In Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, it’s poll battle sans alliances

Chandrababu Naidu
As part of its ‘Look South’ mission, the BJP has stepped up efforts to woo TDP leaders, particularly from Kapu and Backward Classes communities, into its fold and occupy the opposition space in Andhra Pradesh. Credit: PTI

While Gathbandhan is the buzzword across the country ahead of general elections, the two Telugu states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh are witnessing a reverse trend where all the key contenders for power are going solo.

After the miserable failure of the ‘Mahakutami’ (grand alliance) experiment in the recent Assembly elections, the opposition parties — the Congress, the TDP, and the CPI — are now going it alone in Telangana.

Similarly, after a bitter divorce last year, the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and the BJP are going separate ways in Andhra Pradesh where a multi-cornered race is in the offing. Despite the initial bonhomie between the TDP and the Congress, bound by a common goal of stitching together a non-BJP alliance at the Centre, the two parties are contesting the polls on their own.

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Actor-turned-politician Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena Party, which had supported the TDP-BJP combine in the 2014 elections, is making an electoral debut this time and is going solo. The YSR Congress Party, headed by YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, is the main challenger to Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu who is seeking re-election. For the first time, the TDP is fighting the elections without any allies.

National parties on the wane

In both the states, the national parties –Congress and the BJP — have been reduced to fringe players with the formidable regional parties — Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) in Telangana and TDP and YSR Congress in Andhra — emerging as dominant players whose role is set to become crucial in the formation of the next government at the Centre in the event of a fractured mandate. Together, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh account for 42 Lok Sabha seats.

Despite granting statehood for Telangana during the UPA regime in 2014, the Congress failed to capitalise on it in Telangana where the TRS walked away with all the credit and stormed to power twice since then. The Congress suffered a double whammy for dividing the state as it was completely routed in the 2014 elections in Andhra, drawing blank both in the Lok Sabha and the Assembly. While it faced the wrath of Andhra voters for splitting the state, the absence of a strong and charismatic regional leader with a statewide appeal, fierce infighting and groupism and lack of a cohesive campaign strategy to take on the TRS were among the factors that led to the party’s poor show in Telangana twice in a row in 2014 and 2018.

Failure of alliance experiment

Shedding decades long animosity, the Congress and TDP came together under the ‘Mahakutami’ banner, along with the CPI and the Telangana Jana Samithi (TJS) headed by academic-turned-politician Prof M Kodandaram, but the experiment came a cropper with the Congress managing to win 19 seats in the 119-member Telangana assembly while TDP, which was once a formidable force in the region with an enviable cadre, managed to win just two seats.

The TDP has now virtually become irrelevant in Telangana in the changed political dynamics post-bifurcation and is unlikely to field any candidate for the Lok Sabha polls from the state. In the 2014 LS polls, the TDP and the BJP, which fought the elections together, had won one seat each in Telangana which accounts for 17 LS seats.

Bigger battle in Andhra

With all key players preferring to go solo, Andhra Pradesh is set to witness a fierce, multi-cornered contest with the new entrant Pawan Kalyan may well turn out to be the X-factor. The maverick star has a massive following among the youth belonging to Kapu community, a numerically strong and influential section in the coastal Andhra region. Accounting for nearly 27 % of the state’s 5 crore population, the community had overwhelmingly voted for the TDP-BJP combine for which the 47-year-old actor had campaigned extensively in the previous elections.

In the 2014 elections, the difference in the vote share between the victorious TDP-BJP combine and the opposition YSRCP was a mere 1.6 %. While the TDP-BJP combine got 46.69 % of votes as against YSRCP’s 45.01 %. The TDP won 102 and the BJP bagged five seats to emerge with a clear majority in 175-member State Assembly, while YSRCP bagged 67 seats. In Lok Sabha, the difference between the two sides was slightly higher at 2.34 %. While TDP BJP combine got 47.95 % votes, the YSRCP came close second with 45.61 %. But this was enough to almost double the seats of the TDP-BJP, which bagged 17 LS seats against eight of the YSRCP.

After drawing blank in the previous elections and smarting under the failed alliance experiment in Telangana, the Congress is going it alone and is up against the two formidable regional parties.

The TDP, whose political pendulum had swung from the Left to the Right in the past having forged electoral alliances with the Left parties and BJP in turns, is now fighting it alone.

Toughest political battle

For Chandrababu Naidu, once seen as a king maker in national politics having played a key role in the formation of the United Front and NDA-I governments, the coming polls may well be the toughest battle in his four-decade-long political career.

The challenges for him are broadly on two counts. First, he needs to convince the people about his ideological U-turn to sail with the Congress, a party he has been fighting against for decades. Second, he needs to come up with a cohesive explanation on why it took him four long years to exit the NDA over the Special Category Status issue though it was clear from the beginning that the Centre would not concede the demand.

The TDP has already burnt its fingers in Telangana by aligning with the Congress as part of the ‘Mahakutami,’ though Naidu is positioning himself to play a key role at national level in the efforts to bring together the opposition parties, including Congress, to take on the BJP-led NDA.

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