Hyderabad/New Delhi: On September 11, when once arch-rivals Congress and Telugu Desam Party (TDP) formed a grand alliance (Mahakutami or Prajakutami) in a bid to defeat the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) in poll-bound Telangana, there were several questions about its future.
One of the key questions was about seat sharing and if it will it be arrived at amicably. Doubt also existed if the alliance could put together a common agenda beyond anti-TRS and Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) rhetoric. Moreover, will the individual parties be able get their votes transferred to each other?
Political observers believe that by now, these questions have become irrelevant and it is certain that the alliance has gained ground over the past three months. “There are several indications to show that the alliance is on firm footing,” said Omar Farooque, a senior journalist and political observer based in Hyderabad.
“There are at least three indications to hint that things are working in favour of the alliance,” he added, citing latest pre-poll surveys, news about satta market bidding in favour of the alliance and informal discussion about anti-incumbency sentiment against the TRS. Apart from the Congress and TDP, the Communist Party of India (CPI) and Telangana Jana Samithi (TJS) are also part of the alliance.
It can be noted here that the state assembly was dissolved on September 6 after chief minister K. Chandrashekar Rao (KCR)’s recommendation, clearing the way for early elections. The assembly election was due in April-May next year, possibly to be held along with Lok Sabha elections. At the time of the assembly’s dissolution, the TRS had 90 seats, Congress 13 and TDP 3 out of the 119. In the 2014 election, the TRS had won 63, Congress 21 and TDP 15 seats. However, later several TDP and Congress MLAs crossed over to the ruling TRS.
Therefore, a confident KCR declared that his party will win 100 seats in the upcoming elections. Initial analysis also showed that TRS had an upper hand. A detailed analysis by Aditya Menon in late September predicted the alliance will find it hard to unseat the TRS. But now, many believe the situation has flipped.
“Much has changed on the ground in the last few weeks. And now it is a tough fight for the TRS to return to power,” Farooque told The Wire.
A political researcher working with the TRS’s ally All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) agreed. “In the best case scenario, TRS will get 65-66 seats,”confided the researcher, who wished to remain anonymous. “There are several factors to it, including the alliance and the anti-incumbency feeling,” he explained, claiming his observations are based on the interactions with party workers from different parts of the state.
According to Farooque, the alliance has not gained overnight but the tide started turning in its favour the very day it was formed. He also maintained that it has become a multi-cornered contest in some parts of the states, like north Telangana, and it will certainly benefit the alliance.
The BJP factor
Hyderabad based author and journalist Sriram Karri also feels that it has become a multi-cornered election, especially with the BJP contesting all the seats. “BJP is not exactly too weak in Telangana. It has basic 7-9% vote,” said Karri while talking to The Wire. “It has been gaining good traction of late,” he added.
According to journalist Naseer Giyas, people are underestimating the BJP, but the fact is that they have been working in a very organised and focused manner. “I am of the view that the BJP will increase its tally from 5 to 7,” said Giyas. The BJP’s high-pitched campaign has included polarising figures like Swami Paripoornananda, apart from star campaigners such as Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Amit Shah and Uttar Pradesh CM Adityanath.
It is believed that the BJP will cut through TRS votes, which is seen as an ally of the saffron party. What is also working in favour of the alliance is the absence of a “Telangana wave” like in 2014, which helped the TRS capture power last time. “The Congress suffered in the last elections because of UPA II’s performance,” said Giyas, adding, “with the coming together of TDP and Congress, it has gained in constituencies of southern Telangana.”
According to Karri, Telangana can be divided in to three broad electoral areas: north, south and Hyderabad. “The Greater Hyderabad region has a large number of people from Andhra Pradesh and they can play decisive role in at latest 16 constituencies. A majority of them are likely to vote for the TDP,” said Karri.
Several people The Wire spoke to pointed out that the success of the alliance could also be understood from the behaviour and statements of the ruling TRS leaders. For example, mid-last month, KCR’s son K.T. Rama Rao (KTR) said, ”If the TRS does not come to power on December 11, I will take political sanyas.” Similarly, later in November, KCR said, “If TRS loses, I will sleep at home.”
Moreover, many believe, a viral video in which KCR is seen losing his cool at a voter during a rally over a question about reservation to the Muslim community is likely to backfire, as far as Muslims are concerned.
Vote share and national implications
Notably, in the last assembly elections the parties in the alliance got more than 40% of the votes (Congress (25.2)+ TDP (14.7)+ CPI). The TRS (34.3%) and its ally AIMIM (3.8%) got less than 40% of the votes. That too at the peak of Telangana movement, when there was no anti-incumbency against the TRS.
When asked if this model can be replicated in other states for the 2019 general elections, the opinion was divided. Some thought it would only have a symbolic impact and others believed it can have a larger impact. “If the alliance can succeed, it will be big a boost for the Congress. But even then, it can’t have national impact like Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati coming together and winning elections,” argued Karri. He felt it would not have any impact even in Andhra Pradesh, because the Congress is hardly a force there.
However, Farooque thought the alliance will certainly have national implications. “If the alliance is able to unseat the TRS, it will be seen as a national model for state-level alliances,” Farooque told The Wire. “N. Chandrababu Naidu will get a big boost because other opposition leaders are waiting for the result.” It can be noted that earlier last month, TDP chief Naidu had met Sharad Pawar and National Conference president Farooq Abdullah in New Delhi to build a pan-India alliance to take on the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
According to Giyas, if the alliance is able to perform well in assembly elections, it can defeat the TRS in three or four seats like Malkajgiri and Chevella in the parliamentary elections. Currently, out of 17 parliamentary seats, 15 are represented by the TRS and one each by the BJP and the AIMIM.