The BJP’s Eatala Rajender is marching ahead, leading the ruling TRS and increasing that lead after every round of counting for the bypoll for Telangana’s Huzurabad Assembly constituency.
At 4.05 pm he is over 8,000 votes ahead of the Telangana Rashtra Samiti’s Gellu Srinivas Yadav and the Congress’ Balmoor Venkat Narsing Rao is a distant third with fewer than 2,000 votes.
The battle for Huzurabad is being keenly observed because Mr Rajender – who won the seat in the 2018 election – quit the TRS in June over corruption allegations related to land-grab charges.
He has denied all charges.
The then Health Minister, Mr Rajender (who earlier also held the finance portfolio) was removed from the cabinet, after which resigned as Huzurabad MLA and quit the Telangana Rashtra Samiti. He joined the BJP days later in Delhi, in the presence of party chief JP Nadda.
Considered one of the main leaders who along with Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao, led the movement for a separate Telangana, Mr Rajender’s performance is being watched with interest.
Eatala Rajender is a four-time MLA from Huzurabad, having won it in every election since it was created ahead of the 2009 polls. For this bypoll the seat witnessed over 86 per cent voter turnout.
The bypoll is now a matter of prestige for both the TRS and BJP, leading to allegations from the Congress that the two were luring voters with cash payments. Though not even half the term is left before the full election, the outcome here could influence political developments in the state.
The TRS wanted to win because a decisive win for Mr Rajender could give other disgruntled leaders hope that they too could challenge KCR’s leadership and could win if they jumped to the BJP.
Interestingly, they chose student leader Gellu Srinivas Yadav to counter Mr Rajender, who is considered a political heavyweight. Concerns that defeat for a senior leader would be embarrassing for the party also likely played a role in the TRS’ calculations in this regard.
Telangana Finance Minister Harish Rao, who is also the Chief Minister’s nephew, was made poll-in-charge for the ruling party, and neither KCR nor his son, KT Rama Rao, campaigned there.
For the BJP it was key to win Huzurabad after winning the Dubbak bypoll and performing well in Hyderabad’s municipal elections. A win here could give momentum as it looks to emerges as a challenger to the TRS in the 2023 assembly election.
The Congress demanded a postponement of the election, which was held on Saturday.
“TRS and BJP are buying votes for Rs 6,000 and Rs 10,000. The Huzurabad by-election has become the costliest in the country… this is being debated on TV channels in Telangana. There is no meaning of democracy left if votes are to be bought,” spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said.
Meanwhile, in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, the ruling YSR Congress’ Dasari Sudha recorded an emphatic win for the Badvel (reserved for marginalised communities) seat, securing over 1.12 lakh votes, which is more than double the party’s winning margin in the 2019 election.
The BJP’s Panathala Suresh was a (very) distant second with less than 22,000 votes.