In a dramatic move, two key Congress lawmakers crossed over to the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi, effectively crashing Congress hopes of cornering one of the four seats that would have been up for grabs in next week’s legislative council elections.

The exits are also seen to indicate a fresh effort by Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao’s party to lure opposition lawmakers to its fold. A source in the TRS told HT that more opposition lawmakers are in touch with Chief Minister KCR and could join the ruling party at any time.

The Congress’s two tribal legislators to quit the party and cross over to the TRS are Athram Sakku from Asifabad seat in Komaram Bheem Asifabad district and Regula Kantha Rao from Pinapaka constituency in Bhadhradri Kothagudem district. A third opposition legislator, TDP’s Sandra Venkata Veeraiah, has already issued a statement to make it clear that he wanted to switch sides and join the TRS.

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The defection, a huge jolt to the Congress-TDP combine that had suffered a humiliating defeat in the recent state elections, will reduce the strength of the Congress and its allies in the 119-member house to 18.

This may not be enough to win any of the four seats in the March 12 legislative assembly elections.

The TRS has allotted one of the four legislative council seats for its ally, All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM). It will contest the other three.

But the legislative council election may not be the only reason for KCR, as Chandrasekhar Rao is widely known in Telangana, racing against time to poach lawmakers from the opposition parties.

“Rao has grand plans to win 16 out of 17 Lok Sabha seats and that is why he is out to demoralise the Congress by encouraging defections”, says T Lakshminarayana, a political analyst.

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Though the Congress had ended up with just about 21 seats in the 2018 assembly election against the 88 seats won by the TRS, the gap between the two parties narrows down in terms of vote share. The Congress had managed to poll 32.32 per cent votes against 47.4 per cent votes polled by the TRS.

Besides, there are certain pockets such as Khammam district where the Congress continues to be strong. The TRS won only one of the 10 assembly seats in this district. In this context, Lakshminarayana reasoned, KCR was trying to strengthen his party by chipping away at the Congress’s foundation in these areas.

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It is a strategy that KCR had adopted in his earlier tenure as chief minister from 2014 to 2018. During these four years, 8 of the 21 MLAs from the Congress and 12 out of 15 from the TDP had defected to the TRS.

The latest defections have angered the Congress that has planned protest rallies in constituencies represented by the defectors from March second week, said its president N Uttamkumar Reddy.

State Congress leaders have also asked the Telangana Legislative Council Chairman K Swamy Goud to disqualify the two MLAs from voting in the council elections. N Uttamkumar Reddy reminded the council chairman about his previous ruling disqualifying three members when they crossed over from the TRS to the Congress in January this year. #KhabarLive