On Friday, as results began to come in for the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation elections held on February 2, it was clear that the Telangana Rashtra Samiti was doing much better than the opinion polls had predicted. The surveys had shown that the party would get 75-85 seats in the 150-member house. But by late evening, it had already won 98 seats and was expected to easily get a two-thirds majority.
The Telangana Rashtra Samiti victory points to crucial political realignments in Hyderabad. The party seems to have won the votes not just of its core Telangana constituency, but also of the more apolitical middle-class, the working class poor and even the openly hostile Andhra Telugus.
By late Friday, Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen had won 32 seats, the Congress had only one seat, as did the Telugu Desam Party. The Bharatiya Janata Party had won three.
To understand how a party with less than two years of experience in office exceeded expectations, it is vital to understand why the first Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation polls in an independent Telangana mattered for the Telangana Rashtra Samiti.
A key election
When Telugu-dominated Andhra Pradesh was bifurcated in 2014 to allow for the creation of Telangana, the city of Hyderbad was a major source of contention between advocates of each state. The city, with a sizeable population of Andhra Telugus, was eventually awarded to Telangana. But it was decided that Hyderabad would remain the joint capital of both states until 2024. It was vital for the TRS to get a majority in these municipal elections to settle the question about whom Hyderabad actually belongs to.
To score this victory, the TRS undercut the more established parties with their political and patronage networks. For instance, the old city with its majority Muslim population is considered to be the impregnable bastion of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen. The areas on the outer periphery have a sizeable Andhra Telugu population, which tends to vote for the Telugu Desam Party, while the non-Muslim minorities, Dalits and weaker sections were traditional Congress voters.
“The party appealed to different classes of people in different ways,” said Rakesh Reddy Dubbudu, who was active in the Telangana movement. “They pulled out all stops to win the final bastion.”
A changing city
To woo the working class who constitute 40%-50% of the population the TRS relied on welfare measures. One such is the promise to build low-cost two-bedroom homes. Though the fine print is yet to be released, voters were enthusiastic. The working class has been priced out of the city in the last two decades in which Hyderabad has gone from being a laid-back nawabi city to a back office for global Information Technology and consulting firms. The centre of economic gravity has shifted to the HITEC city, the gleaming IT district on the western periphery where the skilled migrants live.
Although the middle class has benefitted from the boom, their situation has also become more precarious, said Rakesh Reddy, who used to be a software engineer himself. Two decades ago, a family could live comfortably in the city on a monthly income of Rs 15,000, he said. That is impossible now, as a boom in construction and real estate has pushed up prices. The TRS has used its position as Telangana’s ruling party to assure working class voters that it will take care of their interests.
To appeal to the middle class, the TRS used a different strategy. For this they had IT and Panchayati Raj minister, K Taraka Rama Rao, who is known as KTR. He is the suave, English-speaking face of the party in contrast to his father, TRS founder and Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao, who is more comfortable spouting witticisms in Telugu. KTR was meant to assure a globalised middle class uncomfortable with the rhetoric about a parochial state that the party understood their concerns.
Lastly, the large Andhra population, which was the core of the anti-Telangana sentiment also voted for the TRS, because no other party is in a position to protect their interests.
However, winning a majority does not mean that Hyderabad’s urban problems will get solved. Corruption in the civic body blights the quality of works undertaken by it. “Half of the GHMC budget is misappropriated by the eco-system of corruption,” said Padmanabha Reddy, the Secretary of the Forum for Good Governance.
Besides, the delineation of powers is not clear. Water and sewerage is the remit of another agency, while electricity and transport come under different departments. The Metro, which is still under construction, has a different parent while the MMTS suburban rail system is under the control of the Railways.