Although the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) scored a victory in the Munugode by-election after a fierce battle with the BJP, the true story of the bypoll was the story of the Congress.
In a state that was once a major source of its electoral power, holding two consecutive terms of center in 2004 and 2009, the election result shows the party’s downward spiral.
Although former Congress President Sonia Gandhi is often credited with forming Telangana – even by TRS leader and Prime Minister KCR – Congress was unable to make political gains from him in 2014, after carving out Telangana from Andhra Pradesh.
The wrath of the divided state and the loss of Hyderabad ensured the elimination of Congress in Andhra Pradesh as well.
In the 2018 Telangana elections, the party won 19 seats in the assembly out of 117. Uttam Kumar Reddy became a Member of Parliament and resigned from the MLA in 2019. In the same year, 12 MLAs switched to the ruling TRS who already had a brute majority, leaving the Congress With only six seats.
The rebels divided the legislative party, thus avoiding penalties under the Anti-Schismatic Act. Congress stood humiliated after it lost its standing as the opposition party in the House.
In this context, Mongod is beginning to emerge as a test case for the National Party to prove that it is still in the process of being reckoned with in the state.
Mongod was a congressional stronghold, and was won by Komatiridi Rajagopal Reddy in 2018. Reddy resigned from the party, jumping to the BJP in August of this year.
The Congress chose Balvai Saravanthi, whose father had served the region for a long time. They also hoped the 1.2 lakh female voters would support it at a time when the TRS and the BJP were seen betting heavily on liquor.
But in the face of TRS and BJP, Congress had no money to spend. The attention of her leadership was divided between People’s People and Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Gudu Yatra who ran through the state a week before the elections.
Despite being in the state, Rahul Gandhi stayed away from the Mongod campaign. Senior leaders dismissed this as “merely a side shield” – a sharp contrast to the Kosovo re-liberation movement, which fought as if its government’s survival depended on it.
Even with the disclaimer that the party cannot be taken as an indicator of the direction of Assembly elections, with Congress being third in Mongod, the party appears to be losing the idea of being in the race to form a government in 2023.
What worked for the TRS, political analysts say, was cooperation with the Communist Party of India (CPI) in an association in which the Left Party wields significant influence.
Fury against former MLA Komatireddy Rajagopal also helped change him into the ranks of the TRS, gaining votes of those who wanted to see him defeated.
Locals say that Rajagopal’s votes were not because of the BJP, but because of his profile and the goodwill he got through the generous distribution of money.
Many say that had Rajagopal contested again as a congressional or independent candidate, the TRS could not have won.
For the TRS, it’s a double win. They managed to keep the BJP in limbo. Komatireddy Rajagopal Reddy who had great influence in Nalgonda with his brother Komatireddy Venkat Reddy was downsized and Congress would also likely take drastic action, possibly even expelling the rebel’s brother, a senior leader and Member of Parliament.
It is unlikely that the BJP would be so sad, even after losing only after having a good fight. They were able to rank second even without significant cadre or leaders in Mongod, just by relying on a leader who could influence the electorate single-handedly.
That would help them build the narrative and perception that they are in the race to challenge the TRS in the 2023 election, having left Congress behind.
However, the victory could have given the BJP a major boost, building momentum for the party to attract and attract new talent from other parties, to make up for its lack of cadre and leadership power in the provinces.
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