Telugu states emerge as cynosure of all eyes
The outcome in the two Telugu states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, going to polls in a single phase on April 11, holds the key to the shape of the next government at the Centre, in the event of a fractured mandate.
With both the national parties being fringe players in the two states, the formidable regional parties—Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), Teugu Desam Party (TDP) and YSR Congress Party (YSRCP)—are set to play bigger role in national politics.
The performance of TRS in Telangana and YSRCP in AP will be keenly watched as the two parties are on the radar of the BJP for a possible post-poll pact. If the BJP-led NDA falls short of numbers, the two parties are widely expected to provide outside support.
There are no pre-poll alliances in both the states as the major contenders are going it alone. In AP, assembly elections are also being held along with the Lok Sabha.
For TRS, headed by Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao, the polls assume significance in view of his ambitious plan to play a major role in national politics by roping in the like-minded regional parties under the umbrella of Federal Front. Emboldened by a massive mandate for a second term in the December Assembly elections, the TRS is keen on sweeping the polls by winning 16 out of 17 LS seats. It has left Hyderabad to its friendly party All India Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) whose president Asaduddin Owaisi is seeking re-election for the fourth consecutive term.
AP Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu is facing the toughest battle in his four decade long political career. After walking out of the NDA in March last year over denial of Special Category Status to Andhra, he is fighting the elections alone and is up against a resurgent opposition in the YSRCP headed by Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy. The presence of actor-turned-politician Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena Party in the poll fray has changed the dynamics in the state.
Naidu’s challenges are broadly on two counts. Firstly, he needs to convince the people about his ideological U-turn to back the Congress at national level, a party he fought against for decades. Secondly, he needs to come up with a cohesive explanation on why it took him four long years to exit the NDA though it was clear, from the beginning, that the Centre would not concede the special status demand.
Naidu’s TDP has already burnt its fingers in Telangana by aligning with the Congress as the “Mahakootami” (grand alliance), comprising Congress, TDP, CPI and Telangana Jana Samithi (TJS), received a severe drubbing in the December Assembly polls.
Naidu is positioning himself to play a key role at the national level in an effort to bring together all the opposition parties, including the Congress, to take on the BJP-led NDA.
Single phase polling
The stage is set for polling in 42 Lok Sabha constituencies of the two Telugu states—17 in Telangana and 25 in AP.
In AP, voters will cast two votes each to elect 25 MPs and 175-member Assembly. Over 3.93 crore voters are eligible to exercise franchise to decide the fortunes of 319 candidates for Lok Sabha seats and 2,118 for Assembly polls.
As many as 45,920 polling stations, of which 9,000 booths are considered sensitive, have been set up in Andhra spread over 13 districts.
In Telangana, nearly 2.97 crore voters will decide the fortunes of 443 LS candidates in the single-phase polling.
Chief Electoral Officer Rajat Kumar said that polling in 16 constituencies will be held from 7 am to 5 pm while in Nizamabad, where a large number of agitating farmers are in the fray, polling will be allowed till 6 pm. However, in 13 Maoist-affected Assembly segments, bordering Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra, polling will end at 4 pm.
The state has 34,603 polling stations including 5,749 sensitive booths. Besides 55,946 personnel of Telangana state police, 9,700 personnel from other states, 145 companies of central armed forces and 25 companies of Telangana State Special Police are being deployed.
The Chief Minister’s daughter K Kavitha (Nizamabad), the State Congress chief Uttam Kumar Reddy (Nalgonda), former Union minister and senior Congress leader Renuka Chowdary (Khammam), AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi (Hyderabad) are among the key candidates in Telangana.
Congress candidate Konda Vishweshwar Reddy, who is the richest candidate in both the states with declared family assets of ₹895 crore, is seeking re-election from Chevella.
In AP assembly polls, Chandrababu Naidu, Jagan Mohan Reddy and Pawan Kalyan are among the key contestants. Naidu is seeking re-election from Kuppam in his native Chittoor district while Jagan is contesting once again from Pulivendula, his family stronghold in Kadapa district.
Naidu’s son Nara Lokesh is making his electoral debut, contesting for an Assembly seat from Mangalagiri in the capital region of Amaravati.
Pawan Kalyan is contesting from two Assembly constituencies – Bhimavaram and Gajuwaka.
State Congress chief Raghuveera Reddy is contesting from Kalyandurg Assembly constituency.
Chandrababu Naidu’s brother-in-law and actor N Balakrishna is seeking re-election from Hindupur Assembly constituency as the TDP candidate.
Balakrishna’s sister and former union minister D Purandeswari is the BJP candidate from Visakhapatnam Lok Sabha constituency while his son-in-law M Bharat is contesting the same seat as TDP candidate while Jana Sena has fielded former CBI joint director VV Lakshminarayana.
Former Union ministers Kishore Chandra Deo , Ashok Gajapathi Raju, Kotla Surya Prakash Reddy (TDP), MM Pallam Raju and JD Seelam (Congress), state BJP chief Kanna Lakshminarayana are among the other key Lok Sabha candidates in the state.
The campaign narrative in Andhra was centered around the special category status for the state as Naidu targeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi for going back on the commitment.
He also focused on corruption cases pending against Jagan and asked people if they want to make a ‘brand ambassador of crimes’ the chief minister.
‘Your future is my responsibility’ was the slogan of Naidu’s campaign as he tried to woo all sections of voters, especially farmers, women and youth by promising to continue welfare schemes launched in the last few months.
The conduct of the Election Commission came in for sharp criticism from the TDP after it ordered the transfer of three top police officials including the Director General and the Intelligence chief, besides the Chief Secretary AK Punetha. Naidu accused the poll panel of acting at the behest of Modi.
Jagan, whose rallies drew huge crowds throughout the campaign, promised to usher in ‘Rajanna Rajyam’, a reference to the welfare policies of his late father Y S Rajasekhar Reddy during his tenure as chief minister of the united AP between 2004 and 2009.
In 2014 elections, TDP had won 102 seats in 175-member Assembly while its then alliance partner BJP secured 4 seats. YSRCP emerged as the only opposition bagging 67 seats. Two independents were also elected. The Congress drew a blank.
Out of 25 Lok Sabha seats, TDP bagged 15 seats while BJP got two seats. YSRCP secured eight seats.
A key feature of this election in Telangana is the absence of the TDP. For the first time since its inception in 1982, the regional party has not fielded any candidate.
The Congress, which had bagged 19 seats in 119-member Assembly, looks demoralized with 10 MLAs and several other leaders defecting to TRS during the last one month.
The Congress party pins its hopes on state chief Uttam Kumar Reddy (Nalgonda), Revanth Reddy (Malkajgiri) and Renuka Chowdary (Khammam).
In 2014, TRS had bagged 11 seats while Congress had won two. TDP and BJP, which had an alliance, secured a seat each. YSRCP and AIMIM also won a seat each. The MPs of TDP and YSRCP and one legislator of the Congress subsequently defected to the TRS.