By T S Sudhir
We drove directly to the polling station in Nizamabad town, where Dharmapuri Srinivas was to vote. It was a health centre on which was written `Be Bold’.
Srinivas has been bold indeed. Some call him desperate. Those more critical dub him power-hungry. A few charitable souls feel sorry for the way he is having to sweat it out.
The president of the Congress in Andhra Pradesh is in the fray for the second time in just a little over a year, as the party’s candidate in Nizamabad urban constituency. He lost by over 11000 votes last May to the BJP’s Y Lakshminarayana, whose resignation over the Telangana issue caused this byelection.
A defeat will virtually seal Srinivas’s political career. Atleast for sometime. But it is the temptation of the immense possibilities a win could provide that lured DS into this tough battle. `Kal ka MLA, DS’ could become `Kal ka CM, DS’. The challenge for DS is to convert that `could’ into a `will’.
DS has been a CM aspirant since 2004. He fancied his chances even when YSR was the face of the Congress campaign against Chandrababu Naidu six years ago. But he had to give up meekly.
In the changed political landscape of Andhra Pradesh since 2nd September 2009, and the Telangana agitation that followed, DS is building castles. His supporters tomtom his credentials. A tall BC leader from Telangana. Administrative experience. PCC president both in 2004 and 2009 when the Congress won in Andhra Pradesh. Yes, a more charismatic YSR ran away with the credit, but now DS wants his due.
Problems and challenges have kept their foot firmly on the accelerator all through Rosaiah’s tenure as CM and his `Dial M for Madam’ for just about everything hasn’t inspired confidence. Srinivas’s calculation is that a Telangana man as CM will endear the party to the people of Telangana who have always looked at the Congress with suspicion on the statehood issue.
Two, it will also rob KCR of his status as the sole spokesperson of the region.
Three, in the event of the Srikrishna committee not giving a favourable verdict on Telangana, DS as CM could prove a better bet than coastal Andhra’s Rosaiah in the hot seat. But DS cannot do an Usain Bolt to the CM’s chair just on the basis of these arguments, however solid they may sound on paper. He is up against a mountain of opposition, both within the Congress and outside.
In fact, security personnel had to clear the area of slogan shouting pro-Telangana activists in front of the voting booth, before DS could make his entry a little after noon. His image as someone who displayed little enthusiasm for Telangana state, works against him. His T-talk during the campaign, is seen as opportunistic and a bit too late in the day.
Ramkumar, who runs a chemist shop in Nizamabad says Telangana is the only issue in these elections. “It is not as if Nizamabad is in love with the BJP and the TRS. But then the BJP MLA resigned from his seat for the cause of statehood to Telangana. Whereas DS is fighting this bypoll only to further his own political career.”
A significant votebank of Vysyas, the community to which Rosaiah belongs, also wouldn’t fancy DS to win and make a bid to replace their man as CM. So DS in fact, started with a minus of 12000 votes that he got in 2009.
Nizamabad district, one of the smallest in size in Andhra Pradesh, has thrown up a plethora of Congress leaders. And their animosity to DS is Nizamabad’s worst kept secret. Madhu Goud, MP from Nizamabad who is also DS’s campaign manager, admits several senior leaders indulged in bickering and tried to `backstab’ DS. If DS loses this bypoll, be rest assured a lot of dirty linen will be washed in public on the streets of Nizamabad.
Much of the anger against DS is actually being credited into his account courtesy, DS Junior. DS’s son, D Sanjay was mayor of Nizamabad and it is difficult to find someone saying something nice about him. No wonder, DS kept Sanjay out of Nizamabad during most part of his campaign, hoping it will be a case of `out of sight, out of mind’ for the Nizamabad voter.
If DS is to come up trumps on Friday, a lot will depend on the number of minority votes he has gathered. Fortunately for him, the voting percentage has gone up significantly this time and with it, the minority vote. Also there is open talk of the TDP cadre voting for DS, in the hope that DS will upset Rosaiah’s applecart in Hyderabad and any trouble in the Congress camp can only be music to Chandrababu Naidu’s ears.
Both DS and Laxminarayana being Munnuru Kapus, a BC group in Andhra Pradesh, the community vote will be split. DS is likely to lose most of the pro-Telangana vote to the BJP and that makes this bypoll too close to call. Intelligence agencies tracking this prestige contest, say it will go to the wire.
DS has spared no effort in winning this election. In fact, with the stakes very high, the Nizamabad voter has had a party everyday in the last one month. So much so that Chandrababu Naidu’s high-decibel level Maha sangram across the border to ensure Godavari water supply to Sriramasagar project in Nizamabad had no impact on the ground here. Because Nizamabad was high on Bacchus.
When DS was speaking to the media after casting his vote, a cellphone company’s hoarding on the other side of the road caught my eye. I thought it summed up DS’s emotion better than anything else : `Ab mera number hai’.