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Why Congress and YSRCP lost in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh

K. Chandrasekhara Rao has been able to portray himself as the sole champion of Telangana over the years and has tirelessly been on the hustings, while leaders of Congress in the region, smug about their party’s role in forming the state, was busy lobbying for the chief minister’s post. Premium
K. Chandrasekhara Rao has been able to portray himself as the sole champion of Telangana over the years and has tirelessly been on the hustings, while leaders of Congress in the region, smug about their party’s role in forming the state, was busy lobbying for the chief minister’s post.

Congress was smug about its role in creating Telangana; in Jagan's case, the graft scandals were a major factor

The Congress party did not bargain for just two Lok Sabha seats in Telangana, when it hurriedly granted the region statehood at the fag end of its tenure.

While the Congress’s calculations went awry across the country, it did not anticipate the drubbing it received from Telangana voters, who preferred the regional party Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) by giving it 11 parliamentary seats.

The Congress bet on the 17 parliamentary seats in Telangana, forsaking the 25 in the rest of Andhra Pradesh.

The decision to divide the Telugu-speaking state turned public sentiment against it in the Rayalaseema and coastal Andhra regions, together known as Seemandhra.

Not surprisingly, the Congress was routed in Seemandhra where its final tally was zero both in the Lok Sabha and state assembly—about 150 of the 175 Congress assembly candidates lost their deposits—the worst performance by the party in the state.

Across Andhra Pradesh, the party’s vote share fell from 38.95% in 2009 to 11.5% in 2014, according to the Election Commission.

Andhra Pradesh elected representatives to both the Lok Sabha and the state assembly as a united state but will form separate governments of Telangana and bifurcated Andhra Pradesh on 2 June, the official date for the division.

In Seemandhra, the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) led by N. Chandrababu Naidu pocketed 102 seats to win the right to stake the claim for forming the government in association with its pre-poll partner Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which won four assembly seats.

The TRS, led by K. Chandrasekhara Rao, popularly called KCR, won 63 seats and will stake the claim to the government in Telangana.

Analysts blame a poor state leadership for the Congress’s dismal performance in Telangana. Smug about the party’s victory, Congress leaders began aspiring to become chief minister of the country’s 29th state and began squabbling for the post. They confined themselves to their own constituencies rather than campaign for colleagues during the campaign.

There was no Congress leader who was the face of the party and enjoyed a region-wide appeal, unlike with the TRS, whose leader portrayed himself as not just the sole leader of his party, but also as the sole champion of Telangana.

“The TRS was synonymous with the Telangana cause," said political analyst K. Nageshwar.

“The lack of a decisive leadership in the Congress and also the TDP worked in the favour of TRS," said K. Srinivasulu, dean of the school of social sciences at Osmania University.

TRS doubled its vote share from 6.14% in 2009 to 13.9% in 2014, according to Election Commission data. “He (KCR) proved to be very mobile and dynamic (addressing meetings, road shows). The electoral campaign was very effective," said Srinivasulu.

Congress leaders could not keep up with KCR’s energetic campaign across the 10 Telangana districts. Its leaders failed to sell the party and its role in creating Telangana to the voters.

The number of votes for the Congress in Telangana decreased by 18% from 2009 to 2014; its candidates lost deposits in 25 constituencies, according to Rakesh Reddy Dubbudu, state coordinator for National Election Watch, which analyses election data.

In Seemandhra, the Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy-led YSR Congress Party (YSRCP), which was a pre-poll favourite among most analysts and psephologists, was ‘surprised’ when the results were declared on Friday.

Not only did the party get just 67 assembly and eight Lok Sabha seats, but its honorary president and Jagan Reddy’s mother Y.S. Vijayalakshmi embarrassingly lost the Visakhapatnam parliamentary seat by 90,698 votes.

But YSRCP’s core voter base remained loyal to the party, Nageshwar said. For example, in Madugula, Saluru, Paderu and Araku constituencies that have a strong tribal population, YSRCP candidates won. The party had built a strong network in tribal areas over the last three years.

“YSRCP’s strengths did not decline. The TDP’s strength got improved," Nageshwar noted in a phone interview.

To illustrate this, he pointed out that YSRCP’s vote share of 45% in Seemandhra was comparable to what the opinion polls had forecast. But the TDP’s 35% vote share was boosted by the BJP’s 3% and Congress’s 9% (after deducting 3% vote share that went to Congress in Seemandhra, where it won no seats). As a result, the TDP’s vote share went up to 47%. “That 2% gap (in Seemandhra) led to the defeat of YSR Congress," said Nageshwar.

Still, several factors seem to have gone against the YSRCP.

The timing of Jagan Reddy’s release from prison at the height of united Andhra agitation in September aroused suspicions of a secret deal with the Congress among the general public, leading to a trust deficit.

As elections approached, a bribery scam related to titanium mining unearthed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation brought to the spotlight the alleged corrupt practices during the regime of former chief minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, Jagan Reddy’s father, who died in a September 2009 helicopter crash a few months after leading the Congress to power for a second consecutive term in the state.

Although Jagan Reddy was not named in an indictment before a federal grand jury in Chicago, the TDP’s efforts at dragging his name into the bribery scam brought his past into focus.

Jagan Reddy is currently out on bail and has been charged by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) with doling out favours to companies and individuals in return for investments in his businesses when his father was chief minister.

The TDP’s pre-poll alliance with the BJP also worked in its favour.

“It turned out to be a win-win combination. There was no chemistry in the party cadre but that chemistry was there in the voters. The chemistry of political purpose got translated to votes," said Nageshwar. “Even if they don’t have love for the BJP, they had to vote for the BJP. It was an obligatory transfer."

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