Congress takes the fight to TRS camp in Telangana

Newly forged ‘grand alliance’ clawing its way up despite the ruling party’s early start to the campaign

Telangana Chief Minister Kalvakuntla Chandrasekhar Rao’s decision on September 6 to seek dissolution of the Assembly and opt for early election was a gambit based on the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi’s confidence that it would secure 100 of the 119 seats.

The party’s founder supremo, KCR, as Mr. Rao is popularly referred to, was so upbeat about the TRS’s prospects that on the day the Assembly was dissolved, he declared the names of candidates for 105 constituencies, with almost all party members of the dissolved House fielded again.

The party’s confidence stemmed from its conviction that the welfare schemes announced by the government to benefit different sections of society would translate into votes.

But a little over two months down the line, the mood among the electorate seems to hint that the TRS may have misjudged the impact of the government’s schemes, with public aspirations pegged higher than what had been actually delivered on the ground.

With the Opposition Congress having forged a “grand alliance” with its former rival, the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), the Communist Party of India (CPI) and the Telangana Jana Samithi headed by KCR’s former ally Kodandaram, the battle of the ballot in the State appears to be headed for a far tighter contest than the TRS may have anticipated.

Telangana, the youngest State, will head to the polls on December 7 — the first time that the State’s voters would be electing representatives to the Assembly since its formation on June 2, 2014. The State’s dissolved 119-member House was created following elections held in the then undivided Andhra Pradesh in April-May 2014, in which the TRS won 63 seats and the Congress just 21. The TDP and its then alliance partner, the BJP, together won 20 seats (15 TDP and five BJP), while the All India Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) secured seven and others 8.

Congress takes the fight to TRS camp in Telangana

A key aim driving KCR’s decision to seek election six months ahead of schedule was his bid to win a stronger popular mandate that would enable the TRS to push ahead with its approach to development by limiting the Opposition’s power to disrupt his party’s plans.

And the TRS did have a head start by starting its poll campaign soon after the House was dissolved. Themed as the “Praja Aswhirwad Sabha” (people’s blessings meeting), the initial campaign meting saw the leaders largely focus on the development plank and the government’s achievements during the party’s four-and-a-half years in power.

But, somewhere down the line, the campaign’s tone changed with the TRS’s key campaigners, including the Chief Minister’s son K.T. Rama Rao and nephew T. Harish Rao, making scathing attacks on the “grand alliance”.

TDP supremo and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu has been a primary target for the TRS leaders, who have lashed out at him for trying to gain entry to Telangana through an “unholy alliance”.

‘Andhra voters’

The sudden shift in the TRS’s campaign tack appears to be connected to concerns about the likely voting behaviour of a large chunk of voters hailing from the Andhra and Rayalaseema regions of Andhra Pradesh, who reside in the State’s capital and neighbouring districts. According to one estimate, these voters could tilt the balance in at least 30 Assembly segments. With the TDP allying with the Congress, the TRS is wary of these voters backing the “grand alliance”.

The Congress, for its part, is likely to struggle to stem the dissidence and unrest that the “grand alliance” and the resulting seat sharing is expected to trigger. It has already roped in senior AICC members to assuage leaders who may have to give up their seats to alliance partners with promises of suitable positions, once the combine comes to power.

The BJP is in the fray on its own this time, after having fought in 2014 with the TDP. The national party’s campaign in the State has roped in most of its top leadership including president Amit Shah, who has already visited thrice, to bolster its chances. Union Ministers have been assigned Lok Sabha constituencies to campaign for the party’s nominees. The BJP, which has so far announced candidates for 65 constituencies, is targeting the TRS over its perceived proximity to the AIMIM.

The Congress is highlighting what it calls the “failures” of the TRS government and its ‘soft approach’ towards the BJP at the national level.

With the process of nomination having begun on November 12, the campaign is expected to shift into top gear from the third week of this month. And going by the aggressive pitches being made by the principal players, it promises to be a bitter, no-holds-barred election campaign.

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