Will sympathy wave be as smooth as car ride for ‘wronged’ Eatala Rajender?

For HZB voters, it used to be a choice between TRS-Eatala and Oppn, but now it is pink party vs ex-minister
BJP candidate Eatala Rajender waves to the crowd during his poll campaign in Ellandakunta mandal on Tuesday
BJP candidate Eatala Rajender waves to the crowd during his poll campaign in Ellandakunta mandal on Tuesday

HUZURABAD: The TRS, born 20 years ago at Jaladrushyam in Hyderabad, and firmly in the saddle for the last seven years, appears to be struggling to wrest Huzurabad from the stranglehold of Eatala Rajender, who has been representing the constituency in the Assembly for the last 18 years, having won a record six elections.

Till now, for the 2.36 lakh electorate in this predominantly pastoral constituency, it has been either TRS-Eatala or the Opposition to choose from in all the elections. However, the pattern in the political kaleidoscope has changed. They now have to choose between TRS and Eatala who discarded his pink clothes for saffron.

As the day of reckoning on October 30 draws closer, Rajender is emerging out of the clouds of doubt which hung over his ability to turn the tables against his former boss Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao. The sympathy wave is rising defying laws of gravity after he was unceremoniously dismissed from the Cabinet for “purchasing assigned lands.”

Though sympathy for Rajender who has been a “victim of a political witch-hunt” is quite high, what is unnerving the BJP camp is the ability of the TRS in “poll management” in the next four days and make the contest go down to the wire. There are nagging doubts in the minds of the BJP leaders over the TRS emerging trumps given its finesse in “management”.

With the Election Commission asking all non-locals to leave the constituency by October 27, just 72 hours before polling, the TRS sees in it an opportunity to go full throttle in reversing the trend. It has already appointed election in-charges, one for each mandal in the constituency. 

As locals are permitted to campaign, the TRS has Husnabad MLA Satish Babu,  former MLA E Peddireddy and leader P Kaushik Reddy firmly entrenched in the constituency to add muscle to the uphill journey that the TRS is making. The Huzurabad Assembly constituency is situated in the middle of Warangal and Karimnagar cities. It is predominantly rural, except for Huzurabad and Jammikunta which are municipal towns. Presently, farmers are busy harvesting paddy and hence have not had much time to show interest in the no-holds barred  poll campaign.

Main battle
Though there are 28 others in the fray, including Balmuri Venkat of Congress, the main battle is between TRS’ Gellu Srinivas and BJP’s Rajender. Rajender’s only Achilles heel is he is yet to emotionally integrate himself with the BJP or RSS which were alien to him till he joined the saffron brigade after he quit as MLA. To make up for the grey area, the BJP is coming forward lending him its shoulder as he takes KCR head-on in his campaign. 

As Rajender is immensely popular in the constituency because of his long stint as MLA and minister, the BJP rolled a red carpet for him. His victory would add one more MLA to its tally. Besides, it would help change the future course of events if he pulls off a victory and helps the BJP sink its roots deep into Telangana soil.

Rajender rushed to BJP for cover when KCR began bearing down on him. “There was suspicion that he had turned against KCR” and the onslaught on the lanky leader only continued in its intensity and ferocity. His arrest appeared imminent, for his alleged involvement in the purchase of assigned lands for his business ventures. 

At that time, sympathy swelled like a tsunami for the former Health Minister. “Had there been a bypoll almost immediately after Rajender quit as MLA, it would have been a cakewalk for him. Now he is struggling to keep his flock together under relentless poaching by the TRS,” said one analyst.Rajender is banking on the emotive issue of self-respect. He calls the byelection a fight between “self-respect and KCR’s arrogance” to which there was an overwhelming response from the electorate. Everybody knows that even after this bypoll, TRS and KCR will continue to be at the helm for the next two years but even then the ‘sympathy’ factor seems to be working in favour of Rajender for “being hounded.” 

TRS’ allegations that Rajender is corrupt and a land-grabber are not cutting any ice with the electorate. One argument that is being heard is that Rajender should have continued as MLA after his dismissal from the Cabinet instead of forcing a bypoll by resigning as an MLA. But there are no takers for this argument as the general mood in the constituency weighs more on the “injustice meted out to Rajender”.

Costliest election ever?

The significant aspect of this bypoll is that it is billed as the most expensive one ever held in the country and also the longest ever political campaign as it has lasted for almost five months. TRS leaders, on their part, are concentrating mainly on the scores of welfare schemes and insist that the TRS has to win if the welfare schemes should continue. Political observers say both black and white money is flowing. The State government is spending several hundreds of crores of rupees after Rajender quit the TRS. 

It includes a sanction of Rs 2,000 crore for the upliftment of Dalits in the name of a new scheme, Dalit Bandhu. Another Rs 500 crore is set aside for infrastructure development, laying of new roads, recarpeting existing roads and other development works in the entire constituency which all add up to Rs 2,500 crore.

This apart, both the TRS and BJP are said to be splurging black money since the last five months. At a rough estimate, the TRS is understood to have spent about Rs 400 crore to keep the cadre in good humour. The money is being used to organise community meetings, lunches and dinners, and for throwing liquor parties for voters.

According to sources, Rajender too has already spent a whopping Rs 250 crore. It is roughly estimated that both the camps will spend another Rs 100 to Rs 150 crore each for purchasing votes towards the last three days of polling.

Reports say the Eatala camp has already started paying Rs 3,000 for each vote. TRS local leaders claim they are ready to pay Rs 4,000. Of the 2.36 lakh voters, it is estimated that both the camps will concentrate on around 2 lakh voters for money distribution. This comes to an expenditure of Rs 60-80 crore for the BJP and TRS respectively which is likely to go up. However, the cash component will be in addition to liquor and a 60-kg rice bag for each voter.

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