Central BJP leaders hailed Kamareddy as single-most important win as their bigwigs bit the dust, and cadres remained gloomy.
By the evening of Sunday, 3 December, as the counting of votes for the Telangana Assembly election concluded, national leaders of the BJP hailed and praised its victorious candidate in Kamareddy.
Katipally Venkata Ramana Reddy was projected as the BJP’s mascot of electoral victory in Telangana. What the BJP leadership hoped to mask with this projection was the big fall of its tall leaders, including all of its MPs, in the electoral battle of Telangana.
That perhaps captures the drastic contradiction in how central leaders of the BJP wanted to project their performance in Telangana as victorious, vis-a-vis how their cadres at the local level treat it as a disappointing let down, a lost opportunity.
“If the BRS gets at least 45 seats, AIMIM seven, and BJP eight to nine, then we can come together and form the government,” a BJP functionary casually told South First in the almost deserted BJP office in Hyderabad on Sunday morning, soon after counting started. By the end of the day, those hopes had come crashing down.
As the day progressed, a few office functionaries arrived and occupied front rows in the hall, and sat silently before two giant LCD television screens.
They looked nervous as the Congress marched towards the 60-seat mark, the simple majority required to form the government, even as celebrations were erupting at the grand old party’s headquarters across the road.
At the end of the day, the party had done handsomely for itself.
It had bagged eight seats — seven more than what it won in 2018, and five more than its strength in the outgoing Assembly — and had doubled its vote-share from around seven percent in 2018 to almost 14 percent.
P Harish Babu (Sirpur), Payal Shanker (Adilabad), A Maheshwar Reddy (Nirmal), P Rakesh Reddy (Armur), D Suryanaryana (Nizamabad-Urban), N Venkata Ramana Reddy (Kamareddy), R Rao Pawar (Mudhole), and T Raja Singh (Goshamahal) all romped home comfortably.
Yet, gloom and disappointment were the predominant emotions among the cadres. Clearly, the party had been hoping for more, and things did not pan out as expected.
The feeling of let-down came as their built-up expectations of coming to power in Telangana, or at least emerging as the primary Opposition came to a nought.
The cadres weren’t to blamed for the expectation. That is what was being told to them by BJP leadership for over a year now, until things took a turn for the worse closer to polls.
Much of the gloom had to do with the shock defeat of four top leaders of the party, all of whom the cadres expected to notch up easy wins. That three of them were sitting MPs added to the despondency.
The biggest blow was the defeat of the popular former state president and Karimnagar MP Bandi Sanjay Kumar from the Karminagar Assembly seat by Gangula Kamalakar of the BRS by a narrow margin of 3,163 votes. The BRS leader polled 92,179 to Bandi Sanjay’s 89,016.
In Koratla Assembly segment, Nizamabad MP Arvind Dharmapuri lost to Kalvakuntla Sanjay of the BRS by a substantial 10,305 votes. Dharmapuri won 61,810 votes to the BRS leader’s 72,115.
The BJP’s tribal face and Adilabad MP Soyam Bapu Rao was humiliated by Anil Jadhav of the BRS by a margin of almost 23,000 votes in the Boath constituency. Jadhav polled 76,792 votes to Soyam Bapu’s 53,992.
Then there was Eatala Rajender, the heavyweight BRS leader who joined and BJP and won the Huzurabad seat in a by-election. He was expected to be a shoo-in in his home constituency and all attention was focused on whether he would manage to threaten Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao in his own Gajwel constituency.
In the event, Eatala Rajender lost both seats, rendering a blow to the cadres.
The party could perhaps have lived with the fact that he was thumped by KCR in Gajwel, where Eatala lost by a whopping margin of 45,031 votes. He bagged just 66,653 votes to KCR’s 1,11,684.
But Eatala also lost by a wide margin of 16,873 in his erstwhile stomping ground of Huzurabad. He managed to muster only 63,460 votes to his rival and BRS leader Padi Kaushik Reddy’s 80,333.
A party functionary acknowledged that the loss of Eatala Rajender in KCR’s citadel Gajwel, and his own constituency Huzurabad, came as a major blow to the party.
“He (Eatala) did not organise his campaign properly. Rather than protecting his territory in Huzurabad, he was more focused on defeating KCR in Gajwel,” the functionary, who wished to remain anonymous, told South First.
It was little wonder that, by Sunday evening, there was little or no mention of the three MPs and Eatala Rajender in the party office.
Instead, all talk was focused on K Ventaka Ramana Reddy’s win in Kamareddy. Seen as a “lone wolf” in the party office, he felled two political Goliaths — chief minister and BRS supremo KCR and Congress state president A Revanth Reddy.
Even as the Congress was steaming towards an emphatic victory, BJP Telangana spokesperson NV Subhash was already stressing on the positives, despite he gloom among the cadres. He focused on the party’s increased vote share compared to the previous two Assembly elections — 2014 and 2018.
While noting that the BJP has performed well in Telangana, he acknowledged that the party suffered “setbacks in the past few months”.
“The setbacks include the removal of Bandi Sanjay as the party chief, among other factors. The Congress has benefitted from these setbacks. But I am sure in the 2024 general elections people will vote for the BJP and our vote share and seats will increase,”` he told South First, exuding confidence.
He viewed the Congress win as a slap across the face of the BRS, with no impact on the BJP. “Nepotism thrives totally in the BRS and history has shown us that a party that has propagated a family never survives for long. So is the case with the Congress,” he said.
The BJP office wore the same look around the evening as it was in the morning.
While the state party president and Union Minister G Kishan Reddy left for Kamareddy to meet Venkata Ramanna Reddy, there was talk that third-time MLA Raja Singh might address the media.
Most of reporters spent their day in the empty press conference hall awaiting the arrival of top party leaders to address them.
The office functionaries were still busy following the trends and calculating their vote share. One of the senior members, with eyes glued to the television set, was elated about the party getting more votes than the 2018 polls.
“Last time, our vote share was around seven percent but this time it has gone up between 15 and 18 percent. But we were expecting it to be around 30 percent. Even the number of seats we were expecting was above 20,” Hanumantha Rao, a senior party leader, told South First.
However, both Rao and Subhash were hopeful that the party would perform much better in the 2024 general elections.
“If the national leadership pays the same attention to all the southern states during the Assembly elections just like they did in Telangana polls, we would perform better,” Rao opined.