K. Ramachandra Murthy
In spite of Congress president Rahul Gandhi succeeding in cobbling a social coalition on the lines of Gujarat and burying decades old hatchet with the TDP embracing its chief Nara Chandrababu Naidu, the ruling TRS in Telangana appears to enjoy a slight edge. It is likely to win a simple majority, like Dr YS Rajasekhara Reddy did in 2009, and continue in power. There are at least ten reasons why Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) is about to make it. Here they are:
1) It is true that there is a vast difference in the political situation as was prevalent on September 6 when Telangana Assembly was dissolved and December 5, the day the curtains had come down ending the cacophony of electioneering. The unthinkable happened when the Congress party and Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in Telangana joined hands to become partners in a coalition called People’s Front which included CPI and Telangana Jana Samiti (TJS) headed by Prof. Kodandram. TDP president Chandrababu Naidu brought his skills of manipulation and electioneering with him and energised the campaign on behalf of the Front. However, the Front had taken an unduly long time to settle the seats and candidates. In contrast, the TRS had three months to campaign. It is a definite advantage for the ruling party.
2) Though TRS chief Kalvakuntla Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR) had announced the names of 105 candidates at one go and the list included at least 25 sitting MLAs who have heavy anti-incumbency, he could manage to persuade the rebels to refrain from filing nominations or crossing over to other parties. Most of those aspirants who could not get the ticket, have been working for the official candidates. These leaders include the TRS candidates in 2014 elections who lost to the Congress or TDP or YSRCP candidates. The winners defected to TRS and they got the tickets. KCR’s son Kalvakuntla Taraka Rama Rao (KTR) and nephew Tanniru Harish Rao played an important role in convincing the dissidents. However, the Congress also played its cards well by selecting suitable candidates for most of the seats. Rahul Gandhi sent senior leaders like Ahmed Patel and Jairam Ramesh to visit the rebels at their homes and persuade them to relent. Many leaders had withdrawn from the contest in time to help the party candidates. This kind of effort was made by the Congress for the first time in recent memory. The TRS candidates did not have to bother about funds. They were arranged in time. The Congress candidates had to wait for the TDP leadership to help. The resources of the Front’s candidates are meagre compared to those of TRS candidates. In short, the TRS candidates had a head-start in all respects.
3) There are some star speakers for Congress like actors Vijaya Shanti, Nagma and Kushboo. Former captain of Indian cricket team Azharuddin also campaigned for the party. But they don't have much of an insight into local issues. They are at most well-meaning guests who entered the scene rather late. Other leaders who are capable of influencing the voters such as Jana Reddy, Revanth Reddy, Bhatti Vikramarka and DK Aruna were forced by the ruling party to stay put in their constituencies. National official spokesperson of the Congress party S Jaipal Reddy was seldom seen in the campaign. There was a special focus by TRS leadership to restrict the movements of rival party’s senior leaders. TRS supremo had addressed people from more than 80 Assembly segments. KTR was the next in touring the districts while Harish Rao concentrated mostly on undivided Medak district and some of the difficult constituencies entrusted to him by the party chief. Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Jairam Ramesh, TDP’s Chandrababu Naidu and a host of Congress leaders from Delhi, Bengaluru and Chennai campaigned for the Front candidates. The BJP had its star campaigners in Prime Minister Narendra Modi, party chief Amit Shah, UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, External Affairs Ministers Sushma Swaraj, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, union ministers Smriti Irani, Javdekar, Nadda (who has been campaigning in Hyderabad from day one of electioneering), Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, besides chief ministers of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Devendra Fadnavis. But the campaign by the visitors did not have remarkable influence on the people. Modi and Rahul did make some impact. But no one was a match to KCR, KTR and Harish in articulation and clarity. That they belong to one family is a different issue.
4) The settlers from Seemandhra region can influence many constituencies in Greater Hyderabad, Ranga Reddy, Khammam and Nizamabad districts. That Hyderabad city has been free of major violence and communal tensions since the formation of the new State under the stewardswhip of KCR is a fact that none can dispute. The apprehensions entertained by the so called ‘settlers’ from Seemandhra have been proved baseless. Chandrababu had cleverly selected Suhasini, daughter of his brother-in-law Hari Krishna who passed away recently, as the TDP candidate for the Kukatpally seat in Greater Hyderabad. But her brothers Taraka Ram and Junior NTR have not campaigned for her. The TRS candidate, Madhavaram Krishna Rao, who defected after winning on a TDP ticket in 2014, is a strong candidate. The settlers are not a homogeneous group. People of all communities had settled down in Hyderabad since 1983 when NTR became chief minister. They go by their community preferences. It is reported that Reddys and Kapus who are in large numbers in the constituency are unlikely to vote for the TDP. They will most probably vote for the TRS candidate. This may also be the case with Sherlingampalli constituency. All the major parties have pockets of influence in Greater Hyderabad and Ranga Reddy district. Every party might win one or more seats. But the gains expected by the Front as a result of the campaign by Chandrababu are not likely to accrue. There is a strong feeling that had the Congress contested with the support of TJS and CPI and without TDP, it would have fared better. It is only a gut feeling without any basis to substantiate. Overall, TRS is likely to bag more seats than any other party in Hyderabad.
5) The midnight scoop and the arrest of Revanth Reddy at Kodangal by breaking open the bedroom door is something no ruling party would have contemplated. Annapurna, SP of Vikarabad district, has helped Revanth Reddy a great deal by getting him dragged to police station outside his constituency. Had she put him under house arrest till the rally of the chief minister was over, there would not have been much sympathy for Reddy who deliberately provoked the authorities by giving a call for protests during CM’s rally. The over-zealousness of the police and the comments passed by the High Court on the same day gave Revanth Reddy the much needed boost. Otherwise, he was fighting against odds created by Harish Rao who was asked to work for Revanth’s defeat. The whole episode is harmful for the ruling party. The damage, however, would be confined to old Mahaboobnagar district as the fires were quickly extinguished by releasing the candidate. The Chief Electoral Officer Rajat Kumar and the DGP M Mahender Reddy had to bear the brunt and the political executive was not directly reprimanded by the court. The episode should have been totally avoided.
6) There is popular resentment in the cities and towns of Telangana against the ruling party. The intellectuals, rights activists and the employees seem to be unhappy with the TRS. But people in the villages, particularly farmers and those involved in different occupations are favourably disposed towards the government. Programmes like Mission Bhagiratha, Mission Kakatiya, Kaleswaram project, Kalyan Laxmi/Shadi Mubarak, Rythu Bandhu, Rythu Beema and KCR kit are some of the programmes that made people in rural areas happy. It is true that the problem of unemployment has not been tackled effectively. There are 25 lakh youth in search of jobs. There were 1,08,000 vacancies for government jobs when TRS came to power. Since then 20,000 employees have retired. About 30,000 jobs were given and the government had notified for 70 thousand more jobs. In the power sector, the services of some 22 thousand casual employees have been regularised. Still the problem of unemployment is going to adversely impact the electoral fotrunes of the ruling party to some extent. Other programmes that could not be completed in one term were double bedroom houses for the poor, three acres of land for each landless Dalit family, free education from KG to PG. Such measures take time to materialise. About 600 residential schools for SC, ST, BC and Muslim students have been established by TRS government. More needs to be done in areas of housing, land distribution for Dalits and free education. The Opposition had flayed the government for not fulfilling these promises. They are hoping that the TRS government in its second term would be able to implement these programmes vigorously.
7) The youth of Telangana in general are seething with anger. The students of Osmania University had campaigned in rural areas against the TRS for months together on their own volition. They are particularly unhappy with the government for not doing anything to help the families of the martyrs of 1969 and 2009-2014 who committed suicide for the cause of a separate State of Telangana. The youngsters have been arguing with their elders who are bent upon voting for the TRS and asking them not to vote for the ruling party. The entry of Chandrababu Naidu into the alliance is another irritant for them. Otherwise, they would have voted en masse to the People’s Front. They are less enthusiastic after the Front was formed with the TDP. Had Chandrababu’s factor been not there, they would have whole-heartedly supported the alliance.
8) There is talk that the vote percentage of the BJP in this elections would go up. The BJP has put up candidates in all the 119 constituencies. They are hoping to gain some seats outside Hyderabad city. The party had bagged five seats in 2014 elections which it fought in collaboration with the TDP. Since the BJP is fighting on its own, seats like Musheerabad (Party’s State president Dr Laxman is the candidate), Khairatabad and Goshamahal are difficult to retain. Since the BJP had conducted a high voltage campaign, its share in the polled votes is likely to go up. To that extent, it will help the TRS since more of the anti-establishment votes get split.
9) Despite creating a hype in this elections, the Congress has the past to reckon with. The last time around, it had third chief minister at the end of the term in 2014. It had four CMs in 1978-1983 as well as 1989-1994. Until the election campaign started there were many leaders who fancied donning the chief minister’s mantle. A rumour is making rounds that Chandrababu Naidu is keen on making Bhatti Vikramarka the first Congress chief minister of Telangana so that he can get mileage in AP for making a Dalit the chief minister in the neighbouring state. Be it Bhatti or Captain Uttam Kumar Reddy, there will be a lot of lobbying for the most important chair by the aspirants and the political stability will be affected. There are strong rumours in the case of TRS also. There is every possiblity of KCR making KTR chief minister after the Lok Sabha polls in April-May 2018 and go to Delhi to influence national politics. Will KTR run the government steadily or will he squander the opportunity? What would Harish Rao do? Since KCR will be around, he will perhaps take Harish with him to Delhi and KTR would be left to take his job seriously giving his best to improve the governance.
10) All said and done, KCR has an invincible image of a getter and doer. As he repeatedly said, he made the dream of a separate statehood a reality. He has redesigned irrigation projects in the state. Many welfare measures were thought of by him. Empowering the caste groups and sub- caste groups has been done in a very methodical manner. It is true that the chief minister does not attend the Secretariat. He believes in superstitions and conducts yaagaas and yagnyaas. He is not accessible. He seems to be arrogant. The family is dominating both the party and the government. He spends a lot of time at his farmhouse. There are corruption charges against him and his family members. But people don’t seem to care about these things. They are concerned with what they are getting or are likely to get. The promises made by the People’s Front in its manifesto are more attractive than that of the TRS manifesto. The People’s Front government may continue all the welfare measures being implemented by the TRS government and add some more from its manifesto. Whether the promises are feasible is a question. A bird in hand is better that ten birds on the tree. Moreover, if TRS is defeated, projects like Kaleswaram and all the welfare programmes may not continue with the same sincerity and vigour. KCR is a known devil. People may opt to give him another term hoping that he would be less autocratic and more accessible.
Also Read: The Shifting Sands Of Telangana Politics