Thursday, December 7, 2023

Ratna Column: Will ‘Hyderabad as UT’ become a poll issue this time?

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Even as the ruling Bharat Rashtra Samiti (BRS) and the All India Majilis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) are preparing to sail together again for the upcoming Telangana Assembly elections, it appears that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party at the Centre is preparing to take the wind out of their sails by reviving the proposal to make Hyderabad a Union Territory. As things stand, ‘Hyderabad as UT’ could become a poll issue as part of the BJP’s strategy to project its own national outlook, while dealing with out and out regional forces.

The BRS appears to be confident of making a hat-trick at the hustings, going by the confidence that Chief Minister and BRS chief K Chandrasekhar Rao exuded on the floor of the House during the recently concluded last session of the present Assembly.

BJP is keen on building over the significant victory it had achieved in the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) elections and making a lasting impact in the upcoming TS Assembly elections. After all, the saffron party had captured one-third of the total seats in the GHMC polls, pushing its arch-rival MIM to the third place. Besides, BJP is a party that had vehemently opposed the way then Union Government headed by Manmohan Singh of the Congress party got the approval of both Houses of Parliament for the Reorganisation of Andhra Pradesh Act 2014. The saffron party paid a price in both Telugu states, alongwith the Congress. Though BJP has no concrete voter base in AP, it has been enjoying the vocal support of people in the state by virtue of its administration and handling of issues at the national level.

Following two spells of agitations, a separate Telangana State was carved out of the erstwhile Andhra Pradesh in 2014. But for the support extended by the BJP -then principal opposition in Parliament, the related Bill would not have got the nod of the central legislature. Initially BJP had raised objectionsto Manmohan Singh’s announcement concerning the Special Category Status(SCS) for the residual state of AP. But the saffron party was subsequently ‘convinced’ by other political parties, including Congress. Since then, the BJP has silently pursued the idea of making Hyderabad a Union Territory(UT).

Now, BJP wants to push this idea to make people of both states happy. For, there is heartburn among the people of Andhra for having lost the prosperous city of Hyderabad to Telangana. So, Hyderabad as UT would mend matters of heart. Besides, if Hyderabad is made a UT,the legislators of all parties would have to prove their worth as lawmakers to be re-elected in the new legislature.

BJP has been a strong force in Hyderabad since its inception in 1980. In the by-polls held in 1983 and 1992 for the Himayat Nagar Assembly seat, the BJP excelled its performance by bagging the prestigious seat on both occasions, defeating ruling TDP and BJP parties. The successful candidate, Ale Narendra,became a Union Minister in later years. So, BJP can capitalise on its base in Hyderabad if the city is made a UT, given its strength in the Hyderabad Metro Development Authority(HMDA) area, under which there are 32 Assembly seats. It is different matter that the BJP may not fare well in other parts of Telangana, despite having three Lok Sabha seats outside Hyderabad.

However, the BRS may not welcome the Hyderabad as UT proposal. For the Congress, it may not make any major difference as it had been a strong force across the state. But the BJP may not go unilaterally on this subject. It may want the support of the Congress, like in the case of formation of TS. The Congress is currently on an aggressive mode in the wake of its victory in Karnataka.

The grand old party is confident of grabbing power in TS this time, though it had fared miserably in the 2014 and 2018 elections.

Not surprisingly, MIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi has sensed the BJP’s ploy. He recently remarked that the day was not far when Hyderabad would be made a Union Territory by the BJP government, which had been threatening regional parties in power in various states.

In a way, both BRS and MIM could become political beneficiaries of the Hyderabad as UT proposal. For, Hyderabad is considered the soul and heart of Telangana State, since a major portion of the State’s revenue comes from Hyderabad. Besides, the official status of Hyderabad as the joint capital for ten years would end on June2, 2024. The Union government would then decide whether the city’s status as the joint capital could be extended further. People of Andhra want such status forever on the lines of Chandigarh, which has been serving as the joint capital for Punjab and Haryana since 1966.

In the 2018 elections, KCR had the last laugh as he capitalised on the alliance between the Congress and the Telugu Desam Party. KCR had then warned T-people against slipping into the rule of ‘Andhra people’ represented by the alliance. Voters naturally rooted for KCR.
It remains to be seen whether the BJP would make Hyderabad as UT a poll issue, knowing it would be easier for friends like BRS-MIM to stem the poll tide.

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