Mahabubnagar (Telangana): One hundred km away from the sights and sounds of plush Hi-Tech city, the main business district of Hyderabad, lies Mahabubnagar, a neighbourhood bordering the state’s capital that presents a picture of Telangana that is arguably more real—where the installation of fancy street lights is reason enough to re-elect a legislator.

“Nowhere in India do they have such good designs," Deshya Naik, a 38-year-old, small businessman says. The lack of a road itself isn’t considered much of a problem in this region that has at least one gold painted statue at almost every junction, jostling for space to eulogize eminent personalities.

“All these years no one even cared for our constituency, now at least they have started some work," Jayaprakash Goud from Kodangal assembly constituency says, standing on a dusty road full of stones that is expected to be asphalted later. Goud and other villagers are excited about the development likely to come their way and not what they have apparently missed out on.

But infrastructure development isn’t the parameter to gauge performance. It’s either party or personality that counts in these parts of the newly formed state, setting up fierce contests especially between the ruling Telugu Rashtra Samithi (TRS) and the Praja Kutami or people’s alliance (the Congress-led grand alliance with the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), Communist Party of India and the Telangana Jana Samithi).

The southern district that borders other states including Andhra Pradesh, has a strong presence of the Congress and the TDP, giving the alliance a good chance to retain its influence over the region in the run-up to next year’s Lok Sabha elections.

Telangana chief minister K. Chandrashekar Rao, whose party wields considerable influence in the northern districts, is hoping to regain control over Mahabubnagar, from where he has been elected to Parliament earlier.

“Almost every seat in this district is a prestige battle for us," a state-level TRS functionary says, requesting not to be named. Rao has been trying to counter the influence his AP counterpart, N. Chandrababu Naidu on southern Telangana, who is leading the initiative to rope in regional parties into the fold of a loosely evolving grand alliance against Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party.

Rao has also gone after Congress’ firebrand and maverick leader A. Revanth Reddy—who enjoys a rock star-like status among youngsters beyond his constituency. Reddy’s reputation was further enhanced when Rao ordered his detention in the early hours of Tuesday. Reddy had given a call for a bandh in Kodangal constituency to disrupt a mega TRS rally on the same day. The early morning drama has further enraged Reddy’s supporters who are now more decided to “teach Rao a lesson".

“Only those who speak like this get more following," says a government health official, pointing out to Reddy’s provocative and politically charged speeches. The official requested anonymity.

Reddy, who won the 2014 assembly elections on a TDP ticket and has since switched to the Congress, is one of the aspirants for the CM’s post if the alliance wins.

But the TRS is fighting hard. The party had won eight of the 14 constituencies in this district in 2014, mostly riding on the Telangana statehood agitation wave. But caste has regained its significance in Mahbubnagar, where Reddys are known to dominate the politics.

“With the emergence of Rao, Reddys, who dominated the politics of the state for decades, are feeling left out," political analyst and former member of legislative council K. Nageshwar Rao said.

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