Opinion: It is Eatala, not BJP that won

Eatala and his camp did not invoke BJP's familiar communal tropes and Islamophobic content; instead projected the by-poll as a fight for self-respect, projecting Eatala as the victim and CM KCR as the oppressor.

By Karam Komireddy  Published on  7 Nov 2021 4:47 AM GMT
Opinion: It is Eatala, not BJP that won

Eatala Rajender, having won six elections on the trot coupled with the sympathy he gained because of his abrupt dismissal from the council of ministers, was the favourite to win the Huzurabad by-election. The BJP, on the other hand, was a non-entity in Huzurabad and didn't stand much of a chance to win: BJP got 0.95 per cent which is less than the 1.62 per cent polled under NOTA (None of the above) in the 2018 election. However, BJP's fortunes changed soon after Eatala - defying the counsel of Telangana Jana Samiti chief, M. Kodandaram, and former MP Konda Vishweshwar Reddy and several other well-wishers - decided to contest from the saffron party.

Eatala won his first election in 2004 from the Kamalapur constituency defeating the five-term MLA and former minister Late Muddasani Damodar Reddy of the TDP. However, Eatala's role as the floor leader of the TRS in the legislative assembly (between 2009-2014 when the Telangana movement peaked) helped him catapult into the spotlight.

His stint as Finance Minister in the TRS-I government (2014-2018) and later as the Health Minister in the TRS-II government (2019-2021) enabled Eatala to strengthen further his position at the state level and particularly with Huzurabad's electorate. However, Eatala resigned as MLA almost immediately after the CM unceremoniously sacked him as the Health Minister amid Covid on allegations of land encroachments; Eatala's resignation necessitated the Huzurabad by-election.

After Eatala's exit, finding a candidate for the by-election was never going to be easy for CM KCR: Eatala was the TRS's default candidate from Huzurabad for six elections, winning two elections from Kamalapur -and after delimitation - another four from Huzurabad constituency. To make up for Eatala's loss and in its desperate bid to win the by-election, at all costs, the TRS adopted its standard operating procedure: luring leaders from rival parties, beginning with Kaushik Reddy from Congress, TRS poached Peddi Reddy (former MLA from Huzurabad), Motukupally Narsimhulu (former minister), and L Ramana, (former minister and President of Telangana TDP). Immediately upon Eatala's sacking, Kaushik Reddy declared to the press that he would contest as a Congress candidate. But, a few days later, he resigned as his telephone conversation leaked where Kaushik was heard saying that TRS confirmed his ticket and he would be joining the pink party soon. Although CM KCR approved Kaushik's nomination as MLC, the Governor has not given her sanction yet.

Despite having five months to prepare for the election, the Congress was caught off-guard due to Kaushik Reddy's last moment resignation. In any case, Kaushik's resignation should not serve as an excuse for the massive drop in its vote share: Congress vote share dropped from a significant 34.6 per cent in 2018 to less than 2 per cent in 2021. Moreover, Congress declared its candidate only a month before the election: inordinate delay in announcing the names of contesting candidates has always proved fatal for Congress.

In an attempt to attract 45000 SC votes in Huzurabad, CM KCR announced the Dalit Bandhu Scheme. He also appointed Vakulabharanam Krishna Mohan Rao as the BC Commission Chairman, hoping the move would fetch his party BC votes: Krishna Mohan Rao, a native of Huzurabad, contested as a Congress candidate in the 2009 election and got 28.54 per cent votes. So, CM KCR effectively had all prominent leaders from almost all rival parties on his side. For months, hundreds of elected representatives, including Cabinet Ministers, MLAs, MPs, Mayors, Municipal Councillors, and thousands of party workers, camped at Huzurabad. "It was an election between KCR and Eatala; the TRS's nominee Gellu Srinivas was a proxy for CM KCR, and the TRS cadres were working full-time to woo voters. 15 TRS workers were in charge for 100 votes," said a voter. That apart, opposition parties have alleged that TRS spent Rs 6000 per vote, and there are counter allegations that the BJP distributed Rs 10000 per vote.

During the initial days of electioneering, the sole job of Eatala's camp was to inform voters that Eatala was contesting on the lotus symbol, and he was not associated with the TRS's car symbol anymore. Eatala's age-old supporters- and not BJP's karyakartas organised, supervised and controlled every campaign detail. The conflict between Eatala's left-wing (Eatala began his political journey as a PDSU activist) and the BJP's extreme right-wing ideology was evident throughout the campaign. Eatala and his camp did not invoke BJP's familiar communal tropes and Islamophobic content; instead projected the by-poll as a fight for self-respect, projecting Eatala as the victim and CM KCR as the oppressor.

Despite a whirlwind tour by BJP's national and state leaders, Eatala's "true and only star campaigner" was his wife, Eatala Jamuna, who relentlessly knocked on every door in the constituency. BJP State President Bandi Sanjay, during a public meeting in the high-octane poll campaign for Dubbaka by-election last year, threatened Bahubali director Rajamouli with dire consequences and demanded the removal of a scene from his upcoming film RRR where Jr NTR playing the role of Komaram Bheem is wearing the skullcap. "Komaram Bheem led a heroic fight against the Asaf Jahi dynasty, and featuring him in a skull cap is not acceptable. Can Rajamouli make a film casting Owaisi with a vermilion and a saffron kanduva? Suppose you release the movie (RRR) with the same scenes BJP Karyakartas will obstruct its release," the BJP State President and Member of Parliament from Karimnagar is reported to have said.

In a far more prestigious and high-stakes Huzurabad by-election, Eatala Rajendar and Vivek Venkataswamy were seen wearing a skullcap: Vivek Venkataswamy, a former MP like Eatala, who ran Eatala's campaign, is not right-leaning. BJP State President's speeches in Huzurabad were subdued compared to his previous addresses in GHMC and Dubbaka election. In Dubbaka, the BJP called the shots. At Huzurabad, Eatala was in total control of the poll strategy concentrating on the development work in the last seven years and emphasising how CM KCR subjected him to harassment. Eatala seldom referred to the Union government's schemes and did not invoke the quintessential BJP slogan Jai Shriram but chanted Jai Telangana in his speeches, at times irking senior BJP leaders. His supporters, too, used Jai Eatala (and not Jai Shriram) as a battle cry. The people of Huzurabad voted for Eatala Rajendar and not the BJP.

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