In Andhra Pradesh, the Mangalagiri assembly seat may give an idea of which way the wind is blowing. The fact that Telugu Desam Party (TDP) chief and AP chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu’s son Nara Lokesh is contesting from the constituency has made the political fight a matter of prestige for all parties.
Lokesh is facing a direct fight with the main opposition, YSR Congress Party’s sitting MLA Alla Ramakrishna Reddy, who is a popular face among voters in certain regions, but not among the dominant Padmashali (weaver) community, which is likely to put its weight behind the TDP. Reddy will face a tough contest, given the fact that he had won the 2014 state polls by a margin of just 12 votes.
The 2014 TDP candidate, G. Chiranjeevi, was from the Padmashali community (a backward class), which is represented by about 60,000 of the 268,000 voters in Mangalagiri. “This time also we are all going to vote for the TDP even if the candidate is not from our community. Reddy has done nothing for us in terms of development, except to file cases against the state government," said K. Prabhakar, a weaver from Mangalari.
For the residents of Penumaka, one of the three villages opposing land acquisition for the capital city of Amaravati, Reddy is the clear favourite. “He is very accessible as an MLA. For the TDP, it is just a matter of prestige. Nothing much has happened for us after the TDP government came to power. Only land prices have gone up in the capital area. If Lokesh wins, he will not be an accessible MLA as he is the chief minister’s son," said Ravi Prakash, 55, a resident of the village.
“The TDP cadres are making sure that we win with a margin of 20,000 votes. The poll management has been done. Naidu wants to make Lokesh his successor and an acceptable face in the party and for the public. Winning from this seat will boost his image," said a senior TDP leader, requesting anonymity.
He added that initially Naidu had thought of vacating the Kuppam assembly seat in Chittoor district for his son. “It was later decided to send a message to promote Lokesh. It is in fact a calculated risk to contest from there," he said.
In AP, the TDP has always been backed by the backward classes, which makes up 35-40% of the vote share. The YSRCP is believed to have the backing of the Reddy community, minorities, and SC/STs. The TDP and YSRCP are fighting all the 175 assembly seats and 25 parliamentary constituencies.
“The Padmashali community is important in the Mangalagiri seat in AP. While the community was expecting one of its own candidates to be given a ticket, that did not happen. Instead, it has become a direct contest between the people of two dominant castes, the Reddys and the Kammas (both are less than 10% of the population)," said Dr. E. Venkatesu, faculty member of the political science department, University of Hyderabad.