As the campaigning for the Telangana Assembly elections closed on November 28, BJP strategists desperately hoped the Congress’s resurgence wouldn’t lead the party to the seat of power in yet another southern state after Karnataka, lifting the Opposition morale in the run-up to the general elections next year.
Led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and home minister Amit Shah, the BJP had run an aggressive campaign slamming both the ruling Bharat Rashtra Samiti (BRS) and Opposition Congress in a bid to emerge as the principal challenger in Telangana. However, the effort doesn’t seem to have yielded the desired result, party insiders said. Ground reports suggest a keen contest between the BRS and the Congress, with the BJP pushed to the margins as a third player, party leaders said.
The Congress resurgence in Telangana seemed to have caused concern in the BJP’s central leadership, with insiders acknowledging that it could significantly alter the narrative ahead of the Lok Sabha polls.
“If the Congress manages to capture power in Telangana, it would indicate a resurgence of the party in the entire south. With two key southern states, Karnataka and Telangana, under its belt, the Congress will acquire a fresh momentum,” a senior BJP leader felt. “The south can provide a strong footing to the Congress in 2024,” the leader added.
Despite Modi and Shah’s attack on the BRS, particularly chief minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao, accusing him of corruption, nepotism and appeasement, the BJP would be happy if the regional party manages to retain power for a third straight term. The BJP leaders feel that the BRS win will be favourable for them to retain the four Lok Sabha seats they won in 2019 and even increase the number.
Besides the southern state, the BJP managers fear that the Congress could snatch Madhya Pradesh, a key heartland state, from them and it would come as a big morale booster for the Opposition INDIA bloc. Madhya Pradesh voted on November 17.
The BJP leadership had been confident of squeezing out the Congress to emerge the principal challenger to the ruling BRS till their defeat in neighbouring Karnataka seemed to have shattered their Telangana dream. Party leaders said their decisive defeat in Karnataka went to puncture the momentum they had built in Telangana.
“After winning four Lok Sabha seats in 2019, followed by two Assembly bypolls and 48 out of 150 seats in the Hyderabad municipal corporation polls, the party had managed to build a powerful narrative. Everything, however, fizzled out after the loss in Karnataka,” a BJP general secretary said. “Many leaders from the ruling BRS and also the BJP left and joined the Congress,” the leader added.
The BJP losing steam in Telangana could be a matter of huge concern for the party strategists as it would deal a big blow to their sustained efforts to expand wings in the south. Barring Karnataka, Telangana is the only southern state that holds the possibility for the BJP to get a foothold in the vast southern region of the country and shed the tag of being a Hindi heartland party.
“If the Congress manages to win in Telangana, we will have to rework our Lok Sabha strategy for the entire south,” a BJP leader said.