Andhra Pradesh

Self-goals galore

Print edition : May 16, 2014

Congress leader K. Chiranjeevi addressing a press conference in Vijayawada on April 26. Photo: V. RAJU

IF there is any State where the Congress has virtually committed hara-kiri and where its ambitious strategy for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections has gone horribly wrong, it is Andhra Pradesh. The grand old party will have only itself to blame if the BJP succeeds in getting a foothold in the State and the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) gets a new lease of life.

Andhra Pradesh, southern India’s largest State, which is to be bifurcated into Telangana and Seemandhra on June 2, has always been a Congress citadel, breached though by TDP rule. The people of the State were so loyal to the Congress and “Indiramma”, as former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was fondly called, that even in the 1977 Lok Sabha elections, held in the wake of the Emergency, when the entire country had rejected the Indira-led Congress, Andhra Pradesh had preferred her overwhelmingly. It won 41 of the 42 seats, a feat it repeated in the 1980 elections.

The party started losing ground with the formation and electoral foray of the TDP in the 1980s, but its fortunes once again rose in 2004 when it won 29 seats. The Congress improved the score to 33 in the 2009 elections. It was this critical performance of the State Congress that helped the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government continue in power at the Centre for a second consecutive term. From such a position of strength, the Congress is all set to lose almost all the 25 seats in Seemandhra and nearly half of the 17 seats in Telangana, thanks to its wrongly timed decision to bifurcate the State.

The decision to settle the 60-year-old statehood issue was taken without preparing the people of Seemandhra to reconcile to and accept the bifurcation. Union Minister Jairam Ramesh recently admitted in Hyderabad that his party had failed to communicate properly to the people of Seemandhra the inevitability of the division and convince them that their concerns would be addressed.

The Congress got everything wrong, right from the time of its Working Committee’s decision in July 2013 to carve out Telangana as the 29th State of the country to the passage of the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Bill in Parliament in February 2014. The haste in passing the Bill made it obvious that it was solely aimed at gaining electoral mileage. In what is seen as a case of putting the cart before the horse, the Congress announced the decision to form the State without taking the leaders of Seemandhra into its confidence or resolving issues of concern to the region’s people such as creating a new capital, sharing river waters and revenue, and ensuring jobs in government services.

The decision forced the people of Seemandhra to take to the streets. Union Ministers and Members of Parliament from the State and Members of the Legislative Assembly resigned in protest. But the Centre remained oblivious to all this and went ahead with the passage of the Bill.

The people of the region are so angry with the Congress that they want to teach the party a lesson. This could perhaps result in the decimation of the national party in the region. The Congress has simply left the field to the YSR Congress party and the TDP-Bharatiya Janata Party combine although the original plans behind the bifurcation were to stymie the growth of these parties.

Having burnt its fingers in Seemandhra, the Congress thought it could make the most in Telangana by taking full credit for the creation of a separate State and “fulfilling the 60-year-old dream of the people” as Sonia Gandhi sought to emphasise at her first public meeting (after the decision to form Telangana was taken) in Karimnagar town recently. But in the Telangana region, too, the party failed to come up with a cogent strategy to take full advantage of the passage of the Telangana Bill in Parliament and to forge an alliance with the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS).

With the bifurcation Bill and the haste with which it was passed becoming a leitmotif of the campaign in the simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and the Assembly in the two regions of Andhra Pradesh, issues such as corruption, which was rampant all through the decade-long Congress rule in the State, have taken a back seat.

This is a blessing in disguise indeed for both the Congress and YSR Congress chief, Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy, who is facing a slew of Central Bureau of Investigation cases relating to quid pro quo investments in his companies. There is not much anti-incumbency sentiment at work although TDP president N. Chandrababu Naidu has been targeting Jagan for his “one lakh crore corruption” in his campaigns.

Modi ripples

For the same reason perhaps, much as the BJP may like everyone to believe, the “Modi wave” is absent in large parts of rural Andhra Pradesh. At best, the Modi ripples, caused by media hype and the vigorous “Modi as Prime Minister” campaigns, are confined to some middle- and lower-middle class Hindu colonies of Hyderabad and a few other cities and towns.

The much-talked about Gujarat model of development sounds a bit odd to the people of Andhra Pradesh who have been exposed to both the reform-intensive and welfare-packed models of Chandrababu Naidu and the late Congress Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy respectively. Even otherwise, there are doubts over the BJP’s ability to capitalise on the so-called waves and development models given its not-so-impressive organisational network in the State. It is for this reason that it has tied up with TDP as its junior partner.

Possibility of polarisation

The Congress high command’s failure to keep the State leaders informed about its bifurcation moves has far-reaching consequences for the two emerging States, the most important one being communal polarisation, as it has unwittingly provided a chance for the BJP to grow. Expectedly, the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) has started talking in terms of Muslim unity to take on the BJP and its prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi. The MIM, which has a large Muslim following, has one MP and seven MLAs from Hyderabad,

The MIM had been opposing the formation of Telangana on the grounds that a smaller State would help the BJP grow faster as had happened in Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand and Jharkhand. The argument is: Given the past history of Telangana, which was under Muslim rule for hundreds of years, and the several communal riots the region has witnessed, it would become easier for the Sangh Parivar to resort to communal polarisation.

Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) leaders have played a key role in identifying the constituencies where the BJP should contest in alliance with the TDP in Telangana (where elections will be held on April 30) and Seemandhra (May 7). When the TDP-BJP alliance was rocked by disagreement over sharing of seats just before the April 19 deadline for filing of nominations in Seemandhra, RSS spokesman Ram Madhav was actively involved in back-room talks with BJP leader M. Venkaiah Naidu.

MIM leaders fear that the Sangh Parivar will have several aces up its sleeve. They are not off the mark. In the March 12 Assembly byelections in Mahbubnagar town, about 100 kilometres west of Hyderabad, it was communal polarisation engineered by the Sangh Parivar that facilitated the victory of the BJP candidate, Yennem Srinivas Reddy, despite a strong separate Telangana sentiment running across the region, which should have helped the TRS candidate Syed Ibrahim immensely.

The BJP’s strident “we against them” campaign likening the elections to a “India versus Pakistan match” for consolidation of the Hindu vote was so effective that Ibrahim lost. Surprisingly, it was the only seat the TRS lost in the byelections to the six Assembly constituencies across Telangana. All the other candidates were Hindus. This clearly demonstrated that an appeal on the basis of religion could overshadow a strong regional sentiment, and the BJP knows it well.

Muslim voters in the State account for 12 per cent of the total electorate. The Muslim community could play a crucial role in about 100 of the 294 Assembly constituencies (119 in Telangana and 175 in Seemandhra) and nearly 16 Lok Sabha seats. Yet, political parties have been generally reluctant to nominate Muslims, citing their “poor winnability” as a factor. The majority of the 23 districts have no Muslim MLAs. MIM’s Asaduddin Owaisi is the lone Muslim MP from the State.

Muslims and other minority groups find voting a challenging task as most of the parties in the State seem to be leaning towards the BJP. While the TDP has already forged an electoral alliance with the saffron party, both the YSR Congress and the TRS have indicated that they would support the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance after the elections. This leaves Muslims with little option but to support the MIM or back the Congress, which may just manage to do well in Telangana.

More than supporting any party, the minority communities are worried over the return of a resurgent BJP and the rise of Modi, and are leaving no stone unturned to work against this. They are even planning tactical or en bloc voting. Asaduddin and his younger brother and MLA, Akbaruddin Owaisi, have moved out of Hyderabad, their traditional support base, and have been on a whirlwind tour of several towns in Seemandhra to consolidate the Muslim vote against the BJP and Modi.

Their refrain is that Modi is the number one enemy of Muslims and he should not be allowed to become the Prime Minister at any cost. In a similar attempt, Muslims of different denominations and organisations such as the Muslim United Front, the Jamiat-ul-Ulema-e-Hind and the Telangana Muslim Muttahada Mahaz, have set aside their differences and come together with the single-point agenda of finding ways to checkmate Modi. Like the All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat, these organisations are expected to make a joint appeal about which party to support en bloc in the coming elections.

K. Venkateshwarlu

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