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The Hindu
The Hindu
Ravi Reddy

Will BJP’s BC card pay off in TS polls?

The event at Suryapet would have been a routine election rally addressed by top politicians. But for Union Minister of Home Affairs and Cooperation Amit Shah announcing that if the BJP were voted to power in Telangana, it would make a Backward Class leader the Chief Minister.

This time around, the BJP has taken a calculated risk to boost its prospects in the no-holds-barred elections scheduled for November 30. At the same time, its announcement has also pushed the other contenders — the ruling Bharat Rashtra Samiti (BRS) and the Congress — on the defensive.

In tune with its focus on the BC communities, the party has given tickets to 20 candidates from these communities in its first list of 52 candidates. The Congress, on the other hand, has only 19 BC candidates between two lists announcing contestants for over 100 constituencies; only 22 of the 119 candidates of the BRS are from BC communities. Backward Classes constitute 52% of the total population of 3.82 crore in the State as per the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) data this year.

The credit for giving the Backward Classes their place of pride goes to the late N. T. Rama Rao’s Telugu Desam Party, which made its electoral debut in the 1983 elections in united Andhra Pradesh and rode to power ousting Congress party’s 36 years of uninterrupted rule. Little-known BC leaders became legislators and went on to play key roles in the TDP government.

BRS’s unfulfilled promise

Ahead of the 2014 elections, BRS (then Telangana Rashtra Samithi) chief K. Chandrashekar Rao had promised to save the post of Chief Minister of the new State of Telangana for a person from the Scheduled Caste. In the run-up to the present elections, BRS working president and Mr. Rao’s son K.T. Rama Rao acknowledged that the party had not fulfilled this promise. However, at a Meet the Press event held in Hyderabad two days ago, he remarked, “But, people have approved the stand and supported our party by giving a higher majority in the 2018 election compared to 2014.”

The saffron party intends to play out the narrative that the BRS never delivers on its poll promises. The BRS, meanwhile, intends to focus on the BC angle. Mr. Rama Rao mentioned that his party has been championing the cause of Backward Classes since 2014. “It is our party that first raised the demand for BC census and creation of a separate OBC Ministry at the Centre. The first session of the Telangana Assembly in 2014 had adopted a resolution urging Centre to take up BC census, reserving 33% quota in law making bodies,” he remarked.

The Congress target

The BJP is also targeting the Congress on the grounds that the number of seats given to the BCs is not proportional to their population. It has pointed out the anger and discontent among Congress’s BC leaders, who were ignored in ticket distribution.

Congress’s demand for a caste census is another point of derision, with BJP leaders terming it a vehicle of social justice that has no takers. They charge the national party of attempting to break the coalition of Hindu voters spanning caste and community lines. The Congress party too has realised the importance of Backward Classes and constituted a panel to announce its BC Declaration ahead of the polls.

It comes as a surprise that a disciplined party like the BJP would choose to make announcements about the Chief Ministerial post prior to the election results being declared. Senior BJP leaders maintain that the announcement is a larger national strategy that aims to call out the sheer dishonesty and mendacity in the Congress-led alliance’s promise.

BJP’s internal politics

The BJP has to do some soul-searching if its intention for a BC Chief Minister is real. The unceremonious ouster of the aggressive Karimnagar MP Bandi Sanjay, a BC leader, as the State unit chief and replacing him with the soft-spoken Union Minister G. Kishan Reddy, a OC leader, did not go down well with the party’s rank and file.

Hailing from the dominant Munnuru Kapu BC caste, Mr. Bandi’s replacement alienated the community from the party. Munnuru Kapus can determine the fate of candidates in several constituencies in the North Telangana region and parties are careful not to displease this community.

The move to name a BC leader as CM could also be an attempt to woo back the Munnuru Kapus into the party fold. Notably, Rajya Sabha MP and OBC wing chairman of the BJP, K. Laxman, Mr. Bandi and Nizamabad MP Dharmapuri Arvind are the leading figures of the Munnuru Kapu community. Huzurabad MLA Etela Rajender, chairman of the BJP’s Election Management Committee and popular BC leader, belongs to the Mudiraj caste, another influential community in the State.

The CM pick is likely to be from among these four leaders if the BJP is able to cross the magic figure of 60 in the 119-strong Telangana Assembly. Curiously enough, Mr. Bandi, Mr. Rajender and Mr. Arvind don’t see eye to eye on several issues and have made apparent their displeasure for each other.

Interestingly, all these leaders — Mr. Bandi (Karimnagar), Mr. Rajender (Huzurabad) and Mr. Arvind (Kortula) are in the fray for the Assembly elections from Old Karimnagar district. Mr. Rajender is also taking on Chief Minister Rao in the Gajwel constituency.

National Backward Classes Welfare Association President and YSRCP Rajya Sabha member R. Krishnaiah, meanwhile, has welcomed the BJP’s announcement. “It’s a proud moment for the BCs in Telangana but the real spirit of social empowerment will be achieved only when the OBC Bill is passed in Parliament giving quota for the Backward Classes,” he noted.

It looks like the BJP’s BC card is likely to be the rallying point for all parties to woo voters.

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