Gates have been opened up in the Congress in Telangana to attract leaders from its arch political rival, the Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) of K. Chandrashekhar Rao (KCR), in order to strengthen the party in the ongoing Lok Sabha elections. The move is aimed not so much at boosting the Congress electoral prospects, as at weakening the BRS, which has been a formidable political force since its inception in 2001.

Smarting under a stunning political defeat at the hands of the Congress in the Telangana Assembly elections on November 30, 2023, for the first time since the State formation, KCR, with the active backing of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was famously masterminding a political coup to topple the Congress Government in the State.

The Congress is vulnerable, as it has a very slender majority in the Telangana Assembly, with just two MLAs more than the halfway mark.

As the word spread that the BRS-BJP combine was plotting to topple the Congress Government in Telangana, soon after the Lok Sabha polls, Revanth Reddy decided to act. Going by the adage that offence is the best form of defence, Reddy has decided to strike at his political adversary.

At least three sitting BRS MPs, P. Venkatesh Nethakani from Peddapalli, P. Dayakar from Warangal and Ranjit Reddy from Chevella, besides Danam Nagender, sitting BRS MLA from Khairatabad in Hyderabad City, have all moved over to the Congress. A key BRS leader Sunita Mahender Reddy has also joined the Congress.

Deepa Das Munshi, AICC General Secretary Incharge of Telangana, landed at the residence in Hyderabad of BRS Secretary-General K Keshav Rao, whose daughter is Hyderabad Mayor Vijaya Lakshmi. The 40-minute meeting has sparked the speculation of Keshav Rao, originally a senior Congress leader and his daughter Vijaya Lakshmi possibly joining the Congress-fold.

The Congress has given tickets to contest the Lok Sabha elections to Ranjit Reddy from Chevella, Sunita Mahender Reddy from Malkajgiri and Danam Nagender from the Secunderabad Lok Sabha seats, all of whom came from the BRS party.

As a result, the BRS has been so badly weakened that the party is finding it hard to field credible candidates for the Lok Sabha elections. Sons of former State Ministers Malla Reddy and Sabita Indra Reddy, besides Telangana Legislative Council Chairman G. Sukhender Reddy, have declined to contest on the BRS ticket.

Danam Nagender is only the first BRS MLA to cross over to the Congress, not fearing the possible disqualification under Anti-Defection Law. Anyway, he has to resign as legislator, if he wins Secunderabad Lok Sabha seat on the Congress ticket. After the Lok Sabha polls, more BRS MLAs may follow in his footsteps to join the Congress.

Already, several BRS MLAs have called on State Chief Minister Revanth Reddy, making their intentions known to one and all. For instance, sparking speculation in political circles recently, four BRS MLAs, K. Prabhakar Reddy (Dubbaka), V. Sunita Lakshma Reddy (Narsapur), G. Mahipal Reddy (Patancheru) and Manik Rao (Zahirabad) called on CM Revanth Reddy.

There have been quite a few such meetings of BRS MLAs with Revanth Reddy. These meetings are being held by BRS legislators, ostensibly to discuss their Assembly constituency issues with the CM. At the end of these meetings, the BRS MLAs describe the meetings as a “courtesy call”.

Whatever the excuses, it is clear that the political ground is being prepared to signal to KCR that he has been outsmarted in his own game. He had started the game in the past, attracting Congress MLAs into the BRS fold. Most of the MLAs, who won on Congress symbol, were roped into the BRS.

KCR hoped to weaken the Grand Old Party through organised defections. This was the practice followed by KCR soon after the State Assembly elections in 2014 and again after the snap polls in 2018. KCR organised defections from the Congress into the BRS, in order to reduce the Congress seats tally to single digit.

All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AMIM), once a staunch ally of BRS leader K. Chandrashekhar Rao, is seen making overtures to the Congress. Asaduddin Owaisi, who heads it, runs a chain of educational institutions and hospitals in Hyderabad, and is in dire need of State Government patronage.

Assaduddin, and his brother Akbaruddin Owaisi, both bitter critics of the Congress till recently, reached out to CM Revanth Reddy. The senior Owaisi publicly assured support of his party having 7 MLAs and said Revanth Reddy can comfortably complete not only his 5-year term in office, but have another consecutive term in office.

It was none other than KCR himself, who had started this dangerous game of strengthening his party through post-poll defections, rather than by winning the seats upfront during elections. When KCR became the first Telangana State Chief Minister after the State formation on June 2, 2014, through organised defections, he strengthened his party with the addition of four MPs, 25 MLAs and 18 MLCs.

After retaining power in Telangana where he advanced the State Assembly elections in 2018, he once again attracted 14 MLAs, 12 of them from the Congress. As a result, the then Leader of Opposition Bhatti Vikramarka Mallu lost his Cabinet-rank. Now in the first Congress Government in Telangana, Bhatti Vikramarka Mallu has become the Deputy CM of the state.

For now, Revanth Reddy is not encouraging BRS MLAs to cross over to the Congress ahead of the Lok Sabha polls. But he may do so, soon after the parliamentary elections are over, in order to strengthen the Congress Government in the State. He is also keen to deal a body blow to KCR party, so that BRS is rendered incapable of playing the toppling game, in concert with BJP.

Mostly leaving the BRS MLAs untouched for now, Revanth Reddy has targeted the BRS organisation. Many of the former MPs, former MLAs, Zilla Parishad Chairpersons and Sarpanchs belonging to the BRS, are joining the Congress in hordes. This has resulted in debilitating the BRS party organisation within the State in the run up to the Lok Sabha polls.

Revanth Reddy, who doubles as Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee (TPCC) President, is fully geared up to brace with the electoral challenge on his hands. He is focused on delivering double-digit Lok Sabha seats for the Congress. He has set an ambitious target of delivering 14 of 19 seats in Telangana. With BRS considerably weakened, the target does not appear to be difficult to achieve.