Messages from the States

Published : Mar 21, 1998 00:00 IST


Total Seats 42Congress(I) 22TDP 12CPI 2BJP 4Janata Dal 1MIM 1

CHIEF MINISTER N. Chandrababu Naidu was only mildly shaken by the anti-incumbency wave that badly affected ruling parties in the States bordering Andhra Pradesh - Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Orissa to some extent. His Telugu Desam Party's (TDP) tally of MPs came down to 12 from 17.

The TDP's loss, however, did not translate into gains for the Congress(I) in the State, which maintained its previous Lok Sabha tally, 22 seats. The Congress(I)'s demand that Chandrababu Naidu step down as Chief Minister, therefore, lacked conviction. Andhra Pradesh Congress(I) Committee president Mallikarjun, who raised this demand, himself lost in Mahabubnagar; he was defeated by Janata Dal leader S. Jaipal Reddy. Other Congress(I) stalwarts who were defeated included G. Venkata- swamy, Kamaluddin Ahmed and V. Hanumantha Rao, all former presidents of the State unit of the party. Important Congress(I) winners included K. Vijayabhaskara Reddy (Kurnool), N. Janard- hana Reddy (who unseated Union Minis- ter U. Venkateswarlu in Bapatla), Y.S. Raja- sekharaReddy (Cudd- apah) and P. Upendra (Vijayawada).

The Sonia factor appears to have improved the Cong- ress(I)'s position slightly: the party won in only six of the 13 constituencies she visited. However, she enthused the morale of Congress(I) workers.

A pre-election show of unity among Congress(I) leaders such as Vijayabhaskara Reddy, Janardhana Reddy and Rajasekhara Reddy was shattered when Youth Congress(I) storm-troopers ransacked Gandhi Bhavan, the APCC headquarters, and burnt furniture and files. Former Chief Minister Nadendla Bhaskara Rao, against whom this attack was aimed, wrested the Khammam seat from the CPI(M). The party, however, paid a price for choosing candidates perceived as "weak" by local leaders, such as K. Keshava Rao (Nizamabad) and M. Satyanarayana Rao (Karimnagar). Sonia Gandhi campaigned for both these candidates, but they ended up in the third position.

The real winner in the State, if any, was the BJP, although it won only four seats. It took two seats each from the Congress(I) and the TDP. From a poor support base of 5.6 per cent in the 1996 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP increased its vote share to 20 per cent this time. The BJP had won Lok Sabha seats only twice in earlier electoral attempts. One of them was Hanamkonda in 1984 when C. Janga Reddy, supported by the TDP, defeated P.V. Narasimha Rao. The BJP's 20 per cent vote share now shows that the party has finally arrived in the State.

The BJP impressed voters with its door-to-door campaigns. It roped in popular film stars Vijayashanthi, Gowthami and Mohan Babu for electioneering. Its campaigners highlighted the party's capacity to provide a stable government. The surge in support for the BJP damaged the prospects of the Congress(I) in the coastal areas and the TDP in the Telengana region. The party attracted urban voters in sizable numbers. BJP State president Bandaru Dattatreya won by a margin of over 1.85 lakh votes in Secunderabad.

The anti-establishment mood was attributed to Chandrababu Naidu's economic policies, which were criticised as being World Bank-oriented rather than aiming at the basic problem of poverty. The winding up of public sector units such as Allwyn, the move to unbundle the Electricity Board, and the lowering of subsidies were among the steps he had taken. The Chief Minister's hi-tech image impressed only the elite sections.

During his 200-odd election meetings, Chandrababu Naidu went to great lengths to explain the rationale behind some unpopular decisions that had been taken by the Government. His efforts were complemented by the organisational network of the party, which he built up over the last two years.

Chandrababu Naidu also made a special effort to assuage the sentiments of the farming community. A few months after he took over, two farmers who protested against the power tariff increase he introduced were killed in police firing at Kaldhari in West Godavari district. More recently, suicides by 200 cotton farmers invited the criticism that the Government had totally neglected the interests of farmers. The TDP victories in Warangal and Hanamkonda constituencies, where at least 65 farmers had ended their lives in frustration, show that Chandrababu Naidu's words offered some consolation to the rural electorate. Immediately after the incidents of suicide began, Chandrababu Naidu visited the family of a victim and sanctioned a compensation of Rs. 1 lakh.

A large number of Muslim votes in the State seemed to have been cast in favour of the Congress(I) in coastal Andhra Pradesh and the TDP-led alliance in Telengana. The Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen won the Hyderabad seat.

The TDP had alienated another community, the Kapus. It lost all the four seats in the Kapu belt - Kakinada, Rajahmundry, Eluru and Narsapur - to the BJP and the Congress(I). The TDP won only four seats in the entire coastal belt, of which three came from its traditional bastion, the northern districts of Srikakulam and Vizianagaram. It won the six seats in Telengana and two in Rayalaseema. A major loser in these elections was the CPI(M) which did not win a single seat. The CPI retained both the seats it held in the previous Lok Sabha.

Despite the TDP's setback in the Lok Sabha elections, Chandrababu Naidu's role in Delhi politics has remained undiminished. A hung Parliament has once again pushed him to centrestage.

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