Congress's Hyderabad CWC meet and party's Telangana gameplan
By convening first meet of reconstituted CWC in Hyderabad, Congress seeks to convey serious intent for electoral revival in Telangana
Written off until just six months ago as a serious contender to unseat the ruling K Chandrasekhar Rao-led Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) government, the Congress is pulling out all stops to wrest power in Telangana when it goes to polls later this year.
The Congress on Monday (September 4) announced that it would hold the first meeting of its recently reconstituted Congress Working Committee (CWC) in Hyderabad on September 16 and 17. Congress general secretary (organisation) KC Venugopal informed reporters that while on September 16, the 39 regular members of the CWC would meet in Hyderabad, a meeting of the extended CWC will be held the following day to which all permanent and special invitees of the party’s highest decision-making body have been called. Aside from the 84 members of the extended CWC, the party has also asked all its state unit chiefs, legislative party leaders as well as office bearers of the Congress Parliamentary Party to be present in Hyderabad for the September 17 meeting.
Meetings of the CWC are, ordinarily, held at the party’s national headquarters in Delhi except when they are organised as part of the party’s plenary or brainstorming sessions which are held in different parts of the country once every few years. By convening the very first meeting of the reconstituted CWC, of which youth, women, SC, ST, OBC and minority leaders constitute over half the members, in Hyderabad, the Congress wishes to convey a serious intent for its electoral and organisational revival in Telangana.
The CWC meeting on September 17 would be followed by a mega rally on the outskirts of the state capital at which the entire fleet of the Congress’ national and Telangana leadership would be present. The rally, which would have Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge and former party presidents Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi in attendance alongside all CWC members and the Telangana Congress leadership, would coincide with Hyderabad Liberation Day that the KCR government had rechristened as Telangana National Integration Day last year.
The Congress, sources said, had consciously decided on organising its mega rally on September 17 to underscore the theme of patriotism while simultaneously projecting its commitment to the state that was carved out of Andhra Pradesh during the tenure of the Congress-led UPA-II government.
At the rally, Kharge and Rahul will also declare “5 guarantees” from the Congress to the people of Telangana – something that has become a leitmotif of all assembly poll campaigns of the party in recent times. These guarantees, like the ones the Congress had offered in Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka earlier this year or is now offering in other poll-bound states such as Madhya Pradesh, are expected to be populist promises of slashing LPG prices to Rs 500 per cylinder, monthly income-support for women and investment support for farmers, among others, which the Congress would roll out if voted to power in the state.
It is learnt that the Grand Old Party has also expedited talks with YS Sharmila, younger sister of Andhra chief minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, to work out nuances of the merger of her outfit, the YSR Telangana Party, with the Congress ahead of the September 17 rally. Sharmila had met Sonia and Rahul last week triggering speculation that the merger of her party with the Congress was on the anvil.
Though Venugopal refrained from commenting on the possibility of YSRTP merging with the Congress, party insiders told The Federal that Sharmila may be roped into the Congress “very soon” and that “barring any last minute hitch, she would be present at the September 17 rally”.
The Congress’ Telangana unit has expressed reservations against Sharmila’s entry into the party fold in the state and urged the national leadership to convince her to help with efforts of rebuilding the Andhra unit, which has been completely decimated by her brother Jagan Mohan Reddy’s outfit ever since the erstwhile state was bifurcated.
Telangana Congress leaders argue that Sharmila would be a divisive figure in Telangana politics since she hails from Andhra and her father, Congress stalwart and former chief minister late YS Rajasekhara Reddy was a vocal proponent of a united Andhra. Sharmila, however, is unwilling to shift her political base back to Andhra, which she had left ostensibly to carve out a career in politics that was free from the shadow and influence of her elder and electorally more successful brother.
Eyeing Left base
Besides its attempts to finalise the blueprint of Sharmila’s entry into the party without triggering a revolt from its Telangana leaders, the Congress, sources said, is also trying to finalise an alliance with its INDIA coalition partners, the CPM and the CPI, for the state polls. The two Left parties had initially sought an alliance with the BRS but the ruling party has already announced candidates for 115 of the state’s 119 seats, signalling that KCR plans to go it alone in the polls. The Congress, thus, senses an opportunity to firm up a seat-sharing arrangement with the Left parties and its Telangana in-charge, Manikrao Thakre has been in touch with Left leaders from the state, sources said.
Unlike Kerala, Bengal or Tripura, the two Left parties may not be major electoral players in Telangana, but they do have a base in over half a dozen assembly segments. Aware that a four-way split in votes in these segments between the BRS, the BJP, the Congress and the Left would likely benefit the BRS or the BJP, the Congress is keen to come to a seat-sharing arrangement with the CPI and CPM. Sources said the party is willing to offer five to eight seats to two parties, which are part of the Opposition’s 28-party INDIA coalition. The CPI and CPM, though, have reportedly sought five seats each from the Congress.
Sources in the three parties said an agreement regarding the alliance is likely to be reached within this month though it remained unclear whether an announcement to this effect will also be made before the Congress organises its show of strength in Hyderabad.
Thakre told The Federal that the party was in the process of finalising its candidates and hopes to declare its first list, with nominees for over 60 per cent of the seats, “before the end of the month”. The Telangana Congress in-charge said the party’s state election committee had already had detailed discussions on candidate selection and the screening committee as well as the central election committee, reconstituted by Kharge on Monday, will soon meet to finalise the list of candidates.
“Winnability, obviously, is the foremost criteria but we will ensure that our candidates represent the broadest possible cross-section of the population; there is unanimity that all communities and particularly the backward communities must get adequate representation and we must also ensure that our grassroots workers who worked hard for the party and remained loyal when some leaders deserted us are rewarded... our frontal organisations such as the Mahila Congress and the Youth Congress have also suggested some good names and we will surely try to accommodate those as well,” Thakre said.
The party is also likely to reiterate its push for a caste census during the September 17 rally considering that the state has an over 50 per cent population of the historically and economically deprived and oppressed communities.
Beeline for entry
The recent months, particularly since the Congress stunning assembly victory in adjoining Karnataka, have seen a number of BRS and BJP leaders making a beeline for entry into the Congress. Thakre says some more influential state leaders are also likely to join the Congress in the run up to the September 17 rally. Several of these new and probable inductees are expected to be accommodated by the party in its candidate list.
Struck by inertia, crippled by the steady attrition of its leaders to the BRS and the BJP and decimated in two successive assembly and Lok Sabha polls as well as a string of bypolls over the past nine years, many had felt that the Congress was likely to cede the little space it had left in the state as KCR’s principal opposition to the BJP when the state goes to polls this year.
The Karnataka victory, however, seems to have reversed that defeatist attitude within the Congress rank and file in Telangana and the party evidently has a spring in its step now. Its planned show of strength in Hyderabad, where Kharge and Rahul are set to launch a tirade targeting the BRS and the BJP equally, accusing them of working in cahoots, is expected to galvanise the cadre further.
Once its Hyderabad rally concludes, Kharge will flag off a cavalcade of CWC members, PCC presidents, CLP leaders and the Telangana leadership to travel to the 119 assembly constituencies of the state where, the following day, these leaders will hold corner meetings, publicise the Congress’ five guarantees and a “chargesheet against the BRS government”.