The by-election results to the four Lok Sabha and 16 assembly seats in Telangana region of Andhra Pradesh have delivered shocking results to the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS). TRS had resigned from these seats to protest against the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government’s refusal to accede to its demand for a separate state of Telangana.
The TRS projected the by-elections as a referendum on the demand for separate Telangana. Despite such posturing, TRS barely managed to retain two Lok Sabha and six assembly seats.
Given the adverse results, TRS will now be a much weaker force than what it has hitherto been considered to be and, ironically, its poor performance has hugely harmed the prospects of a separate state.
For the Congress, after a debilitating debacle in Karnataka, the by-elections in the Telangana region of Andhra Pradesh do not bring much cheer. However, the party can take solace from the fact that TRS has failed.
What will, however, cause disquiet to the Congress leadership is the creditable performance of the rival Telugu Desam Party (TDP), which has wrested four of the 16 assembly seats and the Warangal Lok Sabha seat, won earlier by the Congress-TRS-Left alliance.
In the 2004 polls, the Congress party won a landslide victory in the simultaneous assembly and Lok Sabha polls after forging a coalition with the fledgling regional outfit, TRS and communist parties, namely the Communist Party of India (CPI) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, and thanks to the grand nature of the alliance, the Congress party swept to power.
The Congress party did not win a majority of the seats in the Telangana region despite the Congress government’s implementation of a series of populist measures—like free supply of power to farmers, cheap rice to the poor at Rs2 a kg, free houses for the poor, free treatment of the poor in corporate hospitals, etc.
On the other hand, TDP, not exactly wedded to the concept of a separate Telangana, has made impressive gains in the region and this is sure to cause discomfort in the Congress camp.
The by-election results have marked a new trend for the TDP, which has lost all elections in the state in the past four years, including polls to local bodies.
In April, TDP supremo Chandrababu Naidu set out on a five-month-long yatra—perhaps the longest ever by any politician in the country—traversing every corner of the state to rejuvenate the TDP and to prepare the ground for a comeback. He has united all the sections of the NTR family and the family’s in-house star cast—including popular film heroes Junior N.T. Rama Rao and Bala Krishna—mainly to ward off a major challenge from Telugu cinema’s biggest star Chiranjeevi whose imminent entry in politics has been a subject of speculation for months.
To counter the Congress’ populist track record in government, Naidu is also now singing the populism tune. He is trying to better the Congress by offering a series of sops such as unemployment allowance and free housing plots. TDP’s improved performance in the politically challenging Telangana region is indicative of the fact that the voters may have accepted his new avatar as a politician peddling populism.
Naidu was something of a middle-class hero with numerous admirers all over the country. Perhaps no other contemporary leader evoked as much hope and respect as did Naidu. When Naidu lost, exasperation and anger were writ large on the face of middle-class voters all over the country — more so outside the state of Andhra Pradesh — who were upset that the perils of populism had consumed a leader who had brought efficiency and dynamism of the corporate sector into the corridors of power.
For the state’s chief minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, the by-election results are a godsend as he will now stifle pro-Telengana voices in his own party.
Though his promise of delivering Andhra Pradesh to his party once gain is suspect, given his party’s average performance, his clout with the party’s high command is likely to remain intact.
Having overcome the TRS challenge, the Congress will now have to contend with a resurgent TDP, which has successfully lured the CPM into an alliance.
The recent statement of the CPM leaders in the state that it would try to forge an anti-Congress alliance has unnerved the otherwise gusty chief minister as that has the potential to end the Congress party’s fancied chances of its return to power in 2009.
Andhra Pradesh, which sends as many as 42 representatives to the Lok Sabha, appears set for change. For the Congress, winning a lion’s share of seats is an imperative to fulfill its aspiration of staging a return to power at the Centre. The latest by-election results do not augur well for that dream to come true.
G.V.L. Narasimha Raois a political analyst and managing director of Development & Research Services, a research consulting firm. Your comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org