Congress Demolished By The Telangana Curse

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Among the many heartbreaks for the Congress on 16 May, counting day of the 16th General Election, the most painful must have been the party’s fate in Telangana and Seemandhra. The bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh, carried out in an anarchic, cynical manner, gave the Congress its biggest debacle this election season. In what is nothing short of a nightmare for the party, it scored a humiliating duck in the 175 Assembly and 25 Lok Sabha seats in residual Andhra Pradesh.

To put things in perspective, the undivided state had given the Congress 156 of the 280 Assembly seats and 31 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in the 2009 election. Andhra was thus a key state that enabled the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance to romp back to power that year.

This time, all the calculations of the Congress high command went haywire. The party is now left licking its wounds in Telangana and struggling to revive itself in Seemandhra.

In Telangana, where the Congress expected the electorate to acknowledge its noble intentions, it bagged only 23 of the 119 Assembly seats and just two of the 17 Lok Sabha seats. K Chandrasekhar Rao’s Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), which reneged on its promise to ally with the Congress, bagged 62 Assembly seats and will form the first government in Telangana with a comfortable majority. The Asaduddin Owaisi-led All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), with seven MLAs, is mulling an alliance with the TRS. The new state also elected 11 MPs from the TRS.

“The Congress could have done much better. But we simply could not convince the people that it was we who made Telangana a reality. Being opportunists, the TRS took all the credit,” says a senior Congress leader on the condition of anonymity. “We went wrong from the initial stages. There was a time when Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh used to make KCR (Chandrasekhar Rao) wait in Delhi for days together. When his time came, he paid back in kind. At least, that’s what he thinks. Unfortunately, we delivered Telangana to him on a platter.”

The Congress was not the only party that bit the dust in Andhra Pradesh. Riding on the Modi wave, the N Chandrababu Naidu-led Telugu Desam Party (TDP) trounced Jagan Mohan Reddy’s Yuvajana Shramika Rythu Congress Party (YSRCP), winning an impressive 108 Assembly and 16 Lok Sabha seats in the state. Interestingly, despite its opposition to the creation of Telangana, the TDP managed to get a respectable 21 Assembly seats and two Lok Sabha seats in the new state, massively upsetting the Congress’ calculations.

To top it all, even the BJP opened its account in undivided Andhra with three Lok Sabha seats and nine Assembly seats. “We were surprised by the result. We did not foresee a defeat at all,” a distraught MV Mysura Reddy, senior leader of the YSRCP, told TEHELKA. “We had expected to get the anti-Congress votes, but they went to the BJP-TDP combine. The margin was just around two percent. They spent much more money as the affluent Kamma community stood by them.” Reddy, however, rubbishes the speculation that some YSR Congress MLAs might cross over to the TDP.

The TDP has made the selection of a new capital for Seemandhra a top priority. “Guntur and Vijayawada are the two cities we are considering. Our chief minister (Naidu) is keen on consulting the people of the state before zeroing in on a capital,” says KV Prasad, TDP spokesperson. “Employment generation, rapid industrial growth and upliftment of farmers will be our major goals.”

Behind the TDP’s resounding success is a spectacular story of resurgence. Just six months ago, a desperate Naidu was more than willing to make his party a tugboat for the BJP in the uncertain waters. Out of power in the state since 2004 and managing just six Lok Sabha seats in 2009, the TDP had been staring at irrelevance. The party was cash-strapped and its MLAs had begun to desert it to join the YSRCP.

Naidu of 2014 had shrunk in every sphere compared to the Naidu of 2004, when he was thought to be invincible. Then, he had been at the helm of the state for a decade since 1994. His urbane image, bolstered by the impressive development of Hyderabad and other cities in the state, had made him a darling of the privileged classes. The media loved him no less and the feelings were mutual. Providing outside support to the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA from 1999 to 2004 also meant a cordial relationship with the Centre, which, in turn, was generous in its treatment of the state.

However, just like NDA’s India Shining campaign that turned out to be a big flop, Naidu too bit the dust in the 2004 polls, with the TDP losing 24 of the 29 Lok Sabha seats it had won in 1999. The Congress led by YS Rajasekhara Reddy came to power with a thumping majority, winning 185 of the 294 seats in the Assembly election that year. Since then, the TDP had been struggling with the hope of better days.

No wonder, the BJP expected to deal with a submissive Naidu and fielded candidates according to its own wishes. With its Telangana unit separated from the Andhra one, the saffron party carried out its campaign with a newfound confidence. In the initial stages, Naidu didn’t even figure in the BJP’s campaign plan. For instance, Narendra Modi did not mention Naidu’s name even once in the Nizamabad rally a month ago. However, the TDP has made a comeback and is today in a position to demand multiple berths in the new NDA Cabinet under Modi.

The YSRCP’s defeat has renewed Jagan’s fears of going back to prison. The party had two MPs in the 15th Lok Sabha until they resigned in protest against the decision to form Telangana. The YSRCP’s election campaign had practically begun in March 2012, soon after he was arrested in a disproportionate assets case. His mother Vijayamma and sister Sharmila had started their padyatras then and continued until his release on bail last September. Then, Jagan hit the road immediately, keeping up the momentum.

As a result, the party, which had several MLAs who had deserted the Congress and the TDP, was touted as the favourite in the Andhra Pradesh Assembly polls. Jagan was hoping to become the kingmaker and drive some hard bargains. But the elections results came as a shocker. With just 67 seats, the party is staring at a bleak five-year term in the Opposition. Even Vijayamma lost from Visakhapatnam by a margin of one lakh votes to K Hari Babu of the BJP. The YSRCP has bagged a measly nine Lok Sabha seats, and for obvious reasons, Jagan is offering support to the Modi government without anyone having invited him.

“Modi has made it clear that all MPs and MLAs with criminal cases will be dealt with within a year of the new government. Jagan should not be treated any differently,” a TDP leader told TEHELKA on the condition of anonymity.

As the two states now move on with the process of bifurcation, the bitterness and political toxicity of the division is yet to subside. However, with both the TDP and the YSRCP in the NDA camp, and the TRS having given ample signs of being a supporter, the true winner in this new scenario is Narendra Modi.

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