For the Congress, carving out a separate state of Telangana was always an audacious gamble. As the dust settles around the division of Andhra Pradesh, the party is beginning to see what its gains are and what it has lost. Simply put, the Congress stands to reinvent itself in Telangana as a party standing for social justice, but faces a complete washout in Seemandhra.
With 17 Lok Sabha seats and 119 Assembly seats, the new state of Telangana also marks the emergence of yet another regional south Indian party with no defined allegiances. The Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) shocked the Congress after it not only refused to merge with the grand old party — going back on its earlier promise — but the sore relationship has ensured there is not even an alliance between the two in the General Election or the Telangana Assembly election.
In the 2009 Lok Sabha election, the Congress had 12 MPs from Telangana, whereas the TRS had just two. This time, however, the TRS is confident of gaining at least nine seats, leaving the Congress to fight for scraps with the TDP and the MIM.
Explaining the decision to distance the party from the Congress, TRS leader Kavitha Kalvakuntla pins it on the lack of respect from the Congress. “They are not good at keeping their word,” she says. “By inducting our expelled MP and MLA, Congress leaders indicated that they would gobble us up. There’s absolutely no doubt we will form the government. The time has come for regional parties. As a regional party, we can represent the interests of the people best. Therefore, in a new state where we need to set the basics right, we need an amicable relationship with the Centre. We want to maintain equal distance from the BJP and the Congress.”
As far as electoral calculations go, TRS insiders say that apart from nine Lok Sabha seats, the party is expecting to register its best performance in the Assembly election due after the General Election. In the 119-member Assembly, the TRS expects to form the government with a clear majority. Party leaders predict 20 seats for the possible TDP-BJP combine, leaving the Congress with 30-odd seats to hold on to. These numbers are obviously rubbished by the Congress leaders in Telangana, who too claim their own numbers with supreme confidence.
“In 2004, the TRS had around 20 seats when it aligned with the Congress. In 2009, they got just 10 seats after they aligned with the TDP,” says Congress leader Krishank Manne. “This time, the people know that it’s the Congress that has delivered them Telangana. You may call it a cynical decision, but the truth is that it was a decision by the Congress high command to give the people of Telangana what was rightfully theirs.”
Manne, 26, a former student Osmania University leader, who recently joined the Congress, is also its MLA candidate from the Cantonment area in Hyderabad. “Let me remind you that this election is about the backward groups asserting their importance,” he says. “The Telangana movement was run by Dalits, OBCs, Muslims and tribals. Women also played a major role. The Congress in Telangana now is a new party altogether. Many youth are joining us. The high command is clear about Telangana being more of a social engineering project than a poll plank.”
Congress insiders in Telangana make well-substantiated arguments about the seats they are certain of retaining. Along with the constituencies of Jaipal Reddy, K Raj Gopal Reddy, G Sukender Reddy and Madhu Yakshi, they talk about six other seats that they believe are virtually in their kitty. The party is also confident of winning Malkajgiri, where Lok Satta leader Jayprakash Narayan is expected to contest with the help of the TDP.
“Jayprakash is just another pretentious man posing to be an intellectual politician. We will expose him. We will go out of our way to ensure Malkajgiri remains ours,” says a Congress leader.
However, that upbeat mood vanishes when the discussion turns to the Assembly election. Among the Congress’ grandstand announcements was that the first chief minister of Telangana will be a Dalit and the deputy chief minister a Muslim. TRS supremo K Chandrashekar Rao, who had been promising the same, is rumoured to nurture the ambition of becoming the first chief minister himself — a charge that his daughter Kavitha vehemently denies. “We have not gone back on our word,” she says. “Let us come to power. We will take the call then.”
Even as Telangana seemingly offers a real competition between parties, Seemandhra paints a rather bizarre picture. An indication about the Congress’ fate comes best from its Telangana leaders who snigger at the party’s chances. “The Congress’ only hope is Chiranjeevi and a couple of other seats occupied by rich MPs who have the resources to pull off a seemingly impossible victory,” says a leader on the condition of anonymity.
The battle in Seemandhra has been effectively reduced to a straight contest between Jagan Reddy’s YSR Congress and Chandrababu Naidu’s TDP. While both parties are predicting absolute victories for themselves, pre-poll surveys suggest that the YSR Congress will enjoy a 8-9 percent lead. A not-so considerable margin, given that the TDP was not even considered a major competitor a year ago.
“The TDP has gained because of the exodus from the Congress,” says YSR Congress leader DA Somayajulu. “MLAs, MPs and leaders from the Congress are making a beeline to join other parties. It’s bizarre to see a big party disintegrating like that. I have not seen anything like this in my political career. Party workers who have fought each other for all their life are having to swallow their pride and work alongside under one party. As of now, Jagan is clearly leading. Even Jagan’s sister Sharmila (who began campaigning on 17 March) and his mother Vijayamma are attracting massive crowds wherever they go in coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema. The TDP will not be able to catch up.”
With 25 Lok Sabha seats and 175 Assembly seats, Seemandhra is also seeing the emergence of newer parties, which are expected to be mere irritants for the bigger players. Along with actor Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena (Kalyan is actor Chiranjeevi’s brother and now political rival), former chief minister Kiran Kumar Reddy has come up with his Jai Samaikyandhra Party. With political observers predicting a complete rout of the Congress in the Seemandhra region, the party can only feverishly hope for old allies to be kind in a post-poll scenario.