New Delhi: After electoral reverses in Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, and, most recently, Karnataka, the Congress finally had something to cheer about in byelections to four Lok Sabha and 16 assembly seats in Andhra Pradesh’s Telangana region because the results declared on Sunday didn’t show the expected landslide in favour of its erstwhile ally-turned-rival Telangana Rashtra Samithi, or TRS, which has revived the decades-long demand for a separate Telangana state.
“The results are beyond our expectations,” admitted M. Veerappa Moily, the Congress party’s general secretary in charge of Andhra Pradesh, as the party won one Lok Sabha seat (Adilabad) and six of the total 18 assembly seats (where bypolls were held), two of which, outside the Telangana region, had fallen vacant due to the death of sitting members. “But the president of our party’s state unit and the entire rank and file worked very hard. Above all, it is a vote for the development promised and carried out by the Congress government in the state.”
Andhra Pradesh, which sends 42 members to the Lok Sabha, accounts for the single largest chunk of the Congress party’s lawmakers—31 out of its total 153 members—after this result.
The good news for the Congress, which heads the ruling United Progressive Alliance, or UPA, at the Centre, is that the TRS won just two Lok Sabha (Karimnagar and Hanam-konda) and seven assembly seats. The TRS had resigned from these seats, which it won in 2004 as an ally of the Congress, after the UPA refused to accede to a demand for statehood for Telangana. Even TRS chief K. Chandrasekhar Rao managed to win the Karimnagar seat by a slender margin of a little more than 15,000 votes, a steep fall compared with more than 200,000 votes last time.
Some say TRS’ failure to retain its seats is an indication that state development is more important, even as an electoral issue, than region-hood, as Andhra Pradesh chief minister and Congress leader Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy has been claiming for some time.
“Clearly, what matters most to the people is bread and butter, and not whether basic livelihood issues can be secured through a separate state,” said Bidyut Chakrabarty, a political analyst at the University of Delhi.
Interestingly, the Congress has won most of the seats after a gap of nearly two decades as TRS had replaced the Telugu Desam Party, or TDP, in those seats in 2004. “This performance is sure to give the Congress a huge boost because it has made inroads into traditional TDP strongholds,” noted Asaduddin Owaisi, a Lok Sabha member of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslim-een. “What’s more, both the Left parties and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have been crying hoarse over inflation. If the Andhra Pradesh bypolls are anything to go by, it is clear there is little anti-incumbency against the Congress.”
Some experts also say that this election showed people’s disenchantment with the TRS’ approach. “The Congress had been trying to counter the TRS’ demand for a separate state by promising greater development in Telangana. The ploy seems to have worked to an extent,” said B.G. Verghese, an honorary visiting professor at the Centre for Policy Research, a New Delhi-based non-partisan think tank. “Though the demand for a separate state is unlikely to die down, the voters have shown they didn’t approve of the way the TRS was going about it,” he said.
At the same time, the results did indicate the beginning of the revival of the TDP, another Congress rival and one of the main regional parties behind the move to create a combine that can compete with the Congress and the BJP in next year’s Lok Sabha elections.
“It is a referendum against the TRS...especially against chief minister...Reddy,” claimed M. Jagannath, a Lok Sabha member of the TDP, which won one Lok Sabha (Warangal) and five assembly seats. “The people didn’t like the way the TRS members forced untimely elections.”
The seeming revival of a political rival that could render electoral equations more complex during next year’s Lok Sabha polls makes things difficult for the UPA, which is having a hard time managing its key ally—the Left Front —which supports the government without being a part of it. The Left parties are upset with both rising inflation as well as India’s growing closeness to the US. The UPA is also in the process of making hard decisions about the pricing of petrol, diesel and liquefied petroleum gas, widely used for cooking.
C.R. Sukumar in Hyderabad contributed to this story.