The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won four seats in the 1998 Lok Sabha election in the then united Andhra Pradesh with almost 19% vote share, alongside its ally NTR Telugu Desham Party (TDP). In 1999, it had fared even better contesting with TDP, winning 7 seats with a 10% vote share. And then the party’s fortunes went downhill in the state. Too reliant on the off and on ally TDP, the BJP could not create a specific political platform to own and develop in the state.

Even as Telangana was formed in 2014, the party had another shot at consolidating its presence in both Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. In alliance with the TDP, the BJP won 2 seats in Andhra Pradesh, while it swept the Secunderabad seat in Telangana in a five-cornered fight. Secunderabad along with Karimnagar and Mahbubnagar regions have traditionally been the pockets of influence for the BJP. In the Telangana assembly, the BJP also won 5 seats, 4 from the Hyderabad district and 1 from the neighbouring Rangareddi district. 

As the Telangana elections approach again, called by the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) a few months ahead of schedule, the BJP is again at the crossroads. With the alliance with TDP breaking and TRS ruling out any pre-poll alliances for the Lok Sabha election, the BJP in Telangana is where it was in 1998 in the united Andhra Pradesh. There is a chance to crawl its way in the local politics and emerge as the principal challenger to the TRS. 

Going by various surveys and how the Telangana politics has played out since June 2014 when the state was formed, it is quite apparent that the TRS will win the upcoming assembly elections easily. Due on December 7, the elections, however, give a good chance to the BJP to establish itself as the main opposition in the state. 

The party has a reasonable launch pad in various Lok Sabha constituencies - in the 2014 election, the BJP polled 15.3% votes in Bhongir, 32.1% votes in Hyderabad, 19.1% votes in Karimnagar, 15.4% votes in Medak, 43.7% votes in Secunderabad, a seat which it won, and 16.1% vote in Warangal. The BJP secured 55.9% vote in Amberpet, 55.4% vote in Goshamahal, 53.5% vote in Khairatabad, 54.9% vote in Musheerabad, and 49.7% vote in Uppal - the five assembly constituencies it won. 

G Kishan Reddy had the highest margin of win from Amberpet, winning with almost 43% vote difference. The TRS candidate, runner-up on this seat, mustered just fewer than 13% vote. In fact, the candidates from TRS, All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimoon (AIMIM), Congress, Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party (YSRCP), and Communist Party of India (Marxist) all lost their deposits against Reddy.

Come December, the BJP would be keen to significantly improve its 2014 showing. The immediate challenge is to spread its wings out of the greater Hyderabad metropolitan area. Another decision to make is the choice of leadership in the state.

K Laxman is currently the BJP state president in Telangana. He has been with the party since 1980. He was appointed the state party president in 2016. He represents Musheerabad in the state assembly. He belongs to the Munnuru Kapu caste — a numerically significant backward caste. Laxman has been non-confrontational in his stint as the party president and is not seen as a vocal critic of the TRS leader and Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao. 

An MLC and president of the Hyderabad city BJP, N Ramachandra Rao is another candidate to take over the state party leadership. He gained political prominence via his youth politics stints with Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) and Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM). He has been the Hyderabad city party president for a year now. The party may be better off having a strong leader like him in Hyderabad - for the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the party will surely focus on the Hyderabad, Malkajgiri, and Secunderabad seats. Rao may be best placed to focus on the objective of increasing the Lok Sabha presence, having spent time in the local city politics.

There is speculation that Swami Paripoornananda of the Shree Peetham in Kakinada may join the BJP. He met the BJP president Amit Shah earlier this week, fueling speculation that he may contest the Hyderabad Lok Sabha election on the party’s ticket. It will be an ideal place for him to start, challenging the supremacy of the Owaisi family, which has retained this Lok Sabha seat in its fold since 1984.

Chintala Ramachandra Reddy and Y Lakshminarayana are other claimants to the state president post. Reddy is a sitting Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) from Khairatabad. Lakshminarayana has been an MLA in the past. Both Reddy and Lakshminarayana have been longtime party loyalists. But they have not worked in the state as a whole and are limited by their public recognition and connect.

G Kishan Reddy was the state BJP president before Laxman. He took over from Bandaru Dattatreya, who was appointed a central minister in 2014. Reddy has been a youth leader, having served as the president of the BJYM between 2002 and 2005. In that role, he succeeded Shivraj Singh Chouhan and was followed by Dharmendra Pradhan. Having worked at the national level, Reddy has a good appreciation of the party’s strategy in various states. Reddy is also the most visible BJP leader in the state, having taken on the TRS government vocally in the assembly several times. 

Reddy has established good personal credibility in the state, has used social media quite effectively to burnish his political points, and has a broad national view. Given the new thrust of the party on using the dual levers of technology and booth level mobilization, Reddy may be most in step to implement the party’s growth plans in Telangana.
The party has the option of bringing Reddy to Delhi via the Secunderabad Lok Sabha seat in 2019, giving him a couple of years of Delhi experience, and then positioning him to lead the 2023/2024 Telangana state election for the party. The party has used this model in the past with several leaders who went on to lead their states like Shivraj Singh Chouhan in Madhya Pradesh or have emerged as the state unit face like Dharmendra Pradhan in Odisha.

In the short run, however, the BJP should look to dislodge the Congress in the state as the party, attempting to win the second largest vote share. That will be a strong statement for the 2019 Lok Sabha election, as well as attract new cadre from other parties. 

After the expansion in North East, West Bengal, and Odisha, Telangana should be the next stop for the BJP. The state which borders the existing and growing party strongholds of Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, and Maharashtra, should be ripe for the expansion of the party using the adjacency effect. 

The author writes on public policy, politics, and current affairs. He is based in Pune. He tweets at @c_aashish.