By T S Sudhir
My previous blog that talked about a neck-and-neck fight in Seemandhra with a slight edge to Naidu, exposed me to much abuse from YSR Congress. Not that TDP supporters are any better. You say anything remotely critical of their boss and they come at you like an organised troll army. I wonder why either of them expects unbiased mediapersons to be biased?
I am a passionate student of politics and to cheapen this fascination by attributing motives just exposes their own biases.
Here are my observations from my own field trip to Krishna district on polling day and talking to my friends and colleagues who were present in different districts of Seemandhra on May 7.
Is there a wave?
I did feel a strong, silent, determined wave in favour of the TDP-BJP alliance but only in the urban pockets. Not so much for Narendra Modi but for Chandrababu Naidu. With `development’ as the sole criterion, many of them – from Srikakulam to Chittoor – seemd to have voted for giving Naidu another chance. And this was across different age groups. First time voters, who I thought may have perhaps preferred a younger Jagan than an older Naidu, plumped for experience over an unknown, untested commodity.
The Minorities factor in our cities and towns
But there is a flip side to the urban vote as well. A directive had been issued just before polling day both to Muslims and Christians by respective religious groups not to vote for the TDP because of its alliance with the BJP. In many assembly segments, the Muslim vote is critical and if the voters of the two communities have indeed voted as per the diktat, we could have tight contests going either way. This could significantly neutralise the TDP traction in urban areas.
Urban vs rural divide
The elections, I feel, is going to throw up a sharp urban vs rural divide. While the TDP-BJP will do reasonably well in the urban and semi-urban constituencies, the rural areas are likely to plump for Jaganmohan Reddy. The Reddy-Dalit-Muslim-Christian-rural youth plus YSR legacy votebank that Jagan has sewn up is likely to deliver rich dividends in the countryside. The welfare agenda pursued by YSR is like a fixed deposit that Jagan will be able to tap. The TDP perhaps made a mistake by over focusing on the urban constituencies and was not able to penetrate into rural pockets as well as Jagan did. The YSR Congress chief also with his penchant for yatras, ensured he was among the people all the time, creating a connect and a feeling of being one of their own. That familiarity may have worked better compared to the star appeal of a Pawan Kalyan. I suspect the final seat tally of the TDP and YSRC will display a sharp urban-rural divide.
Will high polling be a factor?
Yes and No. The usual thumbrule is that low polling benefits the ruling party while high polling indicates a wave of anger against the incumbent government. But in Seemandhra, you have the peculiar situation of the government that was in power till a couple of months ago, not being in the race virtually. Except on paper. In the absence of the Congress putting up a serious fight, the battle for Seemandhra is between two opposition parties – TDP and YSR Congress. So in that sense, polling percentage won’t make much of a difference. However, high polling indicates that the people want to get their voice heard. And a high turnout in the rural areas would be to Jagan’s advantage. The critical factor would be how many rural constituencies the TDP is able to win.
Would cross-voting have happened?
Given how keenly fought this election was, it would seem that tactical voting (that is, a voter choosing TDP-BJP in assembly and YSRC in Lok Sabha or vice versa) would be unlikely on a large scale. Most voters I spoke to, or my colleagues interacted with, were clear about what they were looking for. It ranged from development, corruption-free regime, growth for the new state, welfare schemes, sops. Naidu scored better on the development factor while Jagan won the race by a huge margin when it came to implementing a better welfare agenda. But I still feel that the Modi factor would play a role as voters who are aware of the difference between a PM and a CM would plump for the alliance rather than the standalone YSRC. I think the TDP-BJP alliance will do better in LS than in the assembly elections because voters realise that a friendly central government is critical to a new state in dire need for funds.
Is Corruption an issue?
Yes, a huge issue in the urban pockets. Many urban, educated voters did not have anything nice to say about Jagan and felt that between Naidu and Jagan, the former was comparatively (yes comparatively) less corrupt. Somewhere the TDP’s sustained campaign about YSR Congress party’s “CBI candidates” has struck a chord in the cities and towns. Even in rural pockets this was an issue, but not to the extent as in urban polling centres, with many arguing, “who is not corrupt?”
Naidu’s problem is Naidu
Government officials who had voted enmasse against Naidu in 2004, angry with the kind of insults he heaped upon them during his surprise inspections, this time, seemed open to giving him a chance. “Ten years in the opposition would have sobered him,” one of them said. But doubts persist especially among farmers, weavers, the landless class. Naidu’s credibility is suspect and he is still seen as someone who will be more happy being the CEO of AP Inc. For the poor, looking for free medical facilities, free power, free education, Naidu does not seem the man to go to. This despite the freebies Naidu is promising to dole out. The trust factor is still missing as far as Naidu is concerned.
Naidu’s best bet is a desperate TDP cadre
The TDP cadre has worked hard in Seemandhra. Because a third successive defeat will mean curtains for the party. Already the TDP is close to extinction in Telangana and the karyakarta cannot afford the same in Seemandhra. Because if the TDP folds up, they cannot go to a YSRC or a Congress. So 2014 is a do-or-die battle for them too. Just like it is for Naidu. That also explains the pitched battles that were fought between the TDP and YSR Congress workers in different parts of the region on May 7. The TDP cadre tried to get as many to the polling stations yesterday and would hope that would be enough.
Where will the Congress vote go?
Will it go to the TDP or the YSRC? My sense is that the Lok Sabha vote will go to the TDP and the assembly vote distributed depending on individual candidates and their appeal and anti-incumbency in the case of sitting MLAs, between the TDP and YSRC. Congress itself will find itself plumbing to never-before depths. That would also be a plus for Jagan.
Seemandhra is known to swing one way and not giving vague verdicts. But this election is likely to go down to the wire. The vote margin between the two parties isn’t likely to be much even though in a straight contest, even a small difference could result in a rich harvest of seats.