Hyderabad: After caretaker chief minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao appeared pessimistic about his party being re-elected in Telangana, a resurgent Congress has seized the moment.
Former Congress president Sonia Gandhi and current president Rahul Gandhi addressed a massive rally held at the outskirts of Hyderabad on Friday. The stage also united, for the first time, stakeholders in the Congress-led Prajakutami (People’s Alliance) that also includes the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), Communist Party of India and Telangana Jana Samithi.
Sonia Gandhi, on her first visit to Telangana, and her son were confident that the alliance will form the state’s next government.
This was in stark contrast to Rao’s statements made in Adilabad district on Thursday, when he said if his party fails to win the mandate, it would be the people’s loss. Just about two months ago, Rao began the campaign by saying the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) would bag at least 90 of the 119 seats. Therefore, the comment that he had “nothing to lose” if his party is not elected suggested that targets had been revised.
Congress leaders weaponised the chief minister’s comment, repeatedly pointing out that he seemed resigned to “retiring to his farmhouse”.
The Gandhi duo spoke about “failed promises” and “unfulfilled dreams” of the people in the state. Once again, the core issues of “Neellu, Nidhulu, Niyamakalu (water, funds and jobs)” were highlighted, as both leaders criticised the TRS for failing to deliver. Appealing to the anti-incumbency sentiment, state Congress leaders have repeatedly said over the past week that these demands were not met by the TRS.
The Congress party also tried to claim credit for the formation of Telangana. Sonia Gandhi said the decision to bifurcate Andhra Pradesh was “difficult” because she knew the party would pay a price for it politically, but felt the welfare of Telangana was a greater good.
That the state’s aspirations had been scuttled by the TRS government was deeply disappointing, she said. A Congress-led government would right these wrongs, she continued, adding that demands of farmers, unemployed youth and women would be met.
Congress’s alliance growing in strength
After the government was dissolved on September 5 and early elections were declared, the stage seemed set for the TRS to be re-elected. The opposition’s ability to quickly put together an alliance and the fact that anti-incumbency sentiment was greater than what the TRS expected has put it on the backfoot.
Earlier this week, MP Konda Vishweshwar Reddy quit the TRS and his post to join the Congress. While he does not have a large following in the state, his exit came when the party was already feeling the heat. Independent MLA R. Krishnaiah also joined the party. On Friday, a host of former TRS MLAs and MLCs also joined the Congress in the Gandhis’ presence.
Dalit activist-politician Manda Krishna Madiga and balladeer Gaddar also participated in the rally, pointing to a larger coalition to push out the TRS. While Gaddar’s son is a Congress leader, the balladeer himself has denied having links with the party.
Papering over the cracks?
However, all is not well with the coalition. Congress candidates filed nominations in 99 seats, though the party was only allocated 94 seats. The Congress has said that it would enter into a “friendly contest” against its alliance partners in four constituencies. It claimed that the candidates put up by its alliance partners were not strong enough to defeat the TRS, which prompted it to put up its own candidates.
M. Kodandaram, who is the president of Telangana Jana Samithi and the convenor of the opposition alliance, said he felt insulted by the grand old party’s decision. “The Congress has underestimated our candidates. We were allotted eight seats, but in four of those, we will be contesting against the Congress too. This goes against the spirit of the alliance,” he said.
The former Osmania University professor added that because the alliance is a necessity, his party would put aside its differences with the Congress. “The TRS government must be toppled. For this we are prepared to work past our disagreements,” said Kodandaram, who was formerly chairman of the Telangana Joint Action Committee (T-JAC) that spearheaded the Telangana movement.
While differences may have been put to rest for now, questions remain over friction between the partners.
Alliance’s chief ministerial candidate
Another cause of friction among the People’s Alliance is the absence of a chief ministerial candidate. While the different party leaders have said that overthrowing the TRS takes primacy over who becomes the chief minister, several candidates will hope to throw their hat into the ring.
Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee president N. Uttam Kumar Reddy is said to the be front-runner as he is a Gandhi family loyalist.
However, A. Revanth Reddy received the loudest cheer and applause at Friday’s rally. Revanth Reddy defected to the Congress from the TDP just last year, and might therefore be overlooked for the top post despite his popularity. Senior Congress leader K. Jana Reddy, a former home minister, is also said to be in the picture.
If the alliance does secure a victory, the Congress party’s high command will have to tackle jostling for the chief ministership.