Hyderabad: Outcome of the impending by-elections to 18 Assembly seats and one Lok Sabha seat will set the course for the next general elections in Andhra Pradesh.
Essentially though, the by-elections will determine the longevity of N Kiran Kumar Reddy as Chief Minister as well as the fate of the ruling Congress in the state.
Kiran only managed to prolong his innings by ensuring that by-polls to these 18 seats were not held along with the seven in March or else his fate would have been sealed by now.
He has, however, been put under notice by the Congress high command to ensure the party romps home at least in half of the 18 seats now, failing which -- to put it in Kiran`s own lingo -- he will lose his wicket.
If the Congress fares miserably, much like the by-elections to seven Assembly seats in March, the survival of the government itself may be in peril.
The stakes would be too high for the Congress in the by-elections as 16 of these 18 Assembly seats and the Nellore Lok Sabha seat were won by it in 2009 General Elections. The balance two were won by the Praja Rajyam Party, which merged with Congress recently.
If the YSR Congress (YSRC), headed by Kadapa MP YS Jaganmohan Reddy, manages to hold its sway and bag a majority of seats in the by-polls as being largely predicted, the "fence-sitters" in Congress will not have a second thought in jumping over to the other side, only to protect their political careers.
That, as being speculated, may well lead to a mid-term election to the state Assembly by early 2013.
The by-elections are being dubbed as the "semi-finals" before the finals (general elections or even mid-term polls).
Though there is time till August/September, the Election Commission of India said it would complete the by-election process ahead of the election of President of India, implying that by polls could be held in June.
Accordingly, all parties have got into the poll mode already. As things stand now, the YSR Congress is certainly the favourite in the by-election race, though it may not be entirely a cakewalk for it in all the constituencies.
Prospects of the main opposition Telugu Desam Party (TDP) appear brighter than that of the ruling party in the triangular fight. Whatever the TDP wins will be a "bonus" for it in Andhra-Rayalaseema, as it suffered losses in Telangana since 2010.
Intense in-fighting in the party and a non-performing government can deal a severe blow to the Congress despite the Chief Minister`s desperate attempts to win over the electorate by pumping in huge funds to each constituency (where by polls are slated) for "development".
The TDP is positioning itself before the people as the only alternative to the "inept Congress" government and the "corrupt YSRC", which can put the state back "on the path to progress". The party would tell people how YSRC was built on the "pillars of corruption, foundations of which were laid in Congress" (under the regime of late Chief Minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy).
The Congress, rather pathetically, finds itself in a fix: it wants to project YSRC president YS Jaganmohan Reddy as a "looter", who amassed huge wealth through illegal means but, in the process, will have to admit that it was its own government, which enabled him to do so.
This can only be suicidal for the Congress. Unperturbed by the Congress and the TDP`s campaign against him, the YSRC chief is going to people telling them how the Kiran Kumar Reddy government is abandoning the slew of welfare programmes launched by his late father.
He is also driving home the point that the state has been left to the mercy of the "Delhi bosses", thereby hurting the "self-respect" of people here. This, in fact, is a slogan that Jagan borrowed from the TDP, but he is seemingly able to impress the voters.
The YSRC is ahead in the electioneering with all its contesting candidates ready and the TDP too has announced its nominees in all but two seats. The Congress is clearly lagging in this regard as well, despite claims by party leaders that they have "identified" candidates for all 18 Assembly seats and one Lok Sabha constituency.
Serious in-fighting for tickets in many segments has become a headache for the Congress in finalising its candidates, party sources admit.
Jagan and TDP chief N Chandrababu Naidu have been extensively touring the by-poll constituencies for campaigning while the Chief Minister is using government`s ongoing mass contact programme `Prajapatham` as the Congress` campaign platform.
Only one of the 18 constituencies, Parakal in Warangal district, falls in the Telangana region.
Sitting MLA Konda Surekha, who was disqualified along with 15 other Congress MLAs for voting against the government on the no-confidence motion, is seeking to use the Telangana sentiment card to win over the electorate. But, to what extent she will succeed in impressing the voters is to be seen since she has been a staunch loyalist of Jagan from the beginning and the YSRC is yet to make its presence felt in Telangana.
In fact, Parakal will be the first test in Telangana for the YSRC, which is essentially seen as a "Seema-Andhra" (the two other regions of AP) party.
Jagan has so far not reacted to Congress and TDP allegation that he is into a tacit understanding with the separatist Telangana Rashtra Samiti.
Interestingly, the TRS, smarting under the defeat in the Mahbubnagar segment in the by-polls last month, announced that it would contest the Parakal seat. The BJP, jubilant after the victory in Mahbubnagar, is expected to jump into the fray in Parakal to consolidate its position in the region. The TDP and the Congress can only be "also rans" here.