Fingers Crossed as Poll Campaign Ends in Telangana
By GS Vasu | Published: 29th April 2014 08:12 AM |
The heat and dust of electioneering has finally settled down in Telangana. On Wednesday, the people will decide on the political contours of the new State’s first government. At the end of the three-week long campaign, which saw rabble rousing, mudslinging, abuse and vilification that degenerated into personal attacks, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) is giving jitters to the Congress, even as the TDP-BJP combine is entertaining hopes of playing “some role” in the formation of the government.
Clearly, the Congress was caught on the wrong foot when the TRS refused to merge or align with it and then, found itself in the back seat once the pink party chief K Chandrasekhar Rao began his campaign on a sober note only to up the ante as the days passed.
Irrespective of how his opponents view KCR — an asset, liability or both — it was a one-man show for the TRS vis-à-vis none for the Congress. A senior Congress leader had admitted much before the poll campaign that if they didn’t select even one of them to anchor their publicity blitz, it was because “KCR is head and shoulders above all of them in oratory and charming skills.” The Congress had pinned its hopes on two possibilities: one, TRS would make mistakes in the selection of candidates; two, KCR would not campaign aggressively. Neither came true as the TRS made a reasonably good selection and KCR kept heli-hopping across the region, addressing close to 80 meetings. In one sense, he embarked on what was a high risk campaign, attacking almost everyone who matters — Congress, TDP and the BJP. Once Modi shared dais with Naidu, he did not want to leave anything to chance as every vote for the BJP could hurt the TRS. The attack on Modi was sharpened — he called him Telangana Dushman — even as he tried to cosy up to the significant Muslim population in Telangana promising to make one among them the deputy CM. Except Sonia Gandhi, he spared none of the Congress leaders, dubbing them stooges of Andhra leaders used to gulam giri. If he carried the sting in the attack throughout, he didn’t forget to spell out his positive agenda either.
At Pargi in Ranga Reddy, where he spoke for just 10 minutes, he divided his speech into three components. Ignoring some who tried to garland him, he picked up the mike immediately and explained what his government will do: house worth `3 lakh to every poor household, higher pensions, waiver of outstanding farm loans and 12% quota for Muslims and tribals.
Effortlessly, he switched over to Urdu and told Muslims: “For 60 long years, you have remained with the Congress. What have they done for you? They snatched away your lands and made you poorer. I will revive the past glory of Telangana when Hindus and Muslims lived like brothers and prospered together.” KCR then referred to a local problem and promised to solve it. But, for all this to happen, he stressed, you need to have a Telangana government in place. Even Congressmen admit that if there is one message that KCR carried to the masses fairly effectively, it is that TRS is the “real Telangana party” not the Congress, BJP or the TDP.
“I too felt bad initially when the TRS did not align with the Congress because we knew the kind of trouble that Sonia Gandhi took to get the bill passed. But, we were later convinced that if the new state has to develop, it is difficult with a Congress combination,” explains Venkatesh, a teacher. Even two days before the election, the conflict continues to haunt the voters. Lokesh, a 21-year-old tribal youth, admits elders in his family have ”gratitude” for the Congress but hopes to convince them to give “one chance for our own party.”
Ten years of uninterrupted rule by the Congress and the severe anti-incumbency against sitting legislators including ministers — voters do not perceive them as a friend in need — is negating the goodwill that Sonia generated for herself by keeping up her promise. Is then everything lost for the Congress? Apparently, not. Notwithstanding the inroads the TRS has made into its weaker zone — southern parts of Telangana such as Mahbubnagar and Nalgonda — constituencies comprising the Greater Hyderabad Muncipal Corporation (GHMC) and districts like Khammam are yet to be cracked. Together, they account for almost 40 out of the 119 Assembly segments in Telangana. This, perhaps, explains the rather aggressive tone KCR used against “Andhras” living in Telangana and why he sought to portray himself as the only one capable of “protecting” the interests of the new state — maximise gains in TRS strongholds without trying to appease everyone.
However, unlike the Congress, which has a strong network of cadre capable of converting “support into votes”, the TRS is still plagued by this problem in quite a few segments. Congressmen, of course, rue that their fortunes would have been better if only the “bad ones” among their sitting legislators had been replaced. Apart from renominating most of them despite abysmal record, the party also appears to have goofed up the selection in several segments. “Too many cooks spoilt the broth for the Congress. They operated on the basis of self-interest, not party interests,” says a key member of the Telangana movement. The TRS is also saddled with a similar problem — the track-record of some of its sitting legislators is equally poor and not many among the Telugu Desam legislators who crossed over to the TRS and are contesting again carry any better image. But it has fewer sitting MLAs compared to the Congress.
Not known to lose hope, Congressmen are optimistic that the last leg of campaign by Sonia in Telangana would work for the party. If Rahul Gandhi gave the much-needed impetus to the Congress campaign and set the tone for the diatribe against KCR, Sonia took it a step further, saying, “KCR is an opportunist, power monger and cannot be trusted.”
If KCR attempted to woo minorities, she reminded them that KCR had once joined the saffron camp. Reviving memories of the late Indira Gandhi, she also emphasized one key factor that remains their strongpoint: Congress is the only party capable of taking along all sections of the society — BCs, SCs, STs. Read it with the broader campaign — Don’t trust a Dora (KCR) who promised to make a Dalit as CM only to remain silent now — and one gets the thrust of the Congress campaign: hit the TRS on its credibility factor. “The Dalit angle is likely to hurt the TRS and, in any case, it has given the Congress a good campaign point,” explains an analyst.
What about the caste factor? Formation of Telangana State and the disintegration of Telugu Desam has shaken the traditional caste line up which is reworking itself. If the Muslims voted en bloc for the Congress earlier, they seem to be vacillating between the Congress and the TRS this time round. Which way the BCs, the traditional vote-bank of Telugu Desam, would go is still unclear. Reddys and a good section of SCs seem to remain with the Congress.
Thus, with caste not playing a major role, apart from candidates, the choice is going to be based on who among the two — Congress or the TRS — was instrumental in getting the T state and who is a better bet for its future. “Almost everyone says something for or against TRS/ Congress. But, what truly lies in their heart is not known,” says Venkatesh, a farmer in Ranga Reddy district. Which of the two will work — KCR’s sustained campaign on the need for a local party to rule the local government or gratitude to Sonia Gandhi and her late burst against the TRS — remains to be seen.