With its locally sourced candidate not pulling his weight in Munugode, the BJP perhaps thought some sensational defections would help its cause.
Did a combination of hubris — no one can touch us — and desperation over its declining prospects in the upcoming by-election in Munugode lead the BJP to set up the botched operation to poach four MLAs of the ruling TRS in Telangana?
Although the BJP, as is its wont, seems to have decided to brazen it out by issuing loud and vehement denials, the identities of the dramatis personae — the three detained men — and their political links suggest the party’s involvement.
In fact, sources told South First that the party will soon be left with little wiggle room as the entire sequence of events at TRS MLA Pilot Rohit Reddy’s farmhouse in Aziznagar in Moinabad on Wednesday, 26 October, was video recorded.
These sources said there is little doubt that not only was the operation mounted by the party, it also had the blessings of senior BJP leaders both in the state and in New Delhi.
As further proof they pointed to the confidence with which the BJP has, in the past few weeks, contended that many TRS MLAs would soon joint the party.
BJP state president Bandi Sanjay Kumar, for instance, had bragged that 12 TRS MLAs were in touch with him. “There will be a series of by-elections in Telangana soon, just as one that will be held in Munugode constituency,” Bandi Sanjay said.
Former MP Konda Vishweshwar Reddy, after making a lateral entry into the BJP, had said he would get one TRS leader into the BJP every month. He was originally in the TRS, then shifted loyalty to the Congress, and finally made an entry into the BJP.
According to reliable sources on the ground, despite his best efforts, BJP nominee in Munugode Komatireddy Rajagopal Reddy has not been able to cut much ice with the electorate, particularly with his erstwhile Congress voters, and appears to be losing out to his TRS rival K Prabhakar Reddy.
The BJP does to have any real presence in the constituency — it polled a mere 12,725 votes in 2018, compared to 99,239 polled by Rajagopal Reddy as Congress candidate — and is pinning its hopes on him to win the seat.
But the voters do not seem to attach much importance to Rajagopal Reddy’s argument that it was because he was a Congress MLA that the TRS government did not fund any development in the constituency.
They have not taken kindly either to Rajagopal’s admission that he did indeed get contracts worth several thousand crore from the Centre, though he said it had nothing to do with his decision to join the BJP.
In fact, reports from the ground suggest that most voters, at least Congress voters, have concluded that Rajagopal Reddy’s resignation from the party and the Assembly was orchestrated by the BJP to ensure the TRS got tied down in a prestige fight in Munugode.
The BJP does not tire of pointing to two recent Assembly by-elections — in Dubbaka (in November 2020) and Huzurabad (October 2021), both of which it won — to suggest an anti-TRS turn in the tide in Telangana, and to enthuse its workers.
What it does not state is that it won those two by-elections not because the party had any great influence in these constituencies, but because its two candidates — erstwhile TRS veterans Eatala Rajender in Huzurabad and Raghunandan Rao in Dubbaka — were tall leaders in their own right, and, in fact, were bigger than the BJP.
They won the by-elections by the sheer strength of their personalities.
The BJP rarely mentions two other by-elections — Nagarjuna Sagar (April 2021) and Huzurnagar (November 2019) — both of which the party not only lost, but came in a poor third and fourth, respectively, behind the TRS and the Congress (and an independent in Huzurnagar).
It polled a mere 7,976 votes in Nagarjuna Sagar to come third in an election that the TRS won by polling 89,804 votes, and an even poorer 2,639 votes to come in fourth in Huzurnagar where the TRS polled 1,13,095 votes.
Clearly, without locally sourced strong candidates, the BJP has little strength of its own that it can boast of in large swathes of the state.
In Munugode, the BJP followed its gameplan of finding itself a strong local candidate by engineering Rajagopal Reddy’s resignation from the Congress and the Assembly, but it is now realising that its candidate comes with a lot of baggage.
With the denouement dawning on the BJP leadership that winning Munugode is easier said than done, it appears it needed something sensational which could turn the tide of public opinion in its favour in Munugode.
According to sources, the BJP came up with the operation to poach the four MLAs to reverse the pro-TRS trend.
In fact, the BJP’s success in luring Backward Class (BC) TRS leader Dr Boora Narsaiah Goud did not set off a domino effect as it had imagined; instead, it triggered a reverse domino effect. After the TRS lost one BC leader, it gained four from the BJP in quick succession.
The TRS, which woke from its reverie that it is invincible after suffering the two defeats in Dubbak and Huzurabad, has remained very alert to developments ahead of Munugode. Knowing that a desperate party would go to any extent to shore up its prospects, it was waiting and watching.
Sources said that when BJP leaders kept saying several TRS MLAs were in touch with the saffron party to switch sides, the TRS leadership had the first whiff of the operation that the BJP was trying to set in motion.
Accordingly, it had warned its legislators about such a possible move and when the saffron party leaders did make contact, the party was ready with its trap.
The BJP emissaries made contact with Vikarabad TRS legislator Rohit Reddy about a month ago, which gave the pink party enough time to take necessary measures to expose the saffron party.
— krishanKTRS (@krishanKTRS) October 26, 2022
Now that the police have registered a case against the three persons who tried to lure the legislators, BJP leaders face a challenge as to how they would be able to wriggle themselves out of the mess they have landed in.
Though BJP leaders say the entire operation looked like a slapstick comedy show, their version is not getting much traction with the people.
It would be interesting to watch how the BJP tries to emerge unscathed from this episode, especially given that its emissaries have threatened to send the sleuths of the ED and CBI after the legislators if they did not play ball.