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Andhra Pradesh and Telangana: An alliance and a straight fight

In Andhra Pradesh, BJP-TDP-JSP combo takes on Congress and the ruling YSRCP. In Telangana, it is a direct fight between Congress and BJP.

Published : Mar 18, 2024 16:07 IST - 8 MINS READ

A woman looks at a digital campaign installation arranged by YSRCP candidate Devineni Avinash in Vijayawada.

A woman looks at a digital campaign installation arranged by YSRCP candidate Devineni Avinash in Vijayawada. | Photo Credit: G.N. Rao

After months of protracted wait, the BJP, the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), and the JanaSena Party (JSP) announced an alliance on March 9. The deliberations began after TDP president and former Chief Minister Nara Chandrababu Naidu was arrested in September in a corruption case. The JSP’s Pawan Kalyan decided to support him, describing the arrest as an act of political vendetta.

Announcing the alliance, Naidu called it a partnership committed to serving Andhra Pradesh and the country. He had walked out of the NDA in 2018 over the BJP’s non-sanction of Special Category Status (SCS) for Andhra Pradesh, and both parties had vowed never to ally again. And in a rally in April 2019, in the run-up to the general election, Naidu called Prime Minister Narendra Modi a “terrorist”.

The BJP will contest 6 Lok Sabha and 10 Assembly constituencies, and it is piggybacking on the popularity of the TDP and the JSP to end its continued irrelevance in Andhra Pradesh. The JSP will contest 2 Lok Sabha and 21 Assembly seats, while TDP leaders have the rest of the 17 Lok Sabha and 144 Assembly constituencies. The Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party (YSRCP), now in power, is contesting solo.

Also Read | Daring dozen: 12 crucial States where BJP is likely to face a stiff challenge

In 2019, the TDP was routed in Andhra Pradesh in both the Assembly and Lok Sabha elections, winning only 3 Lok Sabha and 23 Assembly seats. The YSRCP won 151 Assembly seats and 22 Lok Sabha seats. The JSP won one Assembly constituency. The TDP’s exit from the NDA decimated the BJP’s vote share in the 2019 Lok Sabha election (from 7.18 per cent to 0.96 per cent, less than NOTA). The BJP also did not win any Assembly constituencies (0.84 per cent vote share).

Enjoying tactical support of all parties

Yet, for years, the BJP has enjoyed the tactical support of all parties in Andhra Pradesh. For years, the spirit of federalism took a back seat as both the TDP and the YSRCP backed the BJP in Parliament. Despite walking out of the NDA, the TDP avoided criticising the BJP for much of its second term, and the Centre thus evaded accountability and blame for most instances of indifference towards Andhra Pradesh (the Visakhapatnam Steel Plant privatisation issue, additional funding for Polavaram, pending mega projects, etc.).

The scene changed in February when, during the interim Budget, Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy mentioned the Special Category Status and hinted at the Centre’s failure to grant it. This came ahead of the TDP rejoining the NDA. An MLA from the ruling YSRCP also said that the party opposes the CAA in its current form (in 2019, YSRCP MPs had voted in favour of the amendment). However, these moves it could be too little, too late.

Also Read | When Jagan marched to power in Andhra Pradesh

Meanwhile, Jagan Mohan’s sister, Y.S. Sharmila, has merged her party with the Congress. As the president of the Andhra Pradesh Congress Committee, Sharmila has been invoking the BJP’s betrayal and denial of SCS in her campaign and demanding an Assembly discussion. Analysts say Sharmila’s entry could trigger a revival in the Congress’ fortunes in the long term.

Ajay Gudavarthy, associate professor at the Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, told Frontline that Andhra Pradesh is interesting because there is no non-BJP force here except for the Congress. Also, the Special Category Status has once again become the main issue, and most importantly, there seems to be widespread discontent among the people against all the parties.

Class war between YSRCP and TDP

At a YSRCP election meeting in January named Siddham (ready)Jagan Mohan called the upcoming elections a class war between his party, which represents the poor, and the capitalists represented by Chandrababu Naidu. Jagan Mohan is banking heavily on his welfare schemes. But Naidu describes Jagan Mohan’s term as destructive politics and claims his focus is on both development and welfare. A strong anti-incumbency factor seems to have dampened the YSRCP’s chances of re-election. Jagan Mohan dropped several incumbent MLAs and MPs, but this triggered a series of defections; at least five sitting MPs have left the YSRCP.

An unified opposition could avoid splitting the anti-YSRCP vote, something the JSP’s Kalyan was striving for. But the seat sharing agreements with the BJP have not been received well by TDP leaders. A section of JSP supporters is also disgruntled about Kalyan’s diminished stature in politics, several of whom believed the Tollywood star could offer an alternative to both the TDP and the YSRCP. In Andhra Pradesh, all political parties face a trust deficit among voters, and they face an uphill task of regaining legitimacy among people.

Telangana Chief Minister Revanth Reddy has managed to keep Congress leaders united and brings a strong regional narrative to the Congress campaign.

Telangana Chief Minister Revanth Reddy has managed to keep Congress leaders united and brings a strong regional narrative to the Congress campaign. | Photo Credit: Tharun Vinny/ANI

That, however, is not the case in Telangana, where the Congress has seen a revival and the BJP is banking on defections from the Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS).

A little over a year ago, in January 2023, K. Chandrashekar Rao (KCR) of the BRS held a public meeting after rechristening the Telangana Rashtra Samithi the BRS. Arvind Kejriwal, Bhagwant Mann, Pinarayi Vijayan, and Akhilesh Yadav were among the leaders who attended. The meeting was supposed to set the stage for KCR’s evolution as a national leader and an alternative to the BJP and the Congress.

  • After months of waiting, BJP, TDP, and JSP formed an alliance in Andhra Pradesh, with TDP rejoining NDA despite previous conflicts over Special Category Status.
  • BJP aims to leverage TDP and JSP popularity to regain relevance in Andhra Pradesh, while YSRCP contests alone. In Telangana.
  • BJP is strengthening with defections from BRS, while Congress sees a revival, setting the stage for a contest between the two with BRS trying to salvage its position.

BRS struggles to contain defections

Today, KCR is struggling to contain the continued defections from his party following his defeat in the Assembly election of December 2023. Across the State, from local body leaders and former MLAs to even a few MPs, the BRS has lost many leaders to both the BJP and the Congress.

The defection of two BRS MPs (Nagarkurnool and Zahirabad) has boosted the BJP’s prospects. Five out of the 15 BJP candidates are BRS leaders who joined the party in February and March. BRS MP G. Ranjith Reddy of Chevella constituency reportedly skipped the party meeting held to finalise his candidature. Ranjith is speculated to be joining the Congress soon. The BRS’ struggle to stop the exodus became a public spectacle on March 13 when party workers clashed with BJP workers to restrain former Wardhannapet MLA Aroori Ramesh from leaving the BRS.

While the BJP has announced most of its Telangana list and the Congress is meticulously finalising its candidates, the BRS leadership is still hunting for potential winning candidates. Some political analysts recalled that KCR had engineered large-scale defections in his previous terms.

In a cash-rich State like Telangana, many transactional equations, such as real estate or other business interests, are behind several of these defections. Gudavarthy said this helped the BJP because it is seen as the party that can provide protection from legal action. The BRS’ desperation is evident in its coalition announcement with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). Until recently, BSP leader and IPS officer (retd) R.S. Praveen Kumar was a staunch anti-BRS and anti-KCR voice. Kumar is likely to contest from the Nagarkurnool constituency, and the BSP is reportedly negotiating for more. The BSP did not win any seats in the recent Assembly election.

The BRS won 9 seats in 2019 (41.29 per cent vote share) and 11 in 2014 (34.67 per cent vote share). However, according to most experts and election observers, the party has already lost the perception battle, and its prospects look bleak.

People scream in excitement at Prime Minster Narendra Modi's road show in Malkajgiri in Hyderabad, on March 15.

People scream in excitement at Prime Minster Narendra Modi's road show in Malkajgiri in Hyderabad, on March 15. | Photo Credit: PTI

In Telangana, the BJP increased its vote share from 10.37 per cent in 2014 to 19.45 per cent in 2019 Lok Sabha election. In the 2023 Assembly election, the BJP doubled its vote share and went from winning one Assembly seat in 2018 to eight in 2023. While defections did aid these numbers, it is also clear that the BJP’s social engineering efforts and Hindutva agenda have yielded results, especially in north Telangana and the Greater Hyderabad region.

A respectable performance

In the past two terms, the Congress’ Lok Sabha performance in Telangana has been respectable. It won 24.48 per cent of the votes in 2014 (two seats) and 29.48 per cent in 2019 (three seats). Fulfilling several promises it made during the Assembly election is expected to benefit the Congress campaign. In the past three months, Chief Minister Revanth Reddy has managed to both keep Congress leaders united and to continue highlighting the corruption and failures of the BRS’ rule. Revanth also brings a strong regional narrative to the Congress’ campaign.

Also Read | How Congress pulled off a morale-booster victory in Telangana

The BJP’s Lok Sabha campaign is led by Prime Minister Modi and other national leaders’ visits. In March, Home Minister Amit Shah addressed a meetup of social media volunteers in Secunderabad, and stressed the importance of spreading the party’s message.

BJP leaders declared that the party aimed to win 10 to 12 of the 17 Lok Sabha seats. Meanwhile, Revanth Reddy proclaimed that the Congress would win 14 seats.

Election observers are calling the Lok Sabha election in Telangana a fight between the Congress and the BJP, with the BRS attempting to save itself from further humiliation.

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