GHMC Poll: Why are Hyderabad civic poll so important for BJP

The BJP has deployed several top leaders for its campaign in the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) election.

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BJP invoked "Jinnah," and in its speeches called "surgical strike on Hyderabad" and top leaders like party chief JP Nadda, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, and many Union ministers in his campaign Deployed, it has been difficult to believe that this is just a civil election being fought in Hyderabad. The question is why the BJP has raised so much in a civic election like the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC)?

Capturing Hyderabad is not just an election battle for the BJP; it is an ideology. For many in the Hindutva family, the existence of Hyderabad is a matter of survival. Named after Hyderabad - the BJP wants it to be renamed Bhagyanagar - in its most iconic memorial, Charminar, the Hindutva army contests it.

And in this worldview, Hyderabad has an apparent antithesis to Hindutva - Asaduddin Owaisi's All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM). Far from being a BJP B-team, AIMIM is deeply modified by Hindutva organizations, and this is evident in the language used by BJP leaders against Owaisi in this campaign.

BJP's 'young face' Tejashwi Surya said at a public meeting in Hyderabad, "One vote for Owaisi is one vote for Mohammad Ali Jinnah." The party also linked AIMIM to Osama bin Laden. Hindutva organizations view "Hyderabad" as a civilization - as an enclave of Muslim supremacy in the Deccan that survived the Maratha period and British rule.

"It is because people vote Owaisi in Hyderabad that he can contest Bihar elections. It is important to defeat him here", said BJP MP Tejashwi Surya. 
This domination is believed to have broken with Hyderabad's break-up and had been so for some years. But this changed with the revival of AIMIM in the late 1970s and continued to dominate Old City politics over the subsequent four decades.

Now the Majlis is expanding in Maharashtra and Bihar, and there is a campaign to crush it on its home ground in Hindutva camp. Tejasvi Surya summed up this sentiment when he said, "It's because people vote for Owaisi in Hyderabad that he can contest in Bihar. It's important to defeat him here".

Expansion in Telangana
The Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) established its rule due to a social movement for a separate Telangana state. History has shown that it's not easy to dislodge those who have captured power riding on social movements.

Trinamool Congress's capture of power in Bengal riding on the Nandigram and Singur agitations and AAP's success in Delhi following the Jan Lokpal movement are two recent examples. But TRS embodies this even more directly as it has benefitted from a bigger and older movement.

The BJP understands that the TRS can't be dislodged unless an ideological battle is waged against it, questioning the very idea of Telangana that it stands for. Hindutva outfits see Telangana as the result of Hindus' resistance to a Muslim ruler - the Nizam and the need to revive the "glory" of the "pre-Muslim" period.

But the TRS's idea of Telangana can be traced back to the 1952 protests against non-Mulkis, the 1969 agitation for a separate state and the formation of the Telangana Praja Samithi, and finally, the 2011 protests in which TRS itself played a key role.

TRS sees Telangana's history not in Hindu vs. Muslim terms, but as Kakatiya, Qutbshahi, and Asaf Jahi rule. This is not surprising as the Velama caste that CM K Chandrashekar Rao came from were landed elites who held influence through most dynasties.

The TRS's narrative stands in Opposition not just to the BJP's narrative but also that of the Left, whose view of Telangana is shaped by the 1946 peasant uprising against Nizam Rule. The AIMIM's vision is linked to that of the TRS but with a strong thrust on protecting the interests of Muslims. Throughout the campaign, BJP has accused TRS of being a proxy of AIMIM, labeling it as "pro-Muslim" and "anti-Hindu".

The idea is to win over the TRS' Telugu speaking Hindu votes while restricting the Old City contests to a straight battle with AIMIM.

Why GHMC Matters
Besides the symbolic importance of Hyderabad discussed above, the GHMC is critical to capture power in Telangana.

The GHMC includes as many as 24 Assembly constituencies, about one-fifth of the total number of constituencies in Telangana. The boundaries of the GHMC are spread across four Lok Sabha seats: Seven Assembly segments each from the Hyderabad and Secunderabad Lok Sabha seats, five segments from Malkajgiri, three from Chevella, and one from Medak. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP led in seven out of 24 segments.

BJP has traditionally been strong in the Secunderabad Lok Sabha constituency, having won it five times in the last three decades. However, it had been historically dependent on its erstwhile ally Telugu Desam Party in the other seats. The decline of the TDP and Congress in the GHMC area has opened up space for the BJP.

To some extent, the TRS is to blame for this as well. Besides populist measures and KCR's popularity, the TRS has also maintained its power by destroying the Opposition. The TRS has gained from mass defections from the Congress.

Congress had won 19 seats in the 2018 Assembly polls, now only 6 MLAs remain. Some like A Revanth Reddy and Uttam Kumar Reddy were elected to Parliament, but most others defected to TRS. The Opposition has been rendered so irrelevant that even the Opposition leader in the Telangana Assembly is Akbaruddin Owaisi from TRS's informal ally AIMIM.

KCR is also paying the price for not taking on BJP at the Centre. The party has helped BJP pass several key legislations, either by voting in favor of abstaining.

It may have been an error for KCR to assume that this neutrality on national matters may insulate him from BJP's expansion. Clearly, that didn't happen. And now BJP has arrived at his doorstep. The party won four seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, including the seat held by KCR's daughter, and now it threatens TRS's hold over GHMC. The BJP's rise is evident in its victory in the recent by-poll in Dubbak, where it was non-existent until a few years back.

The BJP would stop at nothing in its mission to expand; even it means communalizing a municipal campaign or deploying its topmost leaders in a local battle. The question is whether TRS changes its approach and becomes more combative towards the BJP.

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