Out of the box

By T S Sudhir

A once-upon-a-time familiar sight in Indian elections will make a reappearance this Tuesday in five assembly constituencies in the Telangana region of Andhra Pradesh.

The ballot box.

That’s because K Chandrasekhar Rao, the TRS chief, does not trust EVMs. He thinks the hi-tech machines could be manipulated to show his party’s ambassador car the red light in these bypolls. So KCR came up with the idea of fielding dummy candidates to swell the number beyond 64, the maximum an EVM can handle.

Unfortunately in their enthusiasm on the last day of filing nominations, many of the dummy candidates did not submit proper documents which meant a good number of them were rejected. But in five constituencies, they succeeded with this out of the box idea. So Sircilla (78 candidates), Yellareddy (75), Warangal West (74), Huzurabad (69) and Koratla (67) will mark the return of the good ol’ ballot box inside the polling booth.

On the 27th, voters will get to see a newspaper-sized ballot paper. But to reduce confusion as well as the time they spend inside the polling booth, the Election Commission has decided to give up the standard practice of alphabatical order of printing names of candidates on the ballot paper. Instead, the names of the four prominent parties, the TRS, TDP, Congress and BJP will be mentioned at the top so that the candidates need not have to run through the huge ballot paper searching for the candidates of their choice. This, of course, could spoil the chances of some of the serious independent candidates.

Resigning and recontesting elections is nothing new to the TRS. It has patented this tactic as a way to continuously put pressure on the UPA government to grant statehood to Telangana. It hasn’t worked too well though. Two byelections in 2006 and 2008 saw their seat tally and vote percentage dip with each poll.

But unlike previous occasions, the texture of this election is different. The vociferous Telangana movement in December and January has meant the T-sentiment is not just a storm in a tea cup any more. For a change, no one is finding fault with the TRS for forcing an election within a year. Nor are issues of development an election issue. Telangana is the only buzzword.

The TRS is seen as the frontrunner to retain all its ten seats plus Vemulawada, where last time’s TDP winner is now with the TRS. So a 10 per cent increase in its tally, the TRS would interpret as a strong message from the people of Telangana that they want the Srikrishna Committee to recommend bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh.

TDP and Congress leaders in Hyderabad agree the TRS confidence is not misplaced.

“That is because in the Telangana region, even our cadres want a typical pro-Telangana party to win. Both the Congress and the TDP are wishy-washy in their approach to statehood. So the cadres are not working for their candidates seriously,” said a Rayalaseema TDP leader.

Despite the lack of enthusiastic opposition, KCR is running his campaign in top gear in these bypolls. In contrast, the Congress leadership, save its state unit chief D Srinivas who himself is the candidate in Nizamabad-urban, has kept away from campaigning. Chief minister Rosaiah, limping from one crisis to another, has not even bothered to make a special appearance. Perhaps an admission that it will not make a difference to the box-office verdict on Friday, 30th July.

Ditto with the Babhli-obsessed TDP. Its agitation from across the border in Dharmabad along with visuals of its `retired hurt’ MLAs, it would hope will give its candidates some fillip in these polls.

However, the most interesting contest is taking place in a constituency where the TRS is not contesting. All eyes are on Nizamabad Urban, where D Srinivas is fighting a do-or-die battle against the BJP candidate, fighting with TRS support. Last year, he lost to him after communal remarks cost him the Hindu vote. Now a victory could pitchfork him straight to either the top job or atleast make him deputy chief minister.

When his nomination was filed, his supporters pushed for the slogan that a vote for DS would be a vote for their future CM, a man from Telangana. Only a little later, realisation dawned that there are roughly 12000 Vysya voters in the constituency, who wouldn’t take kindly to their man Rosaiah losing the chair.

So DCM, as in deputy CM it would be for DS at the moment. And he is receiving support from rather unexpected quarters, the TDP.

A TDP leader confided that the cadre is likely to vote for DS. Not because it loves him but because a victorious DS will then certainly lobby to be made CM, pointing to his credentials. BC leader, PCC chief in both 2004 and 2009, experience as a senior minister in YSR cabinet and above all, a Telangana bidda. And what can give more glee to the TDP than trouble in the Congress house.

But DS isn’t banking on the TDP arithematic alone. He knows for every selfish TDP supporter, there will be 10 Congress knives out to scuttle his chances.

Most politicial observers believe the results will only be of academic interest. How the politics within the Congress shapes after that to tackle a belligerent TRS will be the next episode to watch out for in the rivetting political soap opera running 24×7 on every TV channel. Watch this space.


About t s sudhir & uma sudhir

Uma Sudhir and T S Sudhir are senior journalists, based in Hyderabad. Both work for NDTV. Uma is a Tamilian, who was educated in
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