After suffering setbacks in Assembly by-elections and municipal polls in Greater Hyderabad, the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) tried to score a political point over BJP by ensuring a successful shutdown in the state during Bharat Bandh called by farmers’ groups on Tuesday.
From ministers to MPs and state legislators to Mandal level public representatives, the entire rank and file of the TRS were on the streets to make the shutdown a success.
Organizing mass protests is not new to the TRS as it led the movement for statehood to Telangana for 13 years but this was the first occasion after the formation of Telangana state and the party coming to power in 2014 that it not only extended support to country-wide protest on a national issue but its leaders actively participated in it.
Ministers leading road blockades was unprecedented in the state. This also triggered a fresh round of war of words between the TRS and the BJP.
Bharat Bandh came close on the heels of elections to Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC), which witnessed a massive surge by the BJP to bring down the TRS’ strength in the 150-member municipal body to 55 from 99 earlier.
With a big jump in its seats from a mere four to 48, BJP has emerged as the main opposition party and has become aggressive in its attacks on the ruling party. The GHMC elections had witnessed shrill campaign by BJP with its national President J.P. Nadda and Central ministers including Amit Shah taking part in the electioneering.
This blow to the TRS came close on the heels of its defeat at the hands of BJP in the by-election to Dubbak Assembly seat. By wresting the seat from the ruling party, the saffron party further cemented its claim that it alone can provide an alternative to the TRS.
The BJP’s aggressive campaigning in GHMC was also seen as an attempt by the party to give a strong reply to Chief Minister and TRS president K. Chandrasekhar Rao, who last month declared his plans to bring non-NDA parties on one platform to take on the BJP.
This was nothing as Rao had floated the idea of a federal front comprising non-BJP non-Congress parties before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls but it fell flat with the BJP retaining power at the Centre with a thumping majority.
KCR, as Rao is popularly known, often faces criticism for talking of an alternative to BJP and Congress only at the time of elections and later forgetting it. He also drew flak for extending support to the Modi government in its first term on various issues including demonetization, GST, and the election of President and Vice President.
However, KCR started attacking the BJP in recent months over issues like central funds for the state, lack of support to tide over the financial crisis caused by Covid-19 pandemic, GST compensation, and electricity reforms.
When the Centre brought three agriculture Bills in September, the TRS opposed them in Parliament, terming them anti-farmer.
The ongoing protest by farmers in Delhi and Bharat Bandh call came in handy for TRS to hit back at the BJP following the latter’s electoral gains in the state. With all parties coming together to back the shutdown call, the BJP found itself isolated.
Not stopping at Bharat Bandh, TRS declared its intentions to take the protest over farm laws to any extent. “We are ready to go anywhere. Even if they imprison us, we will not stop,” said TRS Working President K. T. Rama Rao when asked if his party leaders would go to Delhi to show solidarity with agitating farmers.
A key minister in father’s cabinet, Rama Rao led a road blockade on the Hyderabad-Bengaluru highway on Tuesday. He, however, denied that their protest had anything to do with politics. “There are still three years to go for elections. This is not politics. This is the issue of farmers,” he quipped.
The TRS’s support to Bharath Bandh and active participation in the protest by the ministers drew strong reactions from the BJP. Party MP D. Arvind wondered how ministers including Home Minister can take part in the protest. He even warned that if the TRS government acts this way, the state may see the imposition of the President’s rule.
BJP state president Bandi Sanjay claimed that Bharat Bandh failed in Telangana as people including farmers stayed away. He wanted to know why police failed to place ministers and TRS leaders under house arrest during the bandh. He alleged that some police officers were working only to target BJP leaders.
In a move to counter the TRS, the BJP leader announced that his party will launch a state-wide protest on the problems of government employees, teachers, and pensioners. He slammed leaders of employees’ unions for becoming tools in the hands of the TRS government. “They should remember that TRS will not always remain in power. It’s the BJP which will be coming to power in the state,” he said.