NOW A CREDIBLE CHALLENGE
The Congress-led alliance finally looks like it will give a tough fight to the TRS
With barely four weeks to go for the December 7 assembly polls, the Congress-steered praja kutami (People’s Alliance) is getting its act together. Though Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao dissolved the assembly on September 6, the alliance, including the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), the Telangana Jana Samithi (TJS) and the Communist Party of India (CPI), had kept its plans under wraps till November 1.
The praja kutami game plan hopes the delay in naming of candidates will disrupt the ruling TRS’s constituency wise strategies. “After his so-called shock and awe plan of calling for early elections fizzled, KCR thinks running down rivals will help,” says the Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee (TPCC) president N. Uttam Kumar Reddy. TRS scion and municipal administration and industries minister K.T. Rama Rao, though, scoffs at such comments. “We will be distributing sweets by the time they share seats,” he says.
Barring last-minute changes, the Congress is to contest in 95 of the state’s 119 constituencies, the TDP from 14, and the TJS and CPI from the rest. To quell trouble among the allies, (potential) rebels are being assured of postpoll rewards “after the alliance forms government”. The party has desisted from presenting a chief ministerial candidate which is a constraint, considering the rival, dominant image of KCR. A distinct disadvantage for the alliance is the resource crunch, compared to the TRS’s flowing coffers. Chief Election Commissioner O.P. Rawat, during a visit to Hyderabad, admitted that money and media misuse were a challenging issue in Telangana.
Analysts point out other weaknesses too. “It is difficult to assess the alliance’s prospects as a smooth transfer of votes between the constituent parties is still not certain,” says Prof. I. Ramabrahmam of the University of Hyderabad. “Also, other than a common objective of defeating the TRS, the Congress and TDP appear incompatible as a team.”
But leaving the field open for about 60 days (since KCR announced the names of TRS candidates) has also given the alliance an unexpected advantage. “Because of the delay, the hostility towards the TRS, including in KCR’s Gajwel, has come out into the open. The TRS is now clueless on how to advance its campaign,” says political commentator C. Narasimha Rao. “Finally, it is not the parties in the alliance which will defeat the TRS. It is the determination of the people, for which they will naturally choose the praja kutami as a tool.”
“Disillusionment with the TRS is very strong,” says TJS vice-president Prof. P.L. Vishweshwar Rao. “Telangana ranks No. 2 after J&K in unemployment. And four years after creating a new viable state, it is still ranked low in literacy, school dropouts and rural health facilities. And where else do you have a chief minister who does not go to office or believe in even a semblance of democracy?”
A carefully crafted common minimum programme with a roadmap for creating jobs and improving education and health announced much before the decision on sharing of constituencies has worked well so far. But the new fear is that leaders who didn’t get tickets may drift to other parties. “KCR is nervous. I don’t think he is happy with the decision to hasten the polls. It now looks like the Congress may surprise everybody,” says veteran Congress leader S. Jaipal Reddy. The TRS already senses that they have a fight on their hands. As part of a reworked campaign strategy, KCR will now visit party strongholds and only then move to other constituencies.
A fortuitous advantage from leaving the field open—the rancour against TRS is out in the open
NEW TEAM The Congress’s Rahul Gandhi and TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu, after a meeting in Delhi, Nov. 1