Buoyed by Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra last year, the Congress had begun focussing on farmers’ issues, land rights, corruption, and unemployment in preparation for the Telangana Assembly election, which is due any time before December. The initial momentum waned a bit over time, but the recent Karnataka Assembly election results have reignited energy and hope, drawing leaders from other parties into the Congress fold.
On July 2, the party organised a public meeting called Telangana Jana Garjana Sabha at Khammam. According to media reports and Congress spokespersons, lakhs of people attended Rahul Gandhi’s public gathering. If voted to power, Gandhi promised that his party would provide Rs.4,000 a month to the elderly and widows. He labelled K. Chandrashekar Rao’s Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) “the B-team of the BJP”.
The meeting served two purposes: to mark the end of Congress leader Mallu Bhatti Vikramarka’s padayatra across the State, and to welcome several leaders of Khammam, including former BRS MP Ponguleti Srinivas Reddy, into the party. Reddy’s entry into the Congress strengthens its prospects in the Khammam region, which has 10 Assembly seats.
Vikramarka’s march over 109 days covered 1,350 kilometres in 17 districts, 36 Assembly segments, and over 750 villages. He said people primarily talked about issues of land, unemployment, housing, and irrigation. According to him, in several villages he visited, the people also raised issues of self-respect and freedom of expression.
Vikramarka said his next focus would be on issues concerning “assigned land” beneficiaries and “pending irrigation projects”. Assigned lands are parcels of land allotted to the poor and marginal groups for agricultural purposes. These lands cannot be sold or transferred by registration to anyone else. The Congress has accused the BRS of snatching assigned land from farmers in the name of development. The party is also protesting against the government’s failure to complete irrigation projects on the Krishna and Godavari rivers.
At the public meeting, Srinivas Reddy criticised the BRS for failing to implement its election promises, such as farm loan waivers and unemployment allowance. The Congress has plans to include a Rs.2 lakh farm loan waiver and an increased minimum support price for paddy crop in its election manifesto.
The Congress also intends to include tenant farmers in the Telangana government’s investment support scheme and to extend support to landless farmers registered under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act.
Another promise is to scrap the Dharani portal (an integrated land records management system), citing irregularities. The party alleges that there are thousands of instances where farmers have lost their lands because of it.
Significantly, the media, too, has started to position the Congress party as the primary opposition to the BRS in Telangana. Until a few months ago, the BJP had enjoyed that spot.
According to the political analyst and writer Telakapalli Ravi, the hype has transferred from the BJP to the Congress. “For that matter, the Congress never died in Telangana. It is only that the BRS absorbed Congress MLAs,” he told Frontline.
When Telangana’s Statehood dream was realised in 2014, the Congress was in power at the Centre, but in the Assembly elections in 2014 and 2018, it lost to the BRS (then known as the TRS). In both elections, however, the party managed to maintain a respectable vote and seat share (21 seats in the 119-member House with a vote share of 25.02 per cent in 2014 and 19 of the 100 seats it contested in 2018, with a vote share of 28.4 per cent) despite losing MLAs to defection.
The infighting and lack of foresight notwithstanding, the Congress has survived in Telangana. And the Karnataka election has apparently attracted disgruntled leaders from other parties to the Congress now.
Jupally Krishna Rao, a five-time MLA from Kollapur, quit the Congress over the Telangana statehood issue in 2011. He was elected MLA in 2014 from the BRS but lost to the Congress candidate in 2018, who eventually defected to the BRS. Krishna Rao has returned to the Congress fold. He and Srinivas Reddy were suspended from the BRS earlier this year for “anti-party activities”.
Pidamarthi Ravi, former chairman of the Telangana Scheduled Castes Corporation and a statehood movement leader, has also joined the Congress. He said he did so because of the unfulfilled aspirations of Dalits, Bahujans, and minorities in Telangana.
Despite this, some observers believe that infighting might still affect the party’s revival in Telangana, especially given the persistent discontent with Revanth Reddy, the Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee president.
“There is some forced unity in the State Congress unit necessitated by the election,” said Telakapalli Ravi, adding that repeating the Karnataka results in Telangana would be difficult because the anti-incumbency sentiment was lower here.
- Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra and the Karnataka Assembly election results have reinvigorated the Congress party in Telangana.
- The party has its focus on issues such as land rights, unemployment, housing, irrigation, and improving the lot of farmers in the State.
- However, observers believe that the BRS still holds a strong position in Telangana. It seems to have pre-empted the Congress moves.
BRS leaders see the Congress’ promises as grandstanding and point to the guarantees that are yet to be implemented in Karnataka. BRS working president and Minister K.T. Rama Rao took a dig at the challenges the Congress faces in implementing its Anna Bhagya (free rice to BPL and Antyodaya Anna cardholders) promise in Karnataka and contested its “guarantee” to provide Rs.4,000 as pension in Telangana.
Several BRS leaders asked whether the same amount was the norm in Congress-ruled States. According to them, Telangana already has a comprehensive pension policy (Rs.2,016 a month) for elderly citizens, widows, single women, toddy tappers, weavers, HIV patients, and beedi workers. Earlier, in June, Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao approved Rs.4,116 a month, an increase of Rs.1,000, to people with disabilities.
The renewed energy in the Telangana Congress unit notwithstanding, observers believe that the BRS retains its shine and that the sentiments of the Telangana movement are still alive. The Congress will thus still face a formidable challenge from the BRS, whose hold in Telangana looks comfortable.