A win or defeat will define the leadership qualities of not only KCR, but also his son KTR.

 

 

Hyderabad: The byelection to the Huzurnagar Assembly constituency has become a prestige issue for Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR) for more than one reason. He is leaving no stones unturned to wrest this key constituency from the Congress by demonstrating his political clout and thus have a smooth sail in the state for the next four years.

If he loses this seat, it would not only signify continuation of slide in his popularity that was witnessed in the April Parliament elections, but also embolden the Opposition Congress and BJP to sharpen their knives against his government in the coming days, and thus go for the killing in the coming civic bodies and Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) elections.

The Huzurnagar byelection will be held on 21 October and the results will be out on 24 October, along with many of them in the country. The bypoll has been necessitated by resignation of Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) president N. Uttam Kumar Reddy to Lok Sabha from the Nalgonda seat earlier this year. Uttam Reddy won the Huzurnangar Assembly seat by around 7,000 votes last December.

Uttam Reddy, a four-term MLA and former minister, has considerable clout in this constituency where voters from his Reddy community comprise around 20% of the total electorate. Now, a Congress ticket has been given to Uttam’s wife Padmavathi who lost from the neighbouring Kodad constituency six months ago. She, too, represented Kodada twice in the past.

The ruling TRS has again fielded S. Saidi Reddy who lost to Uttam last December. BJP, for a change, has entered the fray with huge expectations by fielding a local doctor and OBC candidate Kota Rama Rao, thus making the byelection a triangular contest. Some last minute surprises are expected as a large number of gram panchyat sarpanches are planning to contest as protest against the government’s policies.

What has added gravitas to the bypoll battle is CM KCR entrusting campaign responsibility to his son TRS working president and IT Minister K.T. Rama Rao (KTR). In a way, this is going to be a litmus test to KTR’s electoral skills after he was re-inducted into the state Cabinet on 8 September. So, a win or defeat in Huzurnagar is going to define the leadership qualities of not only KCR but also his son KTR.

Not only that, KCR has drafted as many as 70 senior leaders of the party, including several ministers, MLAs, MLCs and corporation chair persons, to take care of the campaign in the next four weeks in this constituency with around 2.10 lakh voters. As this irrigated area is also known for its political consciousness, the voter turnout in 2014 was 82% and in 2018 it was 85%.

The backdrop of this election is KCR’s disappointing performance in the Parliamentary elections in which he lost seven out of the 17 Lok Sabha seats to the Opposition four to BJP and three to Congress. TRS got just nine and it ally AIMIM retained the Hyderabad seat. More than Congress’ three seats, the BJP’s sudden rise with a four-seat tally has anguished KCR who, all along, dismissed the saffron party as a marginal force in the state.

The poor show in the Lok Sabha elections, too, had an impact in the recent expansion of the Cabinet by KCR. He not only dropped the idea of dropping some seniors from his team, but had to please other seniors by allotting them with plum posts. For instance, a senior leader Gutta Sukhender Reddy from Nalgonda district was not only made an MLC, but also made chairman of Telangana Legislative Council last fortnight.

Sukhender Reddy, a former Congress MP who later defected to the TRS four years ago, is expected to see that TRS won the Huzurbangar by-election. KCR also made another senior MLC Palla Rajeswar Reddy in-charge of the by-election campaign committee. Power minister G. Jagadeswar Reddy has been made directly responsible for local coordination.

KTR has swung into campaign mode and has set up a war room of sorts in TRS headquarters in Hyderabad and has made it clear to his party leaders that winning this Assembly seat was crucial for the party’s future. If TRS wins this seat, KCR can wriggle out of the humiliating burden of losing seven MPs to the Opposition, particularly the defeat of his daughter Kavita to BJP’s novice MP D. Aravind.

KTR told his party leaders: “If we (TRS) win this seat, it would not only demonstrate that we can wrest a Congress seat, but also prove that the surprise wins of the BJP in four Lok Sabha seats were a one-off show, very accidental and freak, with no future consequences. We can also easily face the coming municipal and GHMC elections.”

On the other hand, the Congress, too, is sweating it out to retain this seat to prove a point—that is to them, the BJP is not a challenger to the TRS in Telangana. The Congress is equally worried over the possibility of the BJP emerging as the second biggest force in Telangana, relegating it to a third spot. If the Congress retains Huzurnagar, at least it can hope to halt the exodus from its side to the BJP.

Indications point to a heated and one of the most expensive bypoll in Telangana. At present, the BJP does not have any base in Huzurnagar, but its leaders are not in a mood to let go of the bypoll and are raring to make an attempt to grow. The Congress is hopeful of securing the support of the TDP and CPI, while the TRS is banking on YSR Congress backing in this Reddy dominated constituency.

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