A clear majority for TDP

Print edition : October 23, 1999

BEATING back a spirited Congress(I) challenge, N. Chandrababu Naidu steered the Telugu Desam Party-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance to a phenomenal victory in the Assembly elections in Andhra Pradesh. The combine secured a two-thirds majority in the 294-m ember House.

Chandrababu Naidu and 30 of his Cabinet Ministers were re-elected. The BJP improved its position, particularly in the Telengana region where it wrested seats from the Congress(I). The BJP held only two seats in the previous Assembly.

The TDP's massive mandate exceeded its own estimate. A seemingly reinvigorated Congress(I), under the leadership of Pradesh Congress(I) Committee chief Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, was widely expected to give a tough fight to or if not defeat the TDP. Favour able opinion poll and exit poll predictions notwithstanding, the success of the TDP was never taken for granted, more so in the context of the hype of near-invincibility built up around the party by the Congress(I) campaign managers.

Significantly, the TDP went to the polls on highlighting its performance in government rather than making attractive promises or by raising emotional issues. If an anti-incumbency factor existed, Chandrababu Naidu seemed to have overcome it.

Chandrababu Naidu sees the mandate as an endorsement of his government's performance in the four years it was in office, and the total support of women voters who responded to his repeated calls at election rallies to vote in good numbers. It is his conv iction that people would reward good governance and credible leadership. With this in mind, he worked almost "18 hours a day, 30 days a month and 365 days a year" right from the time he assumed office on September 1, 1995. He said that the triumph of the TDP only strengthened his resolve to continue the work with greater vigour.

THE Congress(I), which had visions of a grand revival, was shell-shocked, although it improved its presence in the Assembly to 90 from a mere 26 (short of the minimum required for its leader to get recogised as the Leader of the Opposition) in 1994. The PCC(I) chief said that the party would accept the people's verdict, and attributed the defeat to the coming together of the BJP and the TDP.

It was quite a setback for Rajasekhara Reddy and Congress(I) Legis-lature Party leader P. Janardhana Reddy who strengthened the organisation after the party's rout in 1994. The former had firmly set his eyes on the chief ministership. On the eve of the c ounting of votes, Rajasekhara Reddy said that he would embrace political sanyas if the Congress(I) failed to win and challenged the Chief Minister to do likewise. However, he backed out on the promise later on the grounds that Chandrababu Naidu ha d not accepted the challenge. He maintained that he was prepared to give up the party leadership but left the decision to the high command.

The Congress(I) suffered major upsets in several constituencies. Janardhana Reddy lost to K. Vijayarama Rao, former Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation (who contested on the TDP ticket) in the Khairatabad constituency by a slender margin of 5 ,400 votes. Other Congress(I) losers include the legislative party office-bearers Gade. Venkata Reddy (Parchur) and M. Kodanda Reddy (Murshidabad), party spokesmen K. Rosaiah (Tenali), Gali Muddukrishnama Naidu (Puttur) and P. Veeranna (Mahabubnagar). On ly two members of the earlier Chandrababau Naidu Cabinet - Patnam Subbaiah (Palamner) and Padala Aruna (who was fielded from the Bobbili Lok Sabha constituency) - suffered defeat. PCC chief Rajashekara Reddy was elected from the Pulivendla constituency.

The ruling party performed fairly well in the coastal districts of the Andhra region and in Rayalaseema, a traditional stronghold of the Congress(I), but lost ground in the Telengana region where it shared the honours with the Congress(I). Party leaders dismissed the view that by joining hands with the BJP, it had alienated Muslims and other minorities. In fact, TDP nominees were elected in some constituencies with a considerable minority presence. The fact that the TDP's term was generally free of comm unal incidents in Hyderabad stood the party in good stead. (Chandrababu Naidu had made 30 nearly surprise visits to the old city of Hyderabad, which has a predominant Muslim population.) In Hyderabad, the TDP won four seats and the BJP two, whereas the C ongress(I) won only the Afifnagar seat. The TDP candidate polled 1,400 votes fewer than sitting MLA and Majlis Bachao Tehreeq chief Mohd. Amanullah Khan and about 14,000 votes fewer than the Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) winner in the Chandrayangutta constituency. In Charminar, the TDP took the second spot behind the MIM while the Congress(I) finished fourth and polled less than half the TDP votes.

The election witnessed setbacks to the Left parties, once trusted allies of Chandrababu Naidu, and the smaller players in the arena such as the NTR-TDP, the Anna-TDP and the Mahajan Front. The Left parties had a combined strength of 33 in the 10th Assemb ly. The majority of the sitting MLAs of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Communist Party of India (CPI) were defeated. The CPI(M) won two seats and the CPI (Marxist-Leninist) one. The Communists' loss turned out to be the Congress(I)' gain.

The NTR-TDP leader Lakshmi Parvati, was defeated in both Sompeta and Eluru Assembly constituencies; she polled a mere 1,500 votes in the latter. Nandamuri Harikrishna, Anna TDP chief, finished third in the Gudivada Assembly constituency, the seat which w as once held by his father N.T. Rama Rao.

Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu.-K.R. DEEPAK

The Congress(I) levelled several charges of corruption against the Chief Minister and even sought the Governor's permission to launch prosecution proceedings against him. The Left parties had launched an extensive campaign against the World Bank loans th e State obtained on disadvantageous terms.

The Congress(I) promised free power supply to farmers. This had appeared to catch the imagination of the voters, particularly in Telengana. But the Chief Minister countered this by saying that he did not wish the painstaking reforms in the power sector t o be jeopardised for political gains.

CHANDRABABU NAIDU has reason to feel happy about the outcome of the elections. This was the first time that his party faced simultaneous elections to the Assembly and the Lok Sabha under his stewardship. Further, there was no NTR charisma to fetch votes for the party.

His Praja Deevena (people's blessings) call to intellectuals, professionals and non-committed voters to evince interest in the elections as a matter of right had a good response. A case in point was the entry into the electoral fray of Vijayarama Rao and women functionaries of the Development of Women and Children in Rural Areas (DWCRA) and women college lecturers. (Andhra Pradesh has the highest number of DWCRA groups - about 2.5 lakh - which pooled savings to the tune of Rs.500 crores. Chandrab abu Naidu promoted the DWCRA concept vigorously and covered the group members in the 'Deepam' - free cooking gas to rural poor women - scheme.) Industrialists such as T.G. Venkatesh (Kurnool) and 'Ambica' Krishna (Eluru) picked up seats for the TDP.

The TDP's attempts to portray Rajasekhara Reddy as a faction leader with a criminal record - it described him as having the potential to extend the bomb culture of Rayalaseema to other parts of the State - was given up midway after a bomb exploded in the premises of the Panchayati Raj Minister and TDP candidate for the Narasaraopet Assembly seat, Dr. Kodela Siva Prasada Rao. The TDP's managers reverted to focussing on the party's policies and performance. Siva Prasad Rao won the seat.

With a solid mandate, Chandrababu Naidu plans to be back in the business of furthering the reform process, increasing the pace of development and pursuing the goal of 'Swarnandhrapradesh'.

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