General Election: Andhra Pradesh

Absolute loser

Print edition : April 04, 2014

K. Chandrasekhar Rao, TRS leader. Photo: PTI

Jagan Mohan Reddy, YSR Congress Party chief. Photo: SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP

N. Chandrababu Naidu, TDP president. Photo: P.V. SIVAKUMAR

N. Kiran Kumar Reddy, former Chief Minister. Photo: NOAH SEELAM/AFP

The Congress’ electoral plans go awry in Telangana as the TRS rejects its merger move; in the rest of Andhra Pradesh it has absolutely no takers.

FOR all the Machiavellian politics the Congress played in the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh into Telangana and Seemandhra, it is getting paid back in the same coin. The party’s expectations of reaping rich dividends at least in the Telangana region lie shattered as the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) has made it clear that it prefers an alliance to a merger with the Congress.

The Congress’ game plan was to ride piggyback on the TRS by coaxing it to accept a merger deal and make a clean sweep of the 17 Lok Sabha seats and 119 Assembly constituencies in Telangana. But it found to its chagrin that the subregional party is not going to be a pushover, with TRS chief K. Chandrasekhar Rao playing hard politics. “We will not merge the TRS with the Congress under any circumstance, in deference to the wishes of the people of the region,” he announced after the party’s crucial politburo meeting. By preferring a seat-sharing arrangement, he is keeping his options open for the post-election scenario if the Bharatiya Janata Party- led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) manages to return to power at the Centre.

Rao listed 10 strong reasons why a merger with the Congress was not possible. These include not being taken into confidence in the preparation of the Telangana Bill, luring TRS legislators and Members of Parliament to join it, postponing the “appointed day” of formation of Telangana State to June 2, and not giving special status for Telangana. There appears to be no end to the saga of bungling by the Congress, which began on July 30, 2013, with the Congress Working Committee (CWC) decision in favour of Telangana. To begin with, the party failed to prepare the people of Seemandhra to reconcile themselves to the bifurcation and address their concerns. It could not check Chief Minister N. Kiran Kumar Reddy, who raised the banner of revolt against the party high command. When it finally agreed to the formation of Telangana, the people of that region could not rejoice as they would continue to cast their votes in Andhra Pradesh with the Centre choosing a post-election date for the State formation.

There was no sense of timing even in the imposition of President’s Rule. For several days after Kiran Kumar Reddy’s resignation and his refusal to be caretaker Chief Minister, the Congress remained undecided and allowed leaders of both regions to lobby for the top post. The high command even considered Union Minister K. Chiranjeevi for the post to keep the 27 per cent Kapu vote intact in Seemandhra, but did not succeed.

Failure to goad the TRS into a merger plan capped the series of setbacks in the run-up to the general elections, the first after the Telangana Bill got the presidential assent. Ideally, the Congress should take credit for delivering Telangana, the 60-year-old dream of the people of the region. But its squabbling leaders in Telangana, already in the race for the Chief Minister’s post, failed to cash in on the party’s initiative and convince the people that it was the Congress and not the TRS that fulfilled their long-cherished dream.

The big meeting the Congress leaders promised to hold by inviting party president Sonia Gandhi, now popularly called “Telangana thalli” (mother of Telangana), is nowhere in sight yet. Taking full advantage of this situation, the TRS continues to hog the limelight, giving rise to the perception that Telangana became a reality owing to its 12-year struggle.

With the popular mood in favour of the TRS, MPs and MLAs from other parties are gravitating towards it. The biggest casualty of this development is the Telugu Desam Party (TDP). Thanks to its “two eyes policy” of seeking equal justice to the two regions and the way its president, N. Chandrababu Naidu, lobbied against the AP Reorganisation Bill by staying in New Delhi for over a week, at least half a dozen of its MLAs have already crossed over to the TRS.

If political gains elude the Congress in Telangana, its electoral rout in Seemandhra, where it is facing a severe backlash because of the bifurcation, seems imminent. At stake in this region are 25 Lok Sabha and 175 Assembly seats. Not a day passes without a Congress Minister or MLA switching loyalties to either the TDP or the YSR Congress Party (YSRCP). On a single day, three prominent Ministers in the erstwhile Kiran Kumar Reddy Cabinet—Erasu Pratap Reddy, T.G. Venkatesh and Ghanta Srinivas Rao—met Chandrababu Naidu to convey their decision to join the TDP.

Another Minister, Galla Aruna, and her industrialist son, Galla Jaydeva, too have followed suit. “Several Congress leaders wish to join the TDP, disappointed with the way the party unilaterally went ahead with bifurcation without consulting the stakeholders,” Chandrababu Naidu said. Most of the 17 MLAs who were with Chiranjeevi’s Praja Rajyam Party before it merged with the Congress have returned to the TDP. The YSRCP, too, has attracted a number of MPs and MLAs. Former Revenue Minister Dharmana Prasada Rao and a dozen other Congress legislators have joined the YSRCP.

There are two ways of looking at why leaders are gravitating towards these two parties that are expected to share the Congress vote. The YSRCP has the distinct advantage of having made a U-turn on the Telangana issue and openly coming in support of a united Andhra Pradesh for which the people of Seemandhra were agitating all along. YSRCP chief Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy is a young and dynamic leader, and notwithstanding the slew of Central Bureau of Investigation cases he has been facing, people see him as the heir to the political legacy of his father, Dr Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, and all the populist schemes he had initiated. Some people feel he should be given a chance to lead the State at least once.

On the other hand Chandrababu Naidu, is seen as an old warhorse who can change the development landscape of Seemandhra, or the residual Andhra Pradesh, and a new capital, much the same way he did in the case of Hyderabad. But it has to be seen how he will overcome the grouse nurtured by a section of the people of Seemandhra that he continued with his equal justice formula instead of throwing his weight fully behind them and the region to which he belonged.

Not surprisingly, Kiran Kumar Reddy announced, after much dilly-dallying, a new political party in Seemandhra to try and fill the political vacuum created by the near rejection of the Congress by the people and the ambivalent stand taken by the TDP and the YSRCP. “We are launching a new political party to provide Telugus a platform to protect their pride and safeguard their interests,” he declared, indicating that he wanted to hijack partly the TDP plank. But more than the TDP’s, his party could cut into the traditional vote of a beleaguered Congress and the Reddy community vote of the YSRCP.

When he announced the launch of the new party, he was accompanied by the expelled Congress MPs Lagadapati Rajagopal, Sabbam Hari, G.V. Harsha Kumar and A. Saipratap, and one former Minister from his Cabinet, Pithani Satyanarayana. Apparently, he could not succeed in persuading many of the Congress MLAs that the party he was floating could be a viable alternative to the Congress.

Many observers feel that if he had resigned soon after the CWC decision to create Telangana State his word would have carried more weight. Nevertheless, he is trying hard to convince the aggrieved people of Seemandhra by approaching the Supreme Court against the bifurcation on the grounds that “it is in breach of federalism, one of the basic features of the Constitution and it is politically motivated”.

Many others also see political opportunity in the aftermath of the bifurcation. The Telugu film star Pavan Kalyan hinted at launching a party, forgetting the disastrous end his elder brother’s PRP met. Manda Krishna, leader of the Madigas, a dominant Dalit community in Telangana, joined the bandwagon of those raring to start a new political party. Having supported the united Andhra Pradesh cause, the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, until now confined to Hyderabad, wants to expand its base to Seemandhra.

Having supported the AP Reorganisation Bill, the BJP hopes to consolidate its position in Telangana and go with the TDP despite stiff opposition from its State leadership. The differences were such that the party’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi had to intervene and settle the issue in favour of a seat-sharing arrangement with the TDP.

Many other leaders have chosen greener pastures, the significant one being Union Minister Purandeswari, who crossed over to the BJP expecting to retain her Visakhapatnam seat. Her move has come as a big surprise, as the BJP is perceived as another villain of the piece by the people of Seemandhra for the way it lent support to the Bill in Parliament. Post-bifurcation, several such crossovers and surprises are expected.

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