Hyderabad: In just about a year’s time, the political landscape of Andhra Pradesh has changed completely, with the narrative now revolving around the demand of special category status for the state. The alliances between parties are also in complete reversal, with the ruling Telugu Desam Party (TDP) now facing a serious threat from the main opposition YSR Congress Party (YSRCP), and finding itself without an alliance partner before the forthcoming assembly and Lok Sabha elections.
In 2014, the TDP, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and actor-turned-politician Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena party (JSP) had joined hands to take on the Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy-led YSRCP. This time, the electoral battle is likely to be a multi-cornered fight, with the TDP exiting the NDA in March last year, over alleged lack of enough central funding and demand for special status, and Kalyan withdrawing support to the TDP in 2018.
The JSP leader even surprised everyone by lashing out against TDP supremo and Andhra Pradesh chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu and his son and IT minister N. Lokesh, alleging that they were corrupt. Earlier this year, Kalyan had announced that he will contest the polls in alliance with Left parties. So far, the BJP, YSRCP, TDP and Congress have not announced any pre-poll alliance, like was the case in 2014.
Kalyan has also been credited by political analysts for pushing the TDP to victory by consolidating the Kapu community, to which he belongs, behind Naidu, especially in the East and West Godavari districts, which the TDP had swept in the 2014 assembly elections.
A senior TDP leader, who did not want to be identified, said that while the party will join hands with the Congress at the national level (anti-BJP coalition), it will not do so for Andhra Pradesh elections, given that the Congress is still being seen as a non-player. Public sentiment with regard to the bifurcation of the state was so negative against the grand old party in 2014, that it had failed to win even a single assembly and Lok Sabha seat, in spite of being in power for 10 years at the centre.
In 2014, the TDP had won 102 seats (in a pre-poll alliance with the BJP), the YSRCP won 67 seats, and the BJP four out of the 175 assembly seats. Subsequently, more than 20 YSRCP members of legislative assembly (MLAs) defected to the TDP. However, this February, two TDP MPs (Members of Parliament) quit the party to join the YSRCP.
The TDP is also banking on a host of welfare schemes to win the forthcoming polls. In January, the Naidu-led government had announced an annual financial assistance of ₹10,000 for women in self-help groups under the Development of Women and Children in Rural Areas programme. This will benefit 9.4 million women, who will get the money between February and April.
This alone will cost the Andhra Pradesh exchequer ₹9,750 crore, said one of the TDP leaders mentioned above. The state government will also implement the Annadata Sukhibhava scheme (for farmers), which was announced in February. Senior TDP leaders said that about ₹15,000 crore will be spent by the Andhra government on welfare schemes to target various beneficiary groups.
“If you look at AP closely, an interesting trend is taking place. The number of leaders jumping parties is unusually high. It was high in 2014, but the situation then was confusing due to the state’s bifurcation. Sitting MLAs from both the TDP and YSRCP are moving across both parties. BJP’s situation, in particular, is really bad. After losing four sitting seats in the 2018 Telangana polls, it does not look any better for it. Some big Congress leaders have also joined the TDP with the hope of winning," said political analyst Palwai Raghavendra Reddy. He added that the JSP might have some influence in the East and West Godavari districts. “But the situation is still fluid, and surveys now show that things are neck-and-neck."