By T S Sudhir
The Modi-fication of Nizamabad is the first thing that strikes you the moment you step into Nizamabad. Look in any direction and you will find Narendra Modi staring at you, the slogan by his side exhorting you to vote for the BJP.
Incidentally, that is not the only Gujarat connection to Nizamabad I found. Fruit seller Syed Pasha was selling chikoos near the railway station. “These are from Gujarat,” he told me, adding chikoos from that state are more sweet. “Will these popular sweet chikoos help Modi in the election,” I asked. He laughed off the political connection I was making. Not much of a fruitful conversation there.
But at that other barometer of public opinion – the autorickshaw stand – many a driver seemed determined to drive Modi from Gandhinagar to New Delhi. BJP for Lok Sabha and TRS in the assembly seemed to be the mood here. “But wouldn’t your tactical voting hurt KCR’s daughter Kavitha who is the TRS candidate in the Lok Sabha elections from Nizamabad,” I asked. “But we want BJP at the centre,” said auto driver Balaji, as others around him nodded.
It is one of the most high-profile triangular fights that is taking place in the Telangana region. Sitting Congress MP Madhu Yashki Goud is taking on Kavitha and Y Laxminarayana of the BJP-TDP combine. There is considerable anger against Goud who is seen as a guest MP in Nizamabad. Part of the fault also lies with the people who expect an MP to be with them 24×7 like a municipal corporator, little realising his work is to represent the constituency in New Delhi, pushing the files to get works sanctioned back home.
Kavitha is banking on her credentials – as the daughter of the man who led the Telangana movement and the daughter-in-law of Nizamabad (her mother-in-law hails from here). Plus she hopes to attract a large part of the 2 lakh plus minority vote away from Goud.
“When KCR said Jai Telangana in 2001, Congress never said Jai Telangana, BJP never said so. TDP never said so. Now people of Telangana know that if these parties came in support of Telangana, it was because of KCR. They had to say Jai Telangana not because they wanted to. People are aware of it and they will not win in this election, the sentiment is with KCR,” says Kavitha.
Laxminarayana, like BJP candidates elsewhere in the country, is banking on the Modi wave to catapult him to the Lok Sabha. His worry however, is the damage the alliance with the TDP could cause him. Chandrababu Naidu is seen as anti-Telangana in these parts and Laxminarayana’s brand equity suffers by the company he keeps. The fact that Modi shared the stage in Hyderabad with Naidu and actor Pawan Kalyan – two anti-TRS voices – is being milked by KCR to label all three as villains to the Telangana cause.
Irked by Modi’s barb that Andhra mother cried while Telangana baby was born, KCR has sought to use that to push the BJP on the backfoot, especially in constituencies like Nizamabad and Mahbubnagar where the saffron party can be a force to reckon with. Simultaneously he has encouraged TDP leaders and cadre to join the TRS. One of them is S A Aleem from Nizamabad, who quit because he feels the TDP has no upward trajectory to look forward to in Telangana.
“The TDP as a party is finished in Telangana because there is no space for an Andhra party here. Naidu is trying to keep TDP alive by allying with the BJP in Telangana. But the public is not a fool,” says Aleem. Muslim leaders like him are now entrusted with the task of delivering the community vote to Kavitha’s kitty and to ensure that the BJP’s hope to see it get divided between the TRS and Congress does not materialise.
The Congress is trying to hardsell Sonia Gandhi’s act of killing the party in Seemandhra just to give Telangana. This, its leaders in Telangana hope, will be good enough to take care of the extreme anti-incumbency that several of its sitting MPs and MLAs are facing.
“When you go around the districts of Telangana, you realize that it is Sonia Gandhi who gave Telangana,” says Madhu Goud. But that is not the overwhelming opinion on the ground. Like for instance, at the flower market in Hyderabad, Srinivas Reddy, a flower seller says, “KCR was fighting for 14 years. Congress gave it under pressure. Because they were losing in Andhra Pradesh, they gave Telangana for the sake of some seats.”
Which is why in this race for claiming credit for Telangana as well as don the mantle of the party that would take the first shot at power, the tone this election is anti-Andhra and shrill.
Kesava Rao, Secretary General of the TRS says, “Let us take the example of employees. It is said that more than a lakh of jobs that otherwise belonged to Telangana had been occupied by Seemandhra friends. Naturally they will be vacated and we will have vacancies filled. Now they will be given an option and Andhra friends wants to stay back. Then why Telangana at all. For next 10 years, there will be tension on these basic issues.”
The TRS belief is that positioning itself as a strong regional force will bring it handsome gains. “TRS is able to mix both these slogans. We got you Telangana and we have a leader who can deliver the reconstruction of Telangana. But Congress is stuck only with – we have got you Telangana but don’t have a leader. There I feel that Congress is slightly on the back foot,” says Parakala Prabhakar, political analyst.
Another issue for the Congress is the extreme infighting within the Telangana unit. There are atleast 12 leaders who fancy themselves as the first CM of Telangana and would do all it takes to pull the other person down. Rahul Gandhi’s declaration that a woman MLA will be the first CM of Telangana has only upset more male feathers than settling the issue once and for all.
But even as the parties work on their arithmetic, the people of Telangana are worried about whether life will change now that Telangana is now days from becoming India’s 29th state. Ahmed Pasha is among those indulging in daydreaming. Pasha, who was asked to leave Qatar a couple of months ago, believes that his life and that of his brethren in Telangana state, will change for the better. Nizamabad and Karimnagar see a large number of men chasing the Gulf dream.
“Our jobs will be for us. Youth do not have to go out of the country. Our crop, our water, our jobs will be ours. That is why we fought for a separate Telangana state,” says Pasha.
Then there are the concerns of the beedi workers (7 lakh of them in Telangana out of 8 lakh in united AP), the turmeric and cotton farmers, who all are looking with hope to the party that comes to power. The expectations have been raised and it would be such a travesty if they realise that the struggle for self-rule was only to replace one bunch of rulers with another.