Why the Nagarjunasagar bypoll is a prestige fight for KCR and his TRS

After the reverses the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) suffered in the assembly by-election for the Dubbaka seat held last year, party chief and Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao (KCR) is going all out to ensure that another seat, Nagarjunasagar, going for bypolls on April 17, does not slip out of the TRS’s control. The bypoll is being held following the death of sitting MLA Nomula Narsimhaiah of the TRS.

For one, the TRS is fielding Narsimhaiah’s son Nomula Bhagath. Several of KCR’s cabinet colleagues, party MPs and MLAs have been making a beeline for Nagarjunasagar constituency for the final phase of electioneering, since April 1. KCR, who steers clear of campaigning in by-elections, has decided to address a party rally in Halia on April 14 while his son and TRS working president K.T. Rama Rao focuses on the municipal polls in Warangal and Khammam.

A nagging worry for the TRS is the Congress candidate—74-year-old veteran K. Jana Reddy, who has won seven assembly elections and, despite a commanding presence, had for the first time lost to Narsimhaiah in 2018. Reddy is making a determined effort to regain the seat at a time when both the Congress and the BJP claim that the TRS is facing massive anti-incumbency. “The real contest is between the honest Jana Reddy, whose impeccable 40-year-record as a public servant is well known, and KCR, who symbolises loot and corruption,” says Congress MP Komatireddy Venkat Reddy.

Apart from emphasising the attributes of Jana Reddy, including that he is responsible for laying a number of roads in the constituency, the Congress campaign is focused on the various promises it claims the TRS has failed to deliver on, such as the filling up of vacancies in government jobs. Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee president N. Uttam Kumar Reddy also accuses the TRS of poll malpractices. “The ruling party is distributing stacks of cash and liquor,” alleges Reddy.

The Congress is also trying to evoke a Jana Reddy-as-next-CM sentiment to push for a decisive vote in his favour. The party’s argument is that if the TRS wins, Bhagath will be one among the 100 MLAs, with the constituency unlikely to get any special favours in the next two years. “Jana Reddy’s win is a historic need for the state to keep the wayward acts of the TRS leadership in check,” says Uttam Kumar Reddy.

Significantly, liquor sales at outlets in the Nagarjunasagar constituency area this March (worth Rs 18.23 crore) was more than double in the same period in 2020 (Rs 7.87 crore). Tipplers among the voters are reportedly asking for premium brands, pushing up sales to over Rs 1.5 crore daily as voting day nears.

On April 8, the police booked a case against Mahabubabad MLA B. Shankar Naik for allegedly getting the villagers of Satyampadu Thanda in Tripuraram mandal to take an oath that they would vote for TRS candidate Bhagath. The action was taken on a complaint made to the returning officer, B. Rohith Singh. On his part, Naik claims he was not forcing anybody to vote for his party. But this is not the first time such a controversy has arisen. At least five villages had ‘resolved’ to vote for the TRS candidate in the Dubbaka bypoll, which the party lost. “The ruling party was trying to influence through illegal methods. Voters should be cautious and should think in the larger interest of the constituency,” says Union MoS for Home G. Kishan Reddy, campaigning for the BJP. He adds that the TRS government has let down youth over filling job vacancies.

The TRS denies allegations of poll irregularities by the Congress and the BJP. “We do not need to buy votes. We seek them in the name of development,” says state energy minister G. Jagadish Reddy, claiming his party has kept most of its promises and will sweep the bypoll. One advantage for TRS’s Bhagat is the united call of 40 backward classes welfare associations across the state to back his candidature. The National Backward Classes Welfare Association chairman and former legislator R. Krishnaiah says Bhagath’s victory will do good for the backward classes. “It will send a message that the backward classes can win elections if they are given tickets,” he says, welcoming KCR’s “welfare measures and farmer friendly policies.”

Though its prospects do not appear bright, the BJP and its candidate, Dr Panugothu Ravi Kumar, are putting up a spirited fight. They are promising to set up an industrial corridor in the constituency and a water sports facility in the Nagarjunasagar reservoir. Like Reddy and Bhagath, Kumar too has begun the race from the same starting point. The three main contestants began electioneering after praying at a Hanuman temple in the last village northeast of the constituency, where Reddy was regular before every election, as it is believed to be an enabler for the aspirant to coast to victory. Though it helped Narsimhaiah in 2018, Reddy has not lost hope. The poll outcome on May 2 will reveal whether he is regaining it and the seat or has lost it all.

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