Assembly Elections: Andhra Pradesh

Dividends of division

Print edition : June 13, 2014

K. Chandrasekhar Rao at Telangana Bhavan in Hyderabad on May 16, after the TRS' resounding victory in the Assembly elections. Photo: NAGARA GOPAL

N. Chandrababu Naidu. The Telugu Desam Party president is the new Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh. Photo: Ramesh Sharma

Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy. There has been an erosion of the YSR Congress party's voter base. Photo: Mohammed Yousuf

Overcome by bifurcation blues, the people of Seemandhra fell for the development mantra of the Telugu Desam Party’s warhorse, N. Chandrababu Naidu, while the voters of the Telangana region of undivided Andhra Pradesh rewarded the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) supremo, K. Chandrasekhar Rao, for single-handedly helping them realise their 60-year-old dream of attaining statehood.

In the process, the ruling Congress, which unabashedly played the politics of running with the hare and hunting with the hound, was predictably defeated. The people of Seemandhra taught the grand old party a lesson that it is not going to forget for a long time to come: the Congress could not win a single seat in the elections to the 175-member new Assembly. In Telangana, the voters denied the Congress the credit it deserved for the formation of the Telangana State. It won 20 seats in the 119-member new Assembly. Many of its senior leaders were defeated.

For several weeks before the crucial Assembly and Lok Sabha elections, which were held in two phases, there was a fiery public debate on both sides of the divide—Telangana and Andhra Pradesh—over making the right choice from an array of political parties for the choice would decide the destiny of the people as they grapple with the inevitable teething problems of a new State.

In Telangana, the voters were caught between the TRS, which revived and spearheaded the latest phase of the movement for a separate State, and the Congress, which kept its word of creating a Telangana State although it took over a decade to fulfil the promise. The Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had supported the State formation move. In electing the TRS to power in Telangana by giving it 63 seats, the people apparently thought that the first chance of governing the new State should go to a hard-core Telangana party. The voters gave the party a clear mandate, proving wrong political pundits’ prediction of a hung Assembly.

Yet, the fact remains that the Congress did not work hard to highlight the prominent role it played in the formation of Telangana, and its leaders failed to take full advantage of the central party’s role. Instead, State Congress leaders, overconfident of a victory with the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance having pushed through the Telangana Bill in Parliament against all odds, were squabbling over chief ministership. When campaigning was coming to a close, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi rushed to the region to address a series of public meetings.

As many as seven candidates, including V. Hanumantha Rao, a Rajya Sabha member, and D. Srinivas, a Member of the Legislative Council, entered the fray with an eye on the Chief Minister’s post. Both were defeated. Telangana Congress president and former Minister Ponnala Lakshmaiah, who was also defeated, said: “The vote for change that swept across the nation is reflected here too.” His party colleagues have attributed his party’s dismal performance to the anti-incumbency factor, the Narendra Modi “wave” and the TRS’ effective election campaign.

The Congress, consumed by a leadership crisis, was a house divided. Chandrasekhar Rao wrested the initiative and launched a full-fledged campaign all through the region projecting himself as the messiah who delivered Telangana. He succeeded in convincing the people that it was his relentless struggle for 13 years that helped in achieving the goal of a separate State.

Confident of voter support, the TRS decided to go it alone, reneging on its promise of either merging with the Congress or having an electoral alliance with it. Thanks to the Telangana sentiment, the TRS did surprisingly well in south Telangana, a region not considered its stronghold, by winning 11 of the 17 Lok Sabha seats. The Congress lost a chance to stop the BJP’s march as it failed to use the Telangana factor and shore up its presence in the Lok Sabha.

The TDP, on the other hand, failed to capitalise on the organisational weakness of the TRS as it had done in the Assembly elections in 2009 when it won 39 seats in the region. This time it won only 15 seats, while its electoral ally, the BJP, won five of the 45 it was allotted. Unlike its sweeping performance in most of the northern States, the BJP failed in its ambitious project of extending its influence over Telangana using the regional sentiment and the Modi factor. Modi’s policy of seeking to do equal justice to both regions seems to have ensured the party’s survival in Telangana and helped it come to power in Seemandhra in alliance with the TDP.

Chandrababu Naidu deserted the Telangana proponents somewhere down the line. Had he acted with alacrity and created a separate unit of the party in Telangana, as demanded by some MLAs and leaders of the region two years ago, the TDP would have fared much better there. A dozen MLAs, who had crossed over to the TRS in protest against his “intransigence”, would have stayed in the party. Chandrababu Naidu’s prolonged stay in Delhi, on the eve of the adoption of the Telangana Bill in Parliament in February, was perceived as part of his effort to lobby against the Bill. The TDP did well only in areas in and around Hyderabad where people from Seemandhra have settled down. As expected, the alliance with the BJP helped it achieve that incremental value, with sections of the middle classes in the city favouring Modi.

The Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) retained the one Lok Sabha seat and seven Assembly seats it had in Hyderabad, benefiting from the polarisation of voters on communal lines.

In Seemandhra, Chandrababu Naidu’s game plan worked to the last detail, helping him to return to power after a decade. People of the region threw their weight behind him, taking into account his vast experience in governance, especially in elevating Hyderabad into an international information technology destination. Having decided to punish the Congress for going ahead with the bifurcation, the voters’ choices narrowed down to the TDP-BJP combine or the breakaway YSR Congress Party led by Jagan Mohan Reddy, son of former Congress Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy.

Perhaps the voters did not want to take a risk by electing a “raw and inexperienced” Jagan, who is facing a slew of Central Bureau of Investigation cases for his alleged involvement in corruption and quid pro quo investments in his companies. The general opinion was that the first Chief Minister of the residual State should have the vision and the ability to lay a solid foundation for a new State that is taking shape without a capital city and with a deficit budget of Rs.10,000 crore.

Going by the mandate for the TDP (which won 106 seats), it is clear that the voters have reposed their faith in Chandrababu Naidu and see him as a leader well equipped to address their concerns that range from loss of Hyderabad, which had offered educational and employment opportunities, to development of the region with a vast coastline. “The TDP’s victory was a historic necessity and people made it happen,” Chandrababu Naidu gushed even as he prepared to take over as the first Chief Minister of the residual Andhra Pradesh.

Jagan’s failure

Chandrababu Naidu planned his election strategy meticulously by giving the party ticket to even late entrants from the Congress, forging a strategic alliance with the BJP, and roping in popular Telugu film star Pavan Kalyan, who launched a high-pitched campaign projecting the TDP leader as the person capable of developing Seemandhra as opposed to a “corrupt Jagan”. Besides, the party’s promises such as waiver of crop loans and a job for each household also found favour with the voters.

The general perception that the YSR Congress would do better than the TDP as it is headed by a young and dynamic leader with a track record of defeating the Congress and the TDP in a series of Assembly byelections held two years ago proved to be a hype. The party won 67 seats. Jagan’s mother, Vijayamma, was defeated in Visakhapatnam.

His overconfidence in the party’s support base consisting of Reddys, Dalits, minority communities and a section of Kapus, and complete reliance on Rajasekhara Reddy’s welfare schemes and free power supply affected the party’s performance.

The voting pattern indicates that the YSR Congress’ social base was not intact. A large section of Kapus and Backward Classes shifted to the TDP as Chandrababu Naidu promised to nominate leaders from the two strong social groups to the post of Deputy Chief Ministers (in Telangana and Seemandhra). Voting statistics indicate that a large chunk of first-time and middle-class voters preferred the TDP over the YSR Congress. The State recorded a voter turnout of 79 per cent.

Jagan ridiculed Chandrababu Naidu’s plan to turn Seemandhra into a Singapore and his crop loan waiver scheme but never came up with concrete alternatives. After the defeat of his party, he grudgingly acknowledged that the people were carried away by the “false promises made by Chandrababu Naidu and the Modi wave”.

Politically, too, he kept targeting the TDP and spared the Congress, giving credence to the former’s allegation that he got a bail (in the CBI cases) with the blessings of 10 Janpath (Sonia Gandhi’s residence in New Delhi).

Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh’s comment that Jagan possessed the Congress genes and the TDP’s strident campaign that it was matter of time before Jagan returned to the Congress fold perhaps made the voters rethink on extending support to the YSR Congress. As a result, the TDP was able to snatch away a major share of the anti-incumbency vote. The TDP did well in 10 of the 13 Seemandhra districts. The TDP-BJP combine won 17 of the 25 Lok Sabha seats in Seemandhra. The YSR Congress won eight.

The Congress has been wiped out in Seemandhra. For the first time in the State’s history, the party will go unrepresented in the Andhra Pradesh Assembly. The Congress performed so miserably that 150 of its 175 candidates lost their deposits, polling less than 5,000 votes each. “The division of the State has dealt a body blow to the Congress,” said N. Raghuveer Reddy, the State Congress president who was defeated in Penukonda.

Similar was the fate of the Jai Samaikyandhra Party, rather pompously launched a few weeks before the elections by former Chief Minister N. Kiran Kumar Reddy. Although he himself stayed away from the contest, apparently anticipating defeat, his party candidates forfeited deposits in all but Piler constituency, where his brother contested.

The performances of the Lok Satta and Aam Aadmi Party, too, were disappointing as their candidates polled just a few thousand votes, indicating that the phenomenon of corruption was too deeply entrenched in both Telangana and Andhra Pradesh to be eradicated by campaigns.

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