Huzurabad by-poll is fast turning into a psephologist's nightmare as the electoral landscape resembles a political jigsaw puzzle with the interplay of too many factors. The by-poll should have been a cakewalk for ruling TRS if one goes by the people's mandate in Huzur Nagar and Nagarjuna Sagar by-elections. But, the surprise success of BJP in Dubbak and the estranged leader, Eatala Rajender joining the saffron party are giving sleepless nights to the KCR regime though the pink party wants us to believe that Huzurabad is not at all on its radar.

The TRS has been winning this seat for decades. So is Eatala Rajender. With both parting ways, the electorate is asked to choose between the two-party and the person, whom they have been voting.

Any defeat in Huzurabad for the ruling TRS will embolden anyone and everyone who wishes to raise the banner of revolt. Further, BJP victory in Huzurabad would mean an extension of Dubbak and GHMC verdict despite the saffron debacle in Nagarjuna Sagar and MLC elections.

The BJP scored a meager 1683 votes in Huzurabad in 2018, when it elected TRS nominee Eatala Rajender with a massive margin. The BJP got fewer votes than even an independent and NOTA. But, should this be the comparison to interpret the ongoing poll battle in Huzurabad? The fact remains that this assembly segment falls part of BJP state Chief Bandi Sanjay's Karimnagar Lok Sabha constituency. The BJP polled over 26,000 votes in this segment, which gives credence to the party's claims now. With the entry of Eatala Rajender, who won these seats multiple times, the BJP's fortunes have registered a remarkable turnaround.

The BJP is known to substantially improve its voting tally evident from the Dubbak verdict. The unprecedented performance of the BJP in GHMC polls further substantiates the argument that the saffron party is capable of registering a geometrical progression in its voting tally. The BJP has shown this ability elsewhere in the country too. It was catapulted to power in Tripura despite an abysmal show in the previous assembly elections. The BJP's spectacular rise in West Bengal which was otherwise considered a left bastion is yet another illustration of the saffron party's ability to spring surprises.

The by-poll will test how far a political party can improve its electoral fortunes with the induction of leaders from other parties. Eatala Rajender's entry has completely altered the electoral landscape for BJP in Huzurabad. It's not a BJP vs. TRS battle; rather, the electorate sees it as KCR vs. Eatala face off. Personalities do count in Indian elections though a large number of voters go by their party preference. Will Eatala- BJP combination work? Will it be a win-win partnership or a lose-lose game? BJP will anyhow be a gainer in this by-poll as it has nothing to lose. A win in Huzurabad will bolster saffron ranks. But, Eatala will test the efficacy of his saffron embrace in the by-poll battle. Thus, the verdict would define the future course of defections in Telangana politics.

Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao is taking a big gamble by moving heaven and earth to defeat Eatala Rajender who epitomizes a challenge to his supreme leadership. Thus, KCR wishes to defeat Eatala at any cost to quell any possible revolt within the TRS in the future too. Dalit Bandhu is an unprecedented welfare scheme, perhaps, in the world. Such a huge cash transfer was never attempted that too in the run-up to a by-poll. Huzurabad has over 50,000 scheduled caste voters whose support is vital for TRS victory. If the voters chose not to vote for the ruling party despite such massive financial inducement, it will send ripples in the political circles. The efficacy of welfare politics will be seriously under question.

Though KCR promises similar cash transfer schemes for OBCs and others, the TRS leaders fear a backlash from non-Dalit voters aggrieved by such a fiscal transfer to a section of society at the cost of taxpayers' money. This is not to question the need to empower Dalits. But, the fault lines in society may trigger an adverse response. Such an eventuality will prove to be a political disaster for TRS. Realizing this possible danger KCR has pressed into service unparalleled election management. Social engineering is in full play.

The TRS government promised quotas for Goudas in the allotment of liquor shops, bars, restaurants, etc. This OBC community accounts for over 20 to 25 thousand voters in Huzurabad. TRS is banking on existing welfare schemes for Yadavs, Mudiraj (Fisherman), Padmasalis who also form a sizeable chunk of the electorate. The pink party social engineering is a counter-strategy to BJP's electoral strategy.

Meanwhile, Eatala projected himself as an OBC leader by describing him as 'Mudirajbidda'. The state BJP leadership belongs to MunnuruKapus, yet another numerically stronger OBC community. Reddy's constitute over twenty thousand voters.

TRS inducted Koushik Reddy, who unsuccessfully fought on the congress plank in 2018 against Eatala Rajender, the then TRS candidate. He is offered an MLC seat. L. Ramana, the TDP president who belongs to the Padmasali community recently joined TRS. Thus, competitive social engineering, and euphemism for caste mobilization, will be put to test in Huzurabad.

Congress's role is conspicuous. The party was the nearest rival in 2018 polling over 61,000 votes. There is an increased enthusiasm in the congress party since Revanth Reddy assumed the PCC. But, the prevailing political mood is a hurdle for the grand old party. As the electoral scene increasingly gets polarized between TRS and BJP and KCR vs. Eatala Rajender, the congress finds it difficult to present a narrative. Though Congress tries to campaign that BJP and TRS are two sides of the same coin, how far can it sell the narrative is anybody's guess.

Barring a miracle, congress will most likely be confined to side-lines. Yet, the party may prove to be a vote cutter to the detriment of Eatala or the TRS nominee.

Thus, too many things are at stake, too many factors are in play, turning the Huzurabad by-poll into a do-or-die battle for both the ruling and opposition parties.

Prof. Nageshwar K

Prof.K. Nageshwar is noted political analyst and columnist. He is a former member of the Telangana Legislative Council and currently a professor at the Department of Communication & Journalism, Osmania University, Hyderabad. He is the former editor of The Hans India. He was earlier the Editor-in-Chief of Telugu news channel HMTV. He was the founder chairman of 10TV. He is the author of the books Interpreting Contemporary India; How to win at life. He served on the United Andhra Pradesh Legislative Council as an independent member from 2007 to till the bifurcation of the State in 2014 representing the Graduates' constituency of Hyderabad.

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