The electoral scene in Andhra Pradesh is totally dominated by the regional parties with the national parties reduced to being fringe players.
While the main contest for next month’s Assembly and Lok Sabha elections is between ruling Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and main opposition YSR Congress Party (YSRCP), even the space for third force has been occupied by another regional party – Jana Sena of Telugu actor Pawan Kalyan.
Five years are a long period in politics to recover the lost ground but the Congress party’s position in its traditional stronghold has gone from bad to worse. After being totally decimated in 2014 elections, the party appears to be heading for another humiliation.
A glance at the list of candidates announced by the Congress indicate how pathetic is the party’s position in a state, where it had virtual monopoly before actor NT Rama Rao floated TDP in 1982 and created a record in Indian politics by leading the party to power within nine months. Even in the face of this onslaught, Congress remained a key force and made a comeback in 1989.
After a decade of TDP rule, Congress was once again back in power in 2004 and retained power in 2009 riding on the popularity of YS Rajasekhar Reddy or YSR despite superstar Chiranjeevi floating Praja Rajyam Party (PRP). He failed to recreate the magic of NTR as the party came cropper, winning just 18 seats in 294-member Assembly.
The Congress not only dominated the state politics but also contributed largest number of MPs for UPA-I (29) and UPA-II (33) governments
However, the death of YSR in a helicopter crash a few months after he led Congress back to power altered the political scene. On one hand YSR’s son YS Jaganmohan Reddy raised the banner of revolt after the high command refused to make him the chief minister while on the other Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) revived the movement for statehood to Telangana. Jagan went on to float YSR Congress Party, attracting a sizeable number of leaders from the Congress.
The biggest challenge for the Congress came from TRS chief K Chandrashekhar Rao, who succeeded in extracting an announcement from the Centre that the process for formation of Telangana State will be initiated. As the Telangana movement intensified, the Congress finally decided to bifurcate Andhra Pradesh with hope it will pay the party rich dividends at least in the new state.
However, the party landed itself in a situation of neither here nor there. KCR refused to merge TRS with Congress and formed the first government in the youngest state. In the recent elections, he retained the power with massive mandate. Despite desertions, the Congress at least has the solace of being the principal opposition party in Telangana.
It is in Andhra Pradesh where the picture is gloomy for the grand old party.
After the bill for bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh was approved in the Parliament, many top leaders including then Chief Minister N Kiran Kumar Reddy quit the party. In the subsequent months, more leaders jumped off the sinking boat and joined TDP, YSR Congress or BJP.
It drew a blank in Assembly and Lok Sabha elections of 2014. Such was the public wrath over bifurcation that its candidates finished distant third with YSRCP emerging as the only opposition.
The humiliating defeat plunged the party into total chaos and the camp looked almost deserted. For more than three years there was no activity.
Last, there was a ray of hope when TDP pulled out of NDA accusing BJP of betrayal over special category status issue. Seizing the opportunity, the Congress promised if voted to power in 2019 it would confer the special category status on the state. It also supported no-trust motion moved by TDP against Modi government.
In a dramatic reversal of its traditional stand, TDP decided to join hands with the Congress. TDP chief N. Chandrababu Naidu, for whom the Congress was enemy number one for 35 years, began efforts to bring all anti-BJP parties together under a formation to be led by the Congress.
As a first step TDP joined four-party alliance led by the Congress in Telangana Assembly polls in late last year. It created a hope in Congress circles in Andhra Pradesh that a similar arrangement in the state may help reverse its fortunes. However, the alliance came a cropper, dashing all hopes of a revival in Andhra.
There were more defections in recent weeks with central leaders Kishore Chandra Deo, Pannabaka Lakshmi and Kotla Surya Prakash Reddy switching loyalty to TDP. The ruling party has fielded the trio for Lok Sabha elections.
The Congress, which decided to contest all 175 Assembly and 25 Lok Sabha seats on its own, found it difficult to even get suitable candidates. The list for Lok Sabha and Assembly polls show that barring former minister MM Pallam Raju, JD Seelam, state Congress chief N Raghuveera Reddy and a couple of other leaders there is hardly any recognizable face.
BJP too has marginalized this time. In 2014 elections which it contested in alliance with TDP, it bagged two Lok Sabha and four Assembly seats. However, for the last one year the party faced all-round flak for going back on the promise to accord special category status and for failing to fulfill other commitments made in Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act.
Lacking strong leadership and with the enthusiasm of 2014 missing, only a miracle can help BJP retain the seats.