With the process of filing nominations coming to a close, battle lines have been drawn in Telangana for the Lok Sabha elections in what appears to be mainly a three-cornered contest among the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), Congress and the BJP.
Telangana, with 17 Lok Sabha constituencies, goes to the polls in the first phase on April 11.
Bolstered by its thumping win in the Assembly polls in December last, TRS has set itself a target of winning 16 seats, leaving the Hyderabad seat to its ally All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (AIMIM).
TRS working president KT Rama Rao has said in campaign meetings that neither the NDA nor the UPA, is in a position to form a government on its own post-Lok Sabha elections.
TRS can play a key role at the Centre and ensure a better deal for Telangana if it wins 16 seats, he had said.
In addition to its own strength, TRS has the backing of Owaisi, which is expected to help the party get minority votes. The main opposition Congress is going alone in the Lok Sabha polls.
Still smarting under its humiliating defeat in the Assembly polls (it secured only 19 of the total of 119 seats), the Congress suffered a major blow this month with as many as nine MLAs announcing their decision to quit the party to join TRS.
Besides the MLAs, several leaders, including former MLAs, have also joined the TRS. The desertions have left the Congress disappointed and seen an erosion in its ranks.
The opposition CPI and Telangana Jana Samiti (TJS), who are contesting in only a couple of seats each, have declared their support and help to the Congress. However, there is no formal alliance among Congress, CPI and the TJS.
The Telugu Desam Party (TDP), the ruling party in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, has decided not to field candidates for the Lok Sabha seats in Telangana, a first since its formation in 1982. The TDP has in principle acceded to the Congress' request for support.
The CPI and CPI(M), who fought the Assembly polls separately, have come together for the Lok Sabha elections and are fighting two seats each in Telangana.
Having suffered a drubbing in the Assembly elections (winning only one seat among 119), BJP is contesting all the seats on its own. The party is banking heavily on the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Political analyst Telakapalli Ravi feels it will be a cakewalk for TRS as the Congress has lost its strength following desertions.
"It appears like a one-sided contest. Instead of consolidating themselves after the defeat in the Assembly polls, they (Congress) have deteriorated. Many key leaders are leaving the party," he told PTI.
After its grand success in the Assembly elections, TRS "could not restrain the temptation of encouraging defections," Ravi said.
Though Congress has fielded its state unit president N Uttam Kumar Reddy and working president A Revanth Reddy, they may make an impact because of their stature, but winning chances appear slim, he said.
Though some TRS candidates are fresh faces, people may vote for the leadership of TRS chief K Chandrasekhar Rao, he said. These candidates come without any baggage, he claimed.
There could be anti-incumbency against senior leaders (in the Congress and others) as well, Ravi said.