Amit Shah and other BJP leaders will be in Hyderabad to campaign for local polls. (File)
- Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation polls due on December 1
- Local body election will decide Mayor of Hyderabad city
- BJP won just 4 of city's 150 wards in last civic election
A local election in Hyderabad has the BJP's A-listers flying down to the city for a campaign that has become less and less about roads and sanitation. BJP president JP Nadda and Home Minister Amit Shah will visit the city this weekend, a sign that the ruling party's formidable election machinery is entirely focused on a set of municipal wards in India's top IT hub.
Union Minister Smriti Irani was in Hyderabad today and addressed a press conference. Her senior colleague Prakash Javadekar had visited earlier this week to release a "charge sheet" against Chief Minister K Chandrashekhara Rao and his Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS).
The BJP has also drafted its star campaigner Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, known for communal remarks that recently made headlines during the Bihar campaign.
Voting will be held in 150 municipal constituencies, or wards, in the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) polls on December 1 and a mayor will be elected for the corporation that has a budget of Rs 5,380 crore this year.
The TRS dominated the last civic polls. This year, Mr Rao or "KCR" is up against a BJP determined to prove that its recent, unexpected victory in an assembly byelection was no fluke.
A week into the campaign, topics that have dominated political speeches in Hyderabad are Pakistan, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Osama bin Laden and Rohingya.
In the past two days, the BJP's firebrand MP Tejasvi Surya has delivered hugely controversial speeches in which he has called AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi an "avatar of Mohammad Ali Jinnah". He also accused the Hyderabad MP of bringing "Rohingya Muslims instead of development" to the city.
Mr Owaisi shot back at a public meeting: "These people need to have some biryani which will bring them back to their senses."
The BJP's Telangana president and MP, Bandi Sanjay Kumar, doubled down on Mr Surya's comments by threatening a "surgical strike to flush out Rohingya and Pakistanis" in the old quarters of Hyderabad.
The BJP leader also accused the TRS and AIMIM of trying to win the civic polls with the "illegal votes of Rohingya, Pakistanis and Afghanistanis".
The Chief Minister's son KT Rama Rao asked why union Home minister Amit Shah and defence minister had kept quiet if infiltration had happened through the international borders. "They need to answer why Aadhaar cards were issued to them," he
said to NDTV: "Anyways what do Bin Laden, Babar and Pakistan have to do with Hyderabad municipal elections?"
In the last municipal election, the BJP could win just four wards. The TRS won a comfortable 99 and Asaduddin Owaisi's AIMIM won 44. The Congress managed two wards and the TDP, one.
Four years on, the BJP's civic poll campaign is all about planning for the Telangana polls in 2023 and the national election the next year.
In the 2018 Telangana assembly polls, the BJP could win just one seat. Last year, in the Lok Sabha election, the party improved its strike rate by winning four of 17 seats.
The party's new obsession with the Hyderabad local body polls is linked to its bypoll victory in the state's Dubbaka assembly constituency earlier this month. It was a narrow win by 1,000 votes, but a particularly sweet one, since state finance minister Harish Rao - considered the TRS's master poll strategist -- was in charge of Dubbaka.
The BJP senses an opportunity in Telangana and a vacuum in the opposition space. The Congress has been decimated in Andhra Pradesh and in Telangana, it was considerably weakened in the 2014 general election even though it was instrumental in the state's birth.
Even after the 2018 assembly election, many Congress winners switched to the TRS.
BJP leaders believe the Hyderabad municipal election is the opener that they need to challenge the TRS, a party that, interestingly, often votes with the BJP-led government in parliament.
In an interview to NDTV, KCR's daughter K Kavitha dismissed any threat to her party from the BJP and said: "The BJP is constantly in election mode, never in development mode." Her father's appeal was "unmatched" in Telangana, she added.