(Photo courtesy : P Anil Kumar)
By T S Sudhir
Expect July to be politically volatile in Andhra Pradesh. After a summer recess, political players are getting ready for yet another volley in the battlefield of Telangana. The trophy they will be vying for : Ten assembly seats that nine TRS MLAs and one BJP MLA gave up in a show of love for Telangana. (Elections in Sircilla and Vemulawada are not taking place due to legal issues) Those who won the seats less than a year ago are back as candidates, imploring the electorate to vote for them again. Elections to these 10 seats, spread across five districts, will take place on 27th July.
Last year, the pinks fought alongside the yellows and the reds, against the whites. But the rainbow coalition, ambitiously termed the Mahakutami, reaped a political drought, just like the drought of 2009. Down and out, just when the Telangana Rashtra Samiti looked like a party gone terribly wrong, its chief K Chandrasekhar Rao unleashed the Gandhian weapon of fast-unto-death that ironically precipitated a violent backlash in parts of the region.
The Srikrishna Committee has given the Centre a much-needed timeout. But time is running out. The TRS expects both the electoral mandate and the committee report to be interpreted only one way : `We want Telangana’. KCR has already warned that if the report does not recommend formation of Telangana, the region could head for civil war. The risk is the electoral verdict could be interpreted as a mandate for civil war as well.
I am travelling through Siddipet in Medak district. KCR’s nephew Harish Rao is the TRS strongman here, having won by more than 60000 votes last year. His victory, locals say, is a foregone conclusion. “But he will have to increase the margin of his victory. Only that will effectively prove how strong the Telangana sentiment is,” says Mallesh, a tailor in Siddipet town.
What are the issues in the election, I ask. `TELANGANA’, comes the reply in a chorus. Not surprising that it is only the issue in all the constituencies. Development or the lack of it, is not a matter of debate in this election at least. It does not matter whether the TRS candidates even tried to fulfil some of the promises they made in 2009. In the din of the Telangana sentiment, every other concern has been reduced to a whisper.
Yet, despite this supposedly overwhelming support for the TRS, the Telangana Joint Action Committee, that critics dub as a bodydouble of the TRS, has been requesting, berating, scolding, bulldozing, actually trying to do whatever it takes, to make sure the Congress and the Telugu Desam do not contest the elections. The JAC feels that since the MLAs quit the seats for a honourable cause, they should be allowed to return unopposed. The Congress and the TDP are not playing ball, which means the texture of this byelection will be a lot different from 2009.
Both the Congress and the TDP are seen as Kabhi haan kabhi naa parties in Telangana and hence looked upon with suspicion. Which is why many a senior TDP leader is fighting shy of contesting the elections because they feel explaining their boss’ two eyes theory will be a tad difficult. Especially when everyone knows Naidu would be happy if his Telangana eye is less powerful than his Andhra-Rayalaseema eye !
But then both the TDP and the Congress are veterans in the craft of fighting elections. Will TRS minus TDP (+Left) be good enough to win the poll, given that the TDP is an organisational force to reckon with in many of the Telangana districts. Also this will be a unique election where Chandrababu Naidu, KVP Ramachandra Rao, K Rosaiah and Jaganmohan Reddy are united in their dislike for KCR. And knowing there are no permanent foes in politics, do not rule out friendly contests or even match-fixing in select constituencies. Because Naidu knows his best bet to be CM in 2014 is if KCR as a political force is decimated. The Congress would like KCR to eat humble pie too because it would not want the separatist leader to make it dance to his tunes.
In the midst of all this, Rosaiah has thrown a googly by convening the monsoon session of the Andhra Pradesh assembly from 7th July. His critics argue the CM has done it with his eye firmly on the calender. On 8th is YSR’s birth anniversary, the day Jagan has announced he will travel to Srikakulam on his Odarpu yatra. So ensuring all MLAs, including Jagan’s supporters are in attendance in the House, Rosaiah perhaps reckoned, is a good idea to kill two birds with one stone. Also by singing YSR bhajans in Hyderabad, Rosaiah can reduce the volume of Jagan bhajans in distant Srikakulam.
Several Jagan camp MLAs have requested Rosaiah to postpone the monsoon session and fencesitters in the Congress are not sure if taking Jagan on like this is a sensible idea. Prophets of doom are worried, what if the MLAs create a ruckus on the floor of the House or in the Assembly premises. Especially with TV camera lenses magnifying any act several times over.
A TV channel survey in fact, has already put the Congress and Rosaiah on the mat with results that are hardly flattering. More than 53 per cent said they will not vote for the ruling party if elections were to be held now. 44 per cent of the people polled in the state felt Jagan is the most efficient leader, followed by Naidu with 31 per cent. The CM got only 9 per cent support and he had Chiranjeevi following him at 5 per cent.
In Telangana, significantly, the pattern changes with KCR in first place with 30 per cent and Naidu a close second at 29 per cent. Jagan is third with 25 per cent, Rosaiah at 10 per cent and Chiranjeevi last with 3 per cent.
Will 29 + 25 + 10 + 3 try to add up to beat the 30 on the 27th?