bThe usually nondescript town of Dubbaka in Telangana has been the centre of a high-stakes battle for the last three months, bustling with activity for a prestigious triangular contest in the otherwise ordinary constituency.
Dubbaka has become electorally significant, not because of itself, but because of what surrounds it. It shares its borders with Gajwel, represented by chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao. To its north is Sircilla- the constituency of CM’s son and IT Minister KT Rama Rao, and to its east is Siddipet, the stronghold of CM’s nephew Harish Rao.
The campaign for the bypoll, necessitated by the untimely death of MLA Ramalinga Reddy, was high-pitched as the BJP went all guns blazing after the TRS to establish itself as the main rival, and the TRS returned fire. Not to be left behind, the Congress, too, put up a united front, keen not to lose its position as the key opposition party in the state.
By the time, the campaign drew to a close on Sunday, it had reached a fever pitch, suggestive of the importance attached to the constituency by all three contenders.
For the ruling TRS, retaining Dubbaka became a matter of prestige as it looks to quash an anti-incumbency wave before it reaches the more high-profile seats in the neighbourhood, and it gave the charge to master strategist and state finance minister Harish Rao to lead the campaign for candidate Solipeta Sujata, wife of the late MLA.
The location of the constituency, near that of the constituencies of the CM and his son, has become a major poll plank for both the BJP and Congress, who have accused the Kalvakuntla family of developing their individual constituencies while leaving Dubbaka to its fate.
“Dubbaka is underdeveloped, there are no proper roads or infrastructure. The constituency received only Rs 10 crore as a special development fund while Sircilla and Gajwel received Rs 184 crore and Rs 434 crore respectively. Their apathy is crystal clear," BJP candidate M Raghunandan Rao says.
For him too, the election is crucial and one on which he has staked his reputation. He was once a close associate of KCR and held many key posts in the TRS before leaving the party following an ugly spat with arch-rival Harish Rao.
He is hoping that his third time contesting from here will bring a change in fortunes after having lost the seat twice in 2018 assembly polls and 2019 Lok Sabha election.
“Without a doubt, Dubbaka will prosper only under the TRS," declared Harish Rao as he held rally after rally in Dubbaka over the last months, reaching out to almost every voter of the assembly constituency. The party has been banking on its populist welfare schemes likes Rythu Bandhu, free electricity, Kalyana Lakshmi, and Shadi Mubarak among others to get a landslide victory.
For Harish Rao, too, the bypoll is important on a personal front. For starters, Raghunandan is an arch-enemy. Moreover, he has been tasked by KCR to fetch over 1 lakh votes for the party and a grand win in Dubbaka which will only cement his claim as one of the top contenders to succeed KCR.
While the TRS refuses to acknowledge both BJP and Congress as its political opponents in the state, political analyst Professor Nageshwar believes the actual dangal for Dubbaka is between the TRS and BJP.
“The BJP has succeeded in creating a perception that it’s the main rival for the ruling party in Dubbaka. Likewise, the TRS is deliberately targeting BJP as if Congress is not in the picture at all. This is precisely where the interest of TRS and BJP do not conflict but converge," he says.
Political observers say losing Dubbaka won’t hurt the BJP as much as losing the runner-up position will. “BJP wants to create a narrative that it is the principal political challenger to the ruling TRS in 2023", Professor Nageshwar says, adding TRS is also keen on ensuring BJP gets more votes than Congress as the saffron party is nowhere close to replacing TRS in state politics yet.
However, he points out that this strategy will work for the TRS only as long as the BJP doesn’t get enough strength to pose a challenge to its electoral fortunes.
It is interesting to note that BJP is attempting a similar strategy in Andhra Pradesh as well, where it is focusing more on replacing TDP as the main opposition than removing YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, for now.
CAN CONGRESS CONSOLIDATE?
For Congress, winning the Dubbaka bypoll is crucial to re-establish itself as a strong opposition in the state, a position that is being increasingly threatened by the BJP. With just one MLA in the state (Raja Singh, Goshamahal) the saffron party has been trying very hard to conjure support and pave the building block for the 2023 assembly polls.
Following its dismal performance in 2018 assembly elections where its tally dropped to 19 from 21 seats, Congress has been virtually losing its grip in the state. The situation aggravated after 12 of its MLAs jumped ship to join the TRS.
But for Dubbaka, Congress has undergone a makeover of sorts to put up a united fight for its candidate- Srinivas Reddy - who defected from the TRS after he was denied a ticket. Reddy’s biggest strength is the legacy of his late father, former minister and four-time Dubbaka MLA Cheruku Muthyam Reddy, who is credited with developing educational institutions in the backward constituency.
It’s also a litmus test for Manickam Tagore who is fighting his maiden elections as the party’s Telangana in charge. But political analysts say the grand old party’s biggest drawback is the lack of cohesiveness between the state and central leadership, which is making it difficult to counter BJP and TRS’ narrative that the grand old party has lost its prominence.
But Congress leader Gudur Narayan Reddy says the anti-incumbency wave against TRS has bolstered Congress in the state. “TRS has failed to create jobs and BJP has failed to woo voters with its Hindutva pitch. Both are two sides of the same coin and people will teach them a lesson," he added
The voting will be held on Tuesday and the result will be declared on November 10. But the bottom line is that both the winner and the runner-up of the Dubbaka dangal will set the ball rolling for the 2023 showdown.