The ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi in Telangana wrested the Palair Assembly seat from Congress by a record margin of 45,676 votes in the byelection held on Monday. TRS candidate Tummala Nageswara Rao, who is also the roads and buildings minister, bagged 94,940 votes, whereas his nearest rival, Ramreddy Sucharita Reddy of the Congress, secured 49,258 votes. Now, TRS has 88 MLAs, while Congress has 13 MLAs in Telangana.
The Congress candidate was defeated despite being backed by the main opposition parties, both the Telegu Desam Party and the YSR Congress.
The candidate from the Left parties, Pothineni Sudharshan, got just 15,544 votes and lost his deposit. The byelection result came on Thursday, when the Congress also lost power in Kerala and Assam.
This bypoll has been necessitated by the sudden death of sitting Congress MLA and former minister Ramreddy Venkat Reddy three months ago.
Venkat Reddy won this seat twice—by a margin of 21,000 votes in 2014 and 5,600 votes in 2009. The Congress had held this seat since 1999.
Congress fielded Venkat Reddy’s widow Sucharita Reddy after making futile efforts to ensure she was elected unopposed.
The party sent feelers to TRS supremo and Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao to leave Palair for the widow of the late Venkat Reddy, who was the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee in Telangana Assembly.
However, KCR spurned the request on the ground that TRS treated Congress as its main political rival and that there was no question of leaving the seat to it on grounds of sympathy.
KCR has been adopting this “no sympathy in politics” line since 2014 and has defeated Congress in Narayankhed Assembly bypoll, which was necessitated by the death of a Congress MLA, Kista Reddy.
The defeat upset the Congress leadership as TRS was never strong in Palair in Khammam district, which had remained aloof from the Telangana sentiment from the beginning.
In 2014, TRS got just 4,000 votes in Palair and lost its deposit.
Another interesting factor is that the TRS candidate, Nageswara Rao was a former TDP minister and was never active in the Telangana movement.
He joined TRS only after the 2014 elections. He was made a minister a few months ago, with staunch Telangana groups questioning his entry into the Cabinet. On the other hand, Ramreddy Venkat Reddy was in the forefront in the Congress in demanding a separate state and was more popular compared to Nageswara Rao.
“We admit that we failed to cash in on the goodwill the late Venkat Reddy enjoyed among the people and failed to expose the opportunistic politics of Nageswara Rao,” D. Sravan, Telangana Congress Committee spokesman, told The Sunday Guardian.
The Congress high command had marshalled its energies to win Palair by-poll. AICC general secretary Digvijaya Singh and over a dozen former ministers camped there but to no avail. The Congress wanted to enlist the support of other opposition parties—TDP and YSR Congress, which too are worried over the open poaching of their MLAs by TRS—to put up a concerted fight against the ruling party.
That strategy failed miserably. TDP and YSR Congress leaders too campaigned for Sucharita Reddy, but evoked no response.
KCR, who held a media conference on Thursday evening, ridiculed the Congress and other opposition parties for failing to put up a decent fight in Palair in spite of a sympathy factor for their candidate. “It shows people are fed up with Congress and there is no possibility of the party reviving in Telangana,” he said.
The Palair byelection victory was attributed to KCR’s son and IT Minister K.T. Rama Rao, who has been made the party’s overall campaign in-charge in the state.