K Ramachandra Murthy
Three months is a long time in electoral politics. When Telangana Chief Minister Kalvakuntla Chandrasekhara Rao (KCR) recommended the dissolution of Telangana Assembly on September 6, most political observers thought it would be a cakewalk for the TRS regardless of when the elections are held. The Congress was in a state of disarray with half-a-dozen chief ministerial hopefuls. Today, after the curtains came down on a high-decibel election campaign, the situation is so complicated that one would rather not hazard a guess about the outcome of the polls to be held on December 7. Rahul Gandhi, addressing his last election rally at Kodad, said a tsunami was about to strike Telangana bringing with it a sweeping change in political climate. That may be a tall claim, but it must be conceded that Rahul has been successful in bringing about a semblance of discipline and order in his party. He also succeeded in building a coalition of diverse social groups. Consequently, Congress today is far more organised and fighting fit.
Dramatic change in scenario
No one thought three months ago that Congress party under Rahul Gandhi would be able to stitch a coalition with CPI and Professor Kondandram’s Telangana Jana Samiti (TJS). None envisaged the possibility of the Congress and Telugu Desam Party (TDP), which were at loggerheads for more than three and a half decades, coming together as partners in the same coalition. There were some indications that TDP president Nara Chandrababu Naidu who snapped ties with Prime Minister Narendra Modi was trying to move closer to Rahul Gandhi. The first sign was Chandrababu shaking hands with Rahul at the swearing-in ceremony of HD Kumara Swamy as Karnataka chief minister. The TDP chief was talking about mobilising opposition leaders to create an anti-Modi front. Even then, nobody imagined that things would move so swiftly and muddy the political waters in Telangana. The scene has transformed so much that political pundits are divided in their assessment of the electoral prospects of different political parties. The politician-cum- businessman-cum-pollster, Lagadapati Rajagopal, has put out the results of so called survey aimed at influencing the neutral voters in favour of the Congress-led People’s Front.
Social Coalition a`la Gujarat
While Rahul Gandhi had prepared the ground, like he did in Gujarat, for a coalition of political parties and social groups by inviting ballard Gaddar, BC leader Krishnaiah, Dalit icon Mandakrishna Madiga and a Muslim leader besides roping in Kodandram of TJS and Suravaram Sudhakar Reddy of the CPI, Chandrababu gave the much needed push with his energetic involvement in preparing the roadmap and executing it. The extra dynamism was imparted by AP chief minister by providing the logistics and ammunition. Although Chandrababu settled for only 13 seats for the TDP, less than the 15 seats the party won in Telangana in 2014 elections, he took the responsibility of fuelling the Congress party’s engine and guiding it. Chandrababu is the critical factor in this elections that would make or mar the prospects of People’s Front. His association has helped the Front in one way and harmed it in another. He was forthcoming with funds. His association has antagonised the core Telangana sections that would not like to have anything to do with him. People who would have otherwise voted for Congress would now vote for the TRS. In his inimitable style, Chandrababu has mounted vitriolic attacks on Modi and KCR at every public meeting. Sometimes, Chandrababu’s criticism of Modi was sharper and more pungent than that of Rahul Gandhi in the meetings they addressed jointly. While doing his best to defeat KCR, Chandrababu Naidu was using the occasion to establish himself as a prominent critic of Modi and his policies at the national level. Because of Rahul Gandhi, Chandrababu seems to have received a red carpet welcome in Telangana State. However, he focussed only on Hyderabad and Khammam district where the ‘settlers’ of Seemandhra region are in large numbers. In fact, the BJP is not a major force either in Telangana or Andhra Pradesh. But the need to project himself on the national scene as a leader of consequence in order to divert the attention of the people in his home State is more compelling than helping the Front in the present elections. Rahul Gandhi is seen as an admirer of Chandrababu Naidu and their friendship appears to be going strong. Rahul was nodding in agreement when Chandrababu said Krishna river has no water and both Telangana and AP have to share Godavari waters. KCR, in his last election meeting at Gajwel, his home constituency, asked if people of Telangana have no share in Krishna waters. KCR has accused Chandrababu of harbouring a dream of controlling Telangana affairs by proxy, a government in Hyderabad run by his ‘stooges’ in the Congress. Chandrababu said at a joint media conference with Rahul that the unity of the opposition parties will continue till the Lok Sabha elections. Kodandaram, Sudhakara Reddy of the CPI, Gaddar, Mandakrishna Madiga, Dr Cheruku Sudhakar also appealed to the people to vote for the Front. Rahul said this culture of involving everyone would continue in future as well.
Media Makes Difference
The media has made a very big difference in these elections. Till Chandrababu got into the act, major newspapers and channels, which traditionally supported the TDP, were giving KCR extensive publicity as far as Telangana is concerned. KCR and his articulate son, K Taraka Rama Rao (KTR) were dominating the front pages of majority of Telugu newspapers for weeks together. But the newspapers shifted their stand suddenly with the TDP joining the People’s Front and major thrust of the content weighed in favour of the Congress and TDP. The readers and viewers have been bombarded with poll advertisements in newspapers and TV channels. The TRS is way behind the Front in this aspect. Of the ten advertisements that appeared on a TV channel, seven of them were given by the Front, two by the BJP and only one by the TRS.
Mind games by Lagadapati
Mind games is another area where Chandrababu proved himself to be an expert. He has been mastering this art from the time he dethroned NT Rama Rao, the founder of the TDP and his own father-in-law. He has deftly drafted Lagadapati Rajagopal, former MP, who had earlier predicted the outcome of quite a few elections. Rajagopal addressed a media conference on Tuesday and projected the Front as a winning combination enjoying popular support. He said the Front is ahead in Adilabad, Khammam, Nalgonda and Nizamabad. Karimnagar, Warangal and Mahbubnagar are said to be favouring TRS. However, KTR posted a tweet dismissing the survey results announced by Lagadapati. He said two months ago, Lagadapati sent him a message saying that the TRS would win 65 seats and now he is changing the narrative at the behest of Chandrababu Naidu. There was a tweet-war between Rajagopal and KTR. Lagadapati addressed the media once again on Wednesday saying that the latest reports he received from his team suggest that even Warangal was leaning towards People’s Front. In the bargain, Lagadapati appears to have lost his credibility to an extent. But his effort would surely influence some voters. The aggressive campaign mounted by the leaders of the Congress, TDP, TJS and CPI had made what appeared to be an easy win for TRS a somewhat difficult proposition, although it may not stop the ruling party from posting a win.
Tail piece: When Chandrababu Naidu who is being attacked by the opposition back home for all-round failure had strongly criticised his neighbour, Telangana Chief Minister KCR, it sounds ridiculous. Almost all the allegations made by the Congress leaders against KCR pertaining to family rule, corruption, lack of employment generation, maladministration etc are being faced by Chandrababu in AP.