Allegations of an “Operation Lotus” in Telangana have been linked by the BJP to a high-stakes by-election that will test Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao for the first time after he launched his party into national politics earlier this month.
A day after the Telangana police claimed to have caught three men in the act of bribing four MLAs of the ruling TRS (Telangana Rashtra Samiti) in a secret meeting at a Hyderabad farmhouse, the BJP alleged that Mr Rao or KCR had scripted the “horse-trading drama” to deflect attention from the Munugode bypolls on November 3.
Union Minister G Kishan Reddy of the BJP said the “imminent defeat in the Munugode bypoll is haunting the Kavlakuntla (KCR’s) family”.
Mr Reddy alleged that the media was already present at the farmhouse before a police team raided it and detained three men accused of trying to bribe four MLAs with crores of rupees.
“It is respectfully submitted that the above complaint is purely politically motivated with an ulterior motive to defame and demoralise the petitioner in the ensuing by-election of Munugode Assembly constituency,” said a BJP leader, Gujjula Premendar Reddy, in a petition in court.
The BJP leader sought an inquiry into what it called “purely politically motivated” allegations with a motive to defame and demoralize the BJP in the Munugode constituency.
The complaint is staged and KCR is involved in it, said the leader, recommending a probe by the CBI or a Special Investigation team. If not, “the (BJP) would suffer irreparable loss and hardship (which) would also impact the mandate of the people in the by-election,” Mr Reddy’s petition said.
The BJP claims it has been getting a “tremendous response” in Munugode, which has worried the TRS.
Munugode is voting to pick a new legislator after Komatireddy Rajagopal Reddy, who contested as a Congress candidate and won, resigned in August. He joined the BJP days later.
For KCR, this is the first election since he debuted the “Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS)” – the national version of his party – and launched a plan to take on the BJP in the 2024 general election.
Almost all TRS MLAs and ministers have been camping at the constituency, trying to match an aggressive campaign by the BJP.
Munugode is seen as a referendum ahead of next year’s Telangana election. For both the TRS and the BJP, it is important to win.
Sources say crores of rupees are in circulation in the constituency and the by-election could turn out to be the richest ever.
Already, crossovers between the TRS and the BJP are being used by each side to build perception. The BJP, which does not have cadre strength, especially in the rural areas, is looking to recruit strong leaders from other parties, and winning a bypoll would help the process.
If the BJP wins the by-election, it will be a setback for KCR as he preps to challenge Prime Minister Narendra Modi. A defeat in this by-election would be “unacceptable”, the Chief Minister has apparently told his party men.
Though the outcome will not impact the stability of the TRS government, which enjoys a comfortable majority, it is a perception battle that will set the stage for state elections next year.
While the BJP and TRS are campaigning hard in Munugode, the Congress, which was the number two party in the state once, is preoccupied with Rahul Gandhi’s “Bharat Jodo Yatra” in the state.
“These people are trying hard to win the election but no matter how much they try they will not win the Munugode elections. That is why KCR is doing all this drama. BJP has nothing to do with this. They are just doing this to tarnish the image of the BJP,” said BJP leader DK Aruna.
Three people were detained over the bribe-in-farmhouse allegation – Satiesh Sharma, alias Ram Chandra Bharati, a priest from Haryana’s Faridabad, D Simhayaji, a seer from Tirupathi, and a Hyderabad businessman, Nandakumar. The police claim they are linked to the BJP.