Hyderabad: With the panchayat polls slated to be held in July, the Congress in Telangana, which has been working to consolidate its base in rural areas, especially among farmers, is looking to emerge as the main opposition in the state, especially since many incumbent MLAs from different opposition parties defected to the ruling Telangana Rahstra Samithi (TRS) in the past few years.

The election is also being seen by analysts as a precursor to the 2019 assembly and Lok Sabha elections, which are slated to be held in April-May next year in Telangana. With the TRS wooing farmers through various schemes, especially the ‘Rythu Bandhu’ programme (under which all land-owning farmers are given 4,000 per acre to bear farming costs), the Congress’s own work at the ground level in rural areas will be tested in the panchayat elections.

A senior Congress leader, who did not want to be named, said the party is fully prepared to contest polls. “I don’t think that farmers will be fooled by the Rythu Bandhu scheme, which is like bribing them," he said. “We have been mobilizing farmers for over a year and are confident of doing well."

Last year, the Congress had launched the ‘Indiramma Rythu Bata’ (Indiramma farmer road map), which involved extensive cadre training for 100 days on various programmes of the state government. Party leaders also travelled across the 31 districts in the state to address workers, farmers and the public.

A total of 12,734 gram panchayats (out of 12,751) and 113,190 wards (out of 113,354) will go to polls in the state. The current term of the rural elected representatives ends on 31 July. In 2016, TRS swept the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) polls, winning 99 of the 150 corporator seats, while the Congress got just two.

Though the rural polls are not contested at a party level, many contestants are supported by political parties. In the upcoming polls, the Congress will look to regain some lost ground, especially after eight of its 21 MLAs defected to TRS (which increased its strength from 63 to over 90 in the 119-member assembly) after the assembly polls in 2014. “A good show now will boost its confidence for 2019 polls," said the Congress leader.

“It is quite surprising that the chief minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao (known as KCR) is not making statements on the panchayat polls. If TRS cannot get big numbers, it will show there’s a lot of anti-incumbency. KCR will not conduct the election unless he is confident," said political analyst Palwai Raghavendra Reddy.

Reddy added that Congress is definitely targeting rural areas, from where the TRS is also expecting to gain from the Rythu Bandhu programme. “The Congress is silently playing the wait-and-watch game. The best it can do is not to make any mistakes and I think it is doing that," he noted. TRS leaders, while expressing confidence of doing well in the election, did not wish to comment.

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