Telangana's electoral paradigm
Rao is confident of winning in the absence of any other local leader of his stature
Telangana, the country's youngest state, will go into elections on December 7 for the second time since its birth in 2014. Chief Minister Chandrashekhar Rao took a big risk by advancing the polls by eight months. It was also his bravado to announce the list of 105 candidates on the same day even before the Election Commission announced the polling date. Will he succeed in his gamble?
Though it was the Congress government at the Centre, which agreed for bifurcation of the state in 2014, TRS came to power riding on the Telangana wave. Contrary to its expectations, Congress has been wiped off from both Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.
As there is no wave this time, the polls are a fight for the survival of opposition including the Congress. Telugu Desam, Congress, CPI, and Telangana Jana Samithi have formed a Mahakootani (grand alliance) against TRS. Kodandaram of Telangana action committee, who has fallen out with KCR, leads TJS. Interestingly, Congress and TDP, one-time arch-rivals have come together gasping for political survival. It is not clear how the chemistry will work. TRS did not expect this development but is taking the alliance seriously.
In 2014, TRS won 63 out of 119 seats while the splintered opposition was mauled. Congress won 21 and TDP 15. Rao has systematically decimated the opposition and strengthened his party by poaching on TDP (13) and Congress (12) and other parties. Congress and TDP strategists hope that former will get a big chunk of upper caste Reddy, SC/ST, and minority votes and TDP can get a substantial number of its core OBC votes.
Rao is now facing new challenges. He has built a personality cult around himself. He has made his son K.T Rama Rao as his number two in his cabinet, his nephew Harish Rao as a minister and daughter Kavitha as an M.P. The opposition is trying to make his style of authoritarian functioning, dynastic rule, and his secret understanding with BJP as election issues besides jobs and non-deliverance of promises. The TRS is now ready to bail out the BJP in case it misses the 272-mark in the next Lok Sabha polls. KCR is also hobnobbing with leaders like West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee attempting to form a federal front.
Why did Rao go for this gamble? Astrologers rule KCR on practically everything. Before making a decision KCR got at least ten surveys done and is confident that his party would get at least 100 seats while the realists put it at 70 or 80 seats. He believes that the surprise element will go in his favour.
Rao wants the polls to be a KCR versus the rest and not a Modi versus KCR. He is confident of winning as neither Congress nor BJP or Telugu Desam has local leaders of his stature. If he wins, he proposes to install his son Rama Rao and move to national politics. KCR has big dreams of becoming the next prime minister.
On the plus side, KCR government has already announced many welfare schemes including Rythu Bandhu and Rythu Bhīma for the farmers and taken up projects such as Kaleshwaram irrigation, Mission Kakatiya, Haritha Haram, and Mission Bhagiratha. The manifesto will come up with more poll promises. Telangana has been ranked number one for "ease of doing business". It has registered an increase in GDP growth and industrial development. It is ahead of other states in the per person consumption of power, progress in the service sector and IT exports.
However, it is not all hunky dory for KCR as he has not delivered on the two-bedroom house scheme, transformed the state into Golden Telangana, filled up 1.50 lakh vacancies or provides jobs to those killed in the Telangana agitation. From a surplus state, it has now become a revenue deficit state.
Traditionally, the Congress had the backing of dominant Reddys and Scheduled Castes while the TDP has a substantial number of its core OBC votes. The Congress is seen as a Reddy party while the TRS, a Velama party. Muslims and Dalit voters are key to the polls. The state, a part of the erstwhile Nizam territory, has around 12 per cent Muslim population. The AIMIM, a one-time ally of the Congress has moved closer to TRS and both have decided to go for friendly contests where they have no conflict of interest.
Most surveys predict a clear win for the TRS. As of now, the prediction is that it is an advantage for TRS although a fight by the united opposition will make a dent in TRS votes. But the lack of a Telangana wave is a big minus. A win or lose ultimately depends upon the opposition unity, youth support, anti-incumbency, and communicative skills of the players.
(The views expressed are strictly personal)