By Kalyani Shankar
Whoever thought that a civic poll would create so much excitement, passion, and polarization? The Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) elections on December 1 has become an unprecedented high profile political event. It is being fought with the same vigour as Lok Sabha polls by not only the BJP, which is aiming high but also the other players like the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi, the AIMIM and the Congress.
The BJP is ambitious and wants to replace the TRS as an indication of what will come in the 2023 Assembly polls. The party has an advantage because the Congress, which had ruled the state, for many decades and the Telugu Desam till a few years back have left a space for the BJP to occupy. The TDP is almost wiped out and Congress has receded to fourth place in the recent Lok Sabha polls.
Eyebrows are raised at the way the BJP has fielded national heavy weights like the party chief J.P Nadda, Union Home Minister Amit Shah and UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath. Though he did not campaign even Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Hyderabad to review the progress of the Covid vaccine clinical research on November 28.
First of all, the BJP, which surprised every one by winning four Lok Sabha seats out of 17 in Telangana in 2019, got the momentum continued with another surprise victory in Dubbaka bye polls last month. After the recent stunning performance in the Bihar Assembly poll, the party’s morale is high.
Secondly, if the BJP wins the GHMC polls, it meant continuing the winning spree. Moreover, the BJP is positioning itself to spread its footprint further south. As of now, the party is weak in the south as it has only one state government (Karnataka) in its kitty.
Thirdly, the BJP wants to cut the All-India Majlis-e-Ittehaadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) to size. The AIMIM has always been strong in the Hyderabad region, which has about 44 Assembly seats. The Majlis are quite upbeat after winning 5 seats in the recent Bihar polls and want to expand in West Bengal in the next year’s Assembly polls. This will cut into the Muslim vote bank and helpful for the BJP to split Muslim votes. Even though the TRS has always contested against the AIMIM in every election, the former has enjoyed issue-based support from the latter. The two parties tactically announced a no tie-up in the municipal polls to protect their turf.
The BJP, TRS, and AIMIM have all been generous in spending money and have more than adequate muscle power, and manpower. The AIMIM has always won in the Hyderabad region.
As for the ruling TRS, it is a prestige fight. The TRS made a clever move by advancing the civic poll by two months in a surprise move. The party has been on a winning spree since the state was bifurcated in 2014.
TRS had won 99 seats in the previous civic elections while the AIMIM won 44 seats, the BJP 3 and the Congress 2. The AIMIM chief Asadudddin Owaisi has expanded his party to Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, and Bihar.
The BJP is attacking the ruling TRS for its politics of appeasement. The recent flood relief measures have been inadequate. The Musi River that runs through the city was in spate last month tanks and nallahs developed breaches and low-lying areas were waterlogged. About fifty municipal wards were affected.
Interestingly, while GHMC polls should normally raise civic problems like water, sewerage, sanitation, roads, and other amenities, the campaign, which has just ended, showed a polarizing trend. Ignoring civic issues, the campaign was around polarising comments on Pakistan, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, allegations of Rohingya refugees, and a Hindu-Muslim narrative.
This led to the Director-General of Police Mahender Reddy after a security meeting warns the parties. “They are trying to incite communal trouble. We are examining the speeches carefully. Action will be taken per law against those trying to create disturbances,” he said.
Hyderabad has one of the largest Muslim populations for a city in India; about 44 per cent of people are Muslims while 52 per cent are Hindu.
All the parties have been generous in promising sops to the electorate if they win. The BJP, TRS, and Congress have promised free drinking water supply to the city, while the BJP has promised free vaccine to tackle novel coronavirus and rename Hyderabad as Bhagya Nagar.
KCR is threatening to mobilize a non-BJP opposition front including the Trinamool Congress, Samajwadi Party, Nationalist Congress Party, etc. in an attempt to reviving the anti-BJP front.
Opinion polls have come up with varied findings giving the maximum sea to the TRS at 85, while almost all of them see the BJP winning nearly 30 per cent of the votes. The 35 votes of the MLAs and MPs in the region would go in favour of the TRS. The outcome of this election will have significant bearing on the political shape of Telengana in the coming period.