Munugode bypoll debacle highlights Congress’s diminishing presence in Telangana

By, Hyderabad
Nov 08, 2022 12:36 AM IST

Until recently, the Munugode assembly seat was represented by the Congress, which had just six MLAs in the 119-member assemby

The just-concluded bypoll to Munugode assembly seat in Telangana’s Nalgonda district has virtually sealed the fate of the Congress, which has conceded its space to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as a potential alternative to the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS).

Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) supporters celebrate party's win in the Munugode bypoll, at Telangana Bhavan. (Mohammed Aleemuddin)
Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) supporters celebrate party's win in the Munugode bypoll, at Telangana Bhavan. (Mohammed Aleemuddin)

Until recently, the Munugode assembly seat was represented by the Congress, which had just six MLAs in the 119-member assembly. But with the defection of its sitting MLA Komatireddy Rajagopal Reddy into the Bharatiya Janata Party in August, its number has shrunk to five.

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However, the Congress has failed to put up any fight in the by-election to retain the Munugode assembly seat, which went into the kitty of the TRS. Congress candidate Palwai Sravanthi, daughter of former minister late Palwai Goverdhan Reddy, who represented Munugode constituency five times in the past, secured just 23,906 votes (10.06%) and lost her deposit.

For the Congress, the defeat in Munugode has turned out to a critical one. The party had won 19 seats in the December 2018 assembly elections. Of them, 12 MLAs defected to the TRS and the party lost one more seat in the by-election to Huzurnagar seat held due to the election of sitting MLA to Lok Sabha. Now it is left with just five seats.

Reacting on the poll debacle, former MP and PCC vice-president Mallu Ravi said a defeat in Munugode would not demoralise the party cadre, as the by-election was fought on money and muscle power. “Whatever the Congress candidate got in the by-poll was a genuine vote and we thank all those who voted for Sravanthi,” he said.

He reminded that even in the epic Mahabharata, Pandavas had lost to Kauravas in the wily gambling played by Sakuni. “But when the real battle took place, Pandavas had won. The defeat in Munugode will be the stepping stone for the success of the Congress in 2023 assembly polls.”

“The defeat is all the more humiliating for the Congress, as it comes at a time when its senior leader and MP Rahul Gandhi was undertaking his Bharat Jodo Yatra in Telangana, passing through the borders of Munugode constituency. He drew impressive crowds and got good coverage in the local media. Unfortunately, it has failed to make any impact on the party’s prospects in the by-election,” political analyst Ramakrishna Sangem said.

The Congress, led by firebrand leader A Ravanth Reddy, in fact, swung into action much before the announcement of schedule for the by-election by addressing an impressive rally at Munugode on August 5, soon after the resignation of Rajagopal Reddy from the party.

The party announced the name of Palwai Sravanthi, much ahead of the ruling TRS, which decided the candidature of Kusukuntla Prabhakar Reddy only a day before the commencement of the nomination process on October 8.

But when the actual campaigning began after the closure of nomination process on October 14, the Congress lost its steam. The ruling TRS moved all its forces – around 16 ministers and 80 MLAs – to Munugode, assigning them specific responsibilities of campaigning and luring various caste groups, while Rajagopal Reddy focussed on attracting the Congress leaders and cadres into the BJP.

The Congress has become virtually empty with no responsible leader taking care of the campaign in support of Sravanthi. The PCC president himself has taken up the responsibility of campaigning for her, while many of the party seniors, barring a few, stayed away from the field and focussed on making arrangements for Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra.

PCC star campaigner and Bhongir MP Komatireddy Venkat Reddy, who was upset for quite some time, announced that he won’t campaign for Sravanthi and left for Australia on a vacation. In an audio clip,  Venkat Reddy was purportedly heard asking the local Congress leaders to support his brother Rajagopal Reddy of the BJP, exposed chinks in the party. He was served a show cause notice for the same.

“The Congress lacked the killer instinct of the BJP and manipulations of the TRS. As a result, the party dropped its gun much before the battle began,” Sangem said.

Added to this, Sravanthi failed to match the BJP and the TRS in distribution of money to the voters at the last moment. The voters told reporters of local television channels that they had not received any money from the Congress candidate, while they got 4,000 from the BJP and 5,000 from the TRS per vote.

With just a year left for the next assembly elections in Telangana, the Congress now finds itself in a totally beleaguered state. Despite having the leadership abilities and craze among the youth, Revanth Reddy remains helpless due to lack of cooperation from the seniors and coordination within the party.

Another political analyst Sriram Karri says the Congress could not have had a worse outcome. “It has lost its deposit, the second in a row for the party under the leadership of Revanth Reddy, the first being Huzurabad by-election in November 2021. Now, the Munugode by-election has set the narrative that the BJP is the only alternative to the ruling TRS in Telangana. That sounds a death knell for the Congress,” Karri said.

He, however, said the Congress can now only hope the Rahul Gandhi-led Bharat Jodo Yatra works its magic at least in the general election.

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    Srinivasa Rao is Senior Assistant Editor based out of Hyderabad covering developments in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana . He has over three decades of reporting experience.

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