Hyderabad: As election campaigning ended in Telangana, which in June will become India’s newest and 29th state, the regional political party Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) and the Congress seem to be firmly entrenched in a battle to cash in on statehood sentiment in the Lok Sabha and state assembly elections due on 30 April.
Led by K. Chandrasekhara Rao, popularly known as KCR, the TRS seems to be having an edge over the Congress in the elections, and is likely to end up with a few more seats than its rival. In the best-case scenario, analysts pointed out, the TRS may manage to scrape through with a simple majority. Or the new state could witness a hung assembly.
If the TRS manages to put up a good show, it could sorely disappoint the ruling Congress party that proactively divided the Telugu-speaking state of Andhra Pradesh, sidelining the concerns of parties that wanted to keep it united, with an eye on garnering the maximum number of seats in the forthcoming elections from Telangana.
Telangana will send 17 members to the Lok Sabha and elect 119 legislators to the state assembly, which will be divided into legislatures representing the new state and Seemandhra, as the state comprising the coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions will together be known.
The TRS backtracked on a promise to merge with the Congress if Telangana was created, leading to an intense political rivalry between the two parties in the run-up to the elections. But the TRS seems to be having the edge, going by turnout and response at election rallies.
“Right now the wave is in favour of the TRS because KCR has successfully projected that the purpose of creation of Telangana was achieved by the TRS,” K. Srinivasulu, dean of the School of Social Sciences at Osmania University, said.
Public meetings of Congress president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi failed to elicit the kind of response the party’s leaders would have hoped for. The turnout was not on expected lines, and the crowd response was discouraging for an address by the country’s top political family.
At Rahul Gandhi’s public meeting in Hyderabad on Friday, for example, the translator had to repeatedly egg the public on to clap each time the Gandhi scion made an electoral promise.
KCR, on the other hand, is a skilful orator fluent in Telugu, Urdu, English and Hindi, although he is often accused of being a rabblerouser.
“One interesting thing about KCR is whatever message he wants to convey, he does it very effectively, unlike other leaders,” said Srinivasulu.
Rao has been trying to repeatedly stir up statehood passions among the public during his campaign and has been targeting “settlers”, a term coined for people from the coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions of the state who are settled in Telangana, predominantly Hyderabad.
“Provoking hatred towards somebody may help for a short phase. But these politicians never get wide acceptance of people,” said political analyst C. Narasimha Rao. “As long as he is not acceptable to one and all, he will not get elected. He will not get the vote share he expects.”
“His intolerance is very creative in his language. He is not aware of the negative repercussions of such language,” Srinivasulu said. “As a leader, you have to be accommodative. You have to be tolerant.”
Still, KCR’s statements of driving out Andhra settlers from Telangana have at least found appeal among certain sections of the society—primarily government employees and the unemployed young. While government employees expect promotions in the new government, the unemployed youth are expecting the creation of new jobs once some state government employees hailing from Andhra and Rayalaseema are relocated.
“That message has gone very effectively,” said Srinivasulu.
“For this election, I have decided to vote for the TRS,” said Veera Swamy, a voter from Chevella constituency. “We want to give the TRS a chance and see how they rule,” said Swamy, who voted for the Congress in the 2009 general election.
The TRS is strong in four districts—Karimnagar, Warangal, Nizamabad and Adilabad. In the other districts, barring Khammam and Hyderabad, it has pockets of influence.
But the biggest drawback of the TRS is the lack of an organizational network. In the last 13 years, the party hasn’t been effective in building a strong cadre, unlike the Congress and the Telugu Desam Party (TDP).
“It is one thing to influence people on an issue, but it is another thing to influence people to go to polling station and vote. That is principal reason why the TRS could not emerge as a major political force in 2004 and 2009,” said Srinivasulu. “This could be an advantage to the Congress,” he said.
But the Congress doesn’t have an effective and charismatic state leadership. Its leaders have failed in effectively projecting the Congress party’s role in creation of Telangana, analysts say. The TDP, on the other hand, has a dedicated cadre, but has been projected by Telangana politicians as an “Andhra party”—an image its leadership has been unable to dispel.
The TDP’s pre-poll alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has also distanced the Muslim community from it.
Rao has labelled the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi the “No. 1 enemy of Telangana”, a remark the BJP’s Sushma Swaraj has not taken kindly to. “KCR is contesting for Parliament and assembly with a motive. He thinks he can become chief minister if he gets a majority in the state. If not, he plans to become a cabinet minister at the centre. But I think he will end up missing the bus at both the places,” Swaraj said in Narsapur on Saturday.