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Congress
Congress

Hyderabad: The BJP’s emergence as a strong opponent to ruling TRS in Telangana has pushed the Congress to the third place, and the grand old party faces an uphill task to arrest its decline ahead of next year’s Assembly elections.

Series of defections, a string of defeats in by-elections, disastrous performance in Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) polls and continued infighting have considerably weakened the party in its former stronghold.

The Congress appears to be in complete disarray with resignation of some of its top leaders in recent weeks and the open revolt by some seniors against state Congress chief A. Revanth Reddy.

The recent resignation of sitting MLA from Munugode constituency, Komatireddy Rajagopal Reddy, and his subsequent defection to BJP has added to the woes of the Congress, which does not look ready to confidently face a by-election.

The outcome of the upcoming by-election is likely to indicate the direction of the wind before the 2023 polls.

The bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh by granting statehood to Telangana in 2014 was a political gamble by the Congress, which was hoping to reap the political dividend by claiming credit for carving out the separate state.

However, TRS chief K. Chandrasekhar Rao dashed its hopes by rejecting the proposal to merge his party with the Congress. He decided to maintain the identity of TRS as an independent political party.

KCR, as Rao is popularly known, succeeded in claiming credit for achieving the goal of a separate state by winning the public mandate. In the 2014 elections, held just before the formal bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh, TRS won 63 seats in the 119-member Telangana Assembly.

The Congress, which was completely wiped out in Andhra Pradesh due to the public anger over the bifurcation, could win 22 seats in Telangana. However, the party failed to keep its flock together as several of its leaders defected to TRS.

In the 2018 Assembly elections, held a few months before the term of the Assembly was to end, Congress faced a disaster. It could win just 19 seats, though it had forged an electoral alliance with the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and other TRS opponents.

However, the worst was yet to come. Even before it could gear up for the Lok Sabha elections in 2019, it had lost as many as 12 MLAs to the ruling party. Though the party salvaged some pride by winning three Lok Sabha seats, with the reduced strength in Assembly it lost the status of main opposition to Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM), a friendly party of TRS.

Congress suffered a huge embarrassment as it failed to retain the Huzurnagar Assembly seat, where by-election was necessitated following the resignation of Uttam Kumar Reddy after his election to the Lok Sabha.

The TRS wrested the seat from Congress as its candidate S. Saidi Reddy was elected with a huge margin of over 43,000 votes. Uttam Reddy’s wife N. Padmavathi Reddy finished a distant runner-up.

The BJP, which became aggressive following its impressive performance in the Lok Sabha polls after winning four seats, added to the worries of Congress. Projecting itself as the only viable alternative, the saffron party started making inroads in Telangana.

The BJP wrested Dubbak from the TRS in 2020 to further consolidate itself. The saffron party, which hardly had any presence in the constituency, pushed Congress to third position.

The Congress suffered another humiliation the same year as it could win just two seats in the 150-member Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC). In its best-ever performance in the civic body, the BJP bagged 48 seats to deny the TRS a clear majority.

The emergence of BJP as the main opposition party sent the alarm bells ringing. Owning moral responsibility for the defeat, Uttam Reddy had resigned as the party chief.

The Congress was pinning its hopes on the by-election to Nagarjuna Sagar to revive its fortunes in the state. But its senior leader and former minister K. Jana Reddy lost by over 18,000 votes to TRS debutant Nomula Bhagat, whose father late Nomula Narasimhaiah had defeated Jana Reddy in 2018.

The only solace for the Congress was that it finished runner-up and BJP was a distant third with its candidate forfeiting his deposit.

The appointment of Revanth Reddy as the new state president by the central leadership last year after ignoring several seniors and strong contenders triggered open revolt by a section of leaders, who saw Revanth as an outsider as he had defected to Congress from TDP just before the 2018 elections.

The change of guard also could not bring any change in the party’s fortunes. Several seniors started openly attacking Revanth Reddy for sidelining them.

In the Huzurabad by-election held last year, Congress’ performance was disastrous. Eatala Rajender’s resignation from the constituency after he was dropped from the state Cabinet by Chief Minister Chandrasekhar Rao had caused the by-election. He switched loyalties to BJP and contested the by-poll as the candidate of the saffron party.

Rajender defeated his nearest rival Gellu Srinivas Yadav of TRS by 24,068 votes. Rajender polled 1,06,780 votes while Srinivas Yadav secured 82,712 votes. The Congress candidate secured only 3,012 votes and lost the deposit. It was a disaster for Congress which had secured 47,803 votes in 2018 to finish runner-up.

BJP is confident that in Munugode, Rajagopal Reddy will repeat the performance of Eatala to give it another victory.

Political observers say the by-election offers another opportunity to Congress to arrest the slide and improve its prospects in the big battle ahead.

With speculations doing rounds in political circles that Rajagopal Reddy’s brother and MP Venkat Reddy may also quit Congress and join BJP, Congress is likely to face more embarrassment.

Under attack from his critics within the party over his style of functioning, Revanth Reddy will be under big pressure to deliver and give a befitting counter to Komatireddy brothers and his bitter critics on their home turf.

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Author: Howard Caldwell