There is a real chance of an upset in Telangana

Voting day for Telangana is just a few days away. As India’s 29th and youngest state prepares to elect its second assembly, what was seen as a likely easy victory for the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) now seems a tighter contest. There is a possibility that the opposition Maha Kootami (grand alliance) may pull off a surprise. So, what has changed?

In September, when Telangana Chief Minister Kalvakuntla Chandrashekar Rao, popularly known as KCR, decided to suddenly dissolve the assembly and opt for elections nine months ahead of schedule, he had three key reasons for doing so. One, he did not want the Telangana assembly elections to be subsumed in the hubbub surrounding the general elections in which national issues would play a greater role. Second, he was aiming to catch a hopelessly divided opposition by surprise and give them little time to regroup. Third, he was hoping that the numerous welfare schemes his government had launched in the last few years would pay electoral dividends.

After decades of agitation, Telangana was finally created in 2014 to address what the TRS used to claim was discrimination on three grounds: Neelu, Nidhulu, Niyamakalu (water, funds and jobs). KCR was lucky that Telangana was a revenue-surplus state, enabling him to fund numerous welfare schemes . This was possible as the bulk of the IT sector and other revenue-generating industries in the state were primarily concentrated around Hyderabad, which he inherited.

Populist welfare schemes such as the Rythu Bandhu which gives a direct money transfer of Rs 4,000 per acre to every farmer benefiting close to 57 lakh farmers in the state or the Kalyan Lakshmi scheme – where underprivileged girls get Rs 1 lakh at the time of marriage – as well as other schemes, were generously funded from this revenue. With the money part of the equation sorted, the TRS government launched several irrigation related schemes including the Rs 80,500 crore Kaleshwaram Lift irrigation project and tank rejuvenation under Mission Kakatiya. The water projects will take some more years to show full results. It is only in creating employment opportunities, especially in rural areas that the government has had a poor track record.

Given the tail-wind of welfare schemes, his image as the ‘father’ of Telangana, who played a key role in its creation and a near three-fourth majority in the outgoing assembly, TRS felt he was well placed heading into the elections. However the formation of Maha Kootami with the Congress, the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), the Telangana Jana Samithi (TJS) and the Communist Party of India (CPI) joining hands and more importantly the relatively smooth distribution of seats, has surprised everyone. There are some not-so-friendly contests in a few seats, but overall the Maha Kootami partners seem to have got their act together.

Part of the credit should go to N Chandrababu Naidu who has been flexible in accommodating the Congress and also played the role of back-room strategist. Naidu and KCR share a chequered history. Both began in the Congress before moving to the TDP together where KCR even served in Naidu’s cabinet. But KCR outmanoeuvred Naidu in getting Telangana and becoming its first CM. Naidu has neither forgotten nor forgiven what he sees as a betrayal by a one-time acolyte.

It hasn’t helped TRS’s cause that KCR is seen as dictatorial, nepotistic and inaccessible to even his own party cadre. The only other people who seem to matter to TRS are KCR’s son K T Rama Rao (KTR), his daughter and Nizamabad MP Kavitha and his nephew Harish Rao. KCR’s use of intemperate language has not helped his cause either.

The Congress, which doesn’t have a leader of KCR’s stature in the state has recognised that with some effort it stands a real chance in Telangana. Which is why, for the first and only time in this election season, UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, who was hailed as ‘Telangana Talli’ (mother of Telangana for enabling its creation) addressed a poll rally. Other straws in the wind include the defection of Vishweshwar Reddy, TRS’s richest MP, to the Congress, a few days ago.

As the cliché goes, a week is a long time in politics, especially during election season. Even now, it is an election for TRS and KCR’s to lose. But if the Maha Kootami sustains its momentum, there is a real chance of an upset in Telangana.

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First Published: Dec 03, 2018 07:26 IST

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