in the form of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in Tamil Nadu, the Nationalist Congress Party and Uddhav Thackeray’s Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, and the growing Opposition unity, there are tantalising signs of change.

If this assessment is right, it could mean – if not a complete victory in the 2024 general election for the Congress and its allies in the Opposition – a significant weakening of the BJP that would hamstring its saffron agenda and put it on the back foot for its entire term.

A Congress win in Telangana or even a great showing in the Assembly poll would virtually guarantee it a chunk of its 17 Lok Sabha seats. After all, it wasn’t too long ago when Andhra Pradesh – before its bifurcation – gave the Congress its largest contingent of MPs under the government led by Manmohan Singh.

If media reports are to be believed, the Congress resurgence is founded on the support of the traditionally influential Reddy caste. Such is their clout that the BRS has given 39 seats to them.

Also, the Congress seems to have learnt from its success in Karnataka, where it released a list of benefits before the election and has done the same in Telangana.

However, a word of caution: the welfare approach is not always a guarantee of victory because benefits to one group would mean them being diverted away from another. This inevitably leads to resentment. Think of what’s happening in Manipur.

Statehood is still a buzzword

Interestingly enough, a decade after its formation, Telangana’s statehood is still an election issue. The Congress is quite legitimately claiming credit for carving out the state from Andhra Pradesh.

It was as far back as 2000 when Congress MLAs in Andhra Pradesh announced their support for the establishment of Telangana. A year later, KCR, who was a part of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and deputy speaker in the Andhra Pradesh Assembly, resigned and launched the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), now BRS, which was focused on the creation of the state.

However, it was only in 2009 that the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government committed to set the ball rolling. Subsequently, in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha election, under pressure due to agitations and facing defeat, the UPA finally announced the formation of the state. Telangana was officially founded on June 2, 2014.

Now, the Congress party is cashing in its chip by pointing out that it was the UPA that agreed to the division of Andhra Pradesh.

The Muslim vote solidifies

Lastly, a word on another electorally significant social group – Muslims. Making up a traditional voter base of the Congress, the Muslims had thrown their weight behind the BRS earlier. However, wary of the anti-Muslim stance of the BJP-led Central Government and not completely convinced that KCR won’t join hands with the BJP at some stage, Muslims seem to be shifting towards the Congress.

The party’s consistent secular stance even in the face of electoral setbacks seems to have given the community confidence. Muslims make up 13 per cent of Telangana’s population and it is estimated that they have the potential to swing the verdicts in 45 Assembly seats.

The Muslim vote in Karnataka too would have encouraged the Congress. In the earlier Assembly election, the community’s vote was split between the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular), benefiting the BJP. In last year’s election, the vote consolidated with the Congress.

The community hasn’t forgotten that it was Congress that implemented 4 per cent reservations for it in education and employment. KCR promised to raise this quota to 12 per cent but did not deliver on it.

What could be a spanner in the works for the Congress is that the community remembers that under the BRS there have been virtually no communal riots in the state, which is more than can be said for when the Congress ruled the undivided state.

There is also the traditional electoral disconnect from the mood of the rest of the nation. People from the region don’t necessarily identify with issues roiling other regions. The might of the KCR marketing machine would tap into that and push hard for a decisive swing in the BRS’ favour. The welfare schemes too seem to have found their mark in rural areas. While some are undoubtedly angry at being left out, they may not have the voting numbers to make an impact.

However, whether the Congress manages to topple the BRS government or not, it’s certainly on the comeback trail in Telangana. This means it has set itself up for major gains from the state in the Lok Sabha polls in 2024. What impact it will have on the overall 2024 result remains to be seen but the revival is evident in several states, and that can only mean a more enthused party cadre and further evidence that Rahul Gandhi is a force to reckon with.

Ashraf Engineer has been a journalist for almost three decades, leading newsrooms and initiatives across print, digital and audio. He is the founder of the All Indians Matter platform, a home for conversations with and about India on issues that matter, and the host of the podcast by the same name.

The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of NewsMeter.

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