Amidst the rumpus of the national elections of 2014, the southern state of Andhra Pradesh will also go to polls to elect a new assembly – or rather two new assemblies.
The case of Andhra is unique this time on, as the election at the provincial level will not just be the routine affair that takes place every 5 years, the verdict will decide the composition of the government in Andhra Pradesh and the new state of Telangana that will be born on June 02, 2014.
For this reason, the histrionics and hysteria that elections normally create in India is doubly more in Andhra Pradesh. The issue of Telangana is different from one which saw the creation of Uttarakhand, Chhatisgarh and Jharkhand over a decade and half back in 2000, when the new states were born out of broad if not complete consensus.
Though the struggle for Telangana is a very old one, dating back to immediately after independence, when the then Prime Minister Pandit Nehru had agreed to the marriage of the Telangana region with Andhra with “provision for divorce”, no consensus could ever be arrived at about the movement’s eventual fate.
On the contrary, the campaign for Telangana has been vitriolic till date, with most people in the region in favour of a separate state, while most in Seemandhra region bitterly opposed to it.
Understandably, the creation of Telangana will dominate all electoral debate this time, including the role of the Congress Party, which may be seen as opportunistic, given that it hurriedly pushed through the Telangana bill without bothering to build concurrence.
It follows that the outcome in terms of voting results will be highly influenced by the position parties have taken on the matter.
It is no secret that Andhra played a significant role in Congress’ overall prospects in 2004 and 2009, when it formed the government at the Centre. It is also evident that Congress, which has been in power for a decade in the state, has been on the wane ever since its charismatic chief minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy died in a plane crash. Further it faced dissent from the leader’s son Jaganmohan Reddy, who split from the Congress after being overlooked for the post of chief minister which the party handed to another Reddy – Kiran Kumar Reddy, when K Rosaiah resigned.
Congress may have thought that creating Telangana would be a masterstroke which will help it pocket most of the 119 assembly seats of the region along with its 17 Lok Sabha seats. While it is possible that it may still gain a lot of these parliamentary seats, people are likely to vote more for Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) than Congress in the assembly polls. TRS, after all, is seen as the party that has championed the cause of a separate Telangana all along, and K Chandrashekhara Rao has been nursing ambitions of being the first chief minister of state.
Equations for Congress also got spoilt when TRS which had all along been promising to merge with the Congress, if their demands were met, has now backtracked. It is also not taking a decision on a coalition partnership, keeping all options open – possibly keeping a foot in the door of the NDA, which it feels may form the next government in Delhi.
As far as the situation in the truncated Andhra Pradesh is concerned – with its 25 Lok Sabha and 175 Assembly seats, Congress which was already facing anti-incumbency may end up getting a drubbing. Most of the people in the region are sour about Telangana being amputated from Andhra. Congress’s own chief minister has rebelled and formed his own outfit – Jai Samaikyandhra.
As per socio-economic analyst P Sainath there is the additional disgruntlement owing to the fact that over 1.2 million people have been displaced due to various projects and are yet to get proper new settlements. Additionally, people are facing acute water shortage and high levels of unemployment.
Jaganmohan Reddy and his YSR Congress Party seem to be in a strong position, as he is still deriving advantage of his father’s stupendous popularity and is seen as his rightful heir to power. It is no wonder then that the Kadapa MP, who is now fighting from Pulivendula Assembly constituency, is the state’s most googled politician. Jagan’s intended padyatras had rattled the establishment enough to get him incarcerated with 10 chargesheets against him including those related with disproportionate assets. While BJP would not like to align with a corruption tainted personality at this juncture, a post-poll alliance cannot be ruled out. It would serve both the BJP and Jagan, if they were to come together. BJP is likely to gain substantial numbers in the alliance whereas Jaganmohan, who is a Christian, would have found a way of staying out of jail, as well as keeping his minority base intact.
Jagan has already made the right noises that he would never align with a party that favours a separate Telangana. By saying so, he has completely ruled out kissing and making up with the Congress. As Narendra Modi and the BJP are also in favour of smaller states, it would suit Jagan precisely for this reason to stay away from anyone till such time that the results are announced.
BJP, meanwhile, on its own is a party that doesn’t seem to have broken the southern fortress – at least as far as this state is concerned and is likely to remain a marginal player. Yet, Narendra Modi seems to have gained something of an acceptance for the prime minister’s post, as per a media poll survey.
The BJP’s former ally Telugu Desam Party’s N Chandrababu Naidu on the other hand is more hopeful, after sitting out of power for 10 years, of gaining back some ground in both Seemandhra and Telangana regions.
Naidu is also wooing the BJP and has openly supported Narendra Modi’s candidature for PM. On his part, the BJP president Rajnath Singh is not making any commitment while not ruling out any possibility either. Currently, seat-sharing talks are on between the parties, but any deal is yet to be finalized.
For Naidu, BJP is the only likely choice, as he is dead against the Congress as he feels it engineered the state split with the motive to decimate his party.
Besides, TDP’s flock seems to be growing. Ministers of the Congress government TG Venkatesh, Ghanta Srinivasa Rao and Erasu Prathap Reddy joined the TDP along with several other MLAs after Congress decided to divide the state. Another person of weight to have recently switched sides is senior Congress leader J C Diwakar Reddy, who has also joined the TDP bandwagon.
Given that Andhra is a southern state, how can star power be too far! The state will see superstar K. Chiranjeevi - who had earlier formed and later dissolved Praja Rajyam Party (PRP) - in the Congress camp while his younger brother and smaller star in stature Pawan Kalyan will campaign against the grand old party. Pawan Kalyan has floated a new party called Jana Sena but most of the family has already thrown their weight behind the elder brother. Nevertheless, many feel that he may dent vote shares of main parties in both Seemandhra and Telangana.
Another party on the sidelines that would want to improve its tally would be Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM), which had won seven of the eight seats it contested in the last assembly elections. It would obviously be looking for votes in the Muslim dominated regions like Jubilee Hills, Amberpet, Musheerabad, Khairatabad etc.
While the stakes are high, N Raghuveera Reddy, the Andhra Pradesh Congress Committee chief feels that the outcome might just be a hung assembly. Possibly that’s the best case scenario for the Congress at this time when it is facing a flood of desertions.
At the end whichever way the alignments fit, and whoever crosses the finishing line with maximum MLAs, one thing is certain...the race, at least, looks set to be an exciting one.
First Published: Saturday, March 29, 2014, 14:19