NOW A CRED­I­BLE CHAL­LENGE

The Congress-led al­liance fi­nally looks like it will give a tough fight to the TRS

India Today - - STATES - By Amar­nath K. Menon

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

SONU ME­HTA/GETTY IMAGES

NEW TEAM The Congress’s Rahul Gandhi and TDP chief Chan­drababu Naidu, af­ter a meet­ing in Delhi, Nov. 1

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