New Delhi: Barely six months ago, the Telangana political landscape looked vastly different from what it is today. The upcoming assembly election, it was perceived then, would be a straight fight between the incumbent Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) and an aggressive Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Congress, the grand old party, was written off. Crestfallen party leaders and cadres were on the lookout for alternative options for their political survival. Today, however, anyone in Telangana would agree (barring the ruling BRS) that the Congress’s stock has gone up by several notches.
While there is no contention about the Congress’s ascendancy in the state, the question, however, is whether it has grown to the extent where it can wrest power. Even as we inch closer to the polling date (November 30), pollsters are still not able to call the election. There seems to be no discernible wave for or against the BRS, and likewise the Congress. This is evidenced by numerous surveys, each one of them projecting vastly different numbers for the two main contenders, the BRS and the Congress. Some of them even don’t rule out the possibility of a hung assembly, with some giving the BRS a slight edge and others for the Congress. One thing common in these surveys is the clear resurgence of the Congress party.
Several factors could have contributed to the Congress’s upturn: Perceived anti-incumbency at the constituency level against BRS MLAs; energy infused by the Karnataka victory in the party leaders and cadres; the BJP’s decline following the removal of Bandi Sanjay as the Telangana unit chief; and the perception that the BRS and All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) are in cahoots with the BJP.
Claiming sole credit for themselves in the establishment of Telangana, the Congress and the BRS describe themselves as ichchina party (the party that granted the statehood) and techchina party (the party that achieved statehood through agitation) respectively.
The Congress has been training its guns on chief minister K. Chandrashekhar Rao and his family, accusing them of turning Telangana into their “fiefdom”, much like the feudal lords (Doras) of the yore. The Congress’s messaging appears to have found some takers, given the widespread allegations against KCR that he is inaccessible (which earned him the moniker of “farmhouse CM”) and that power is concentrated in the hands of his family.
The party has also foregrounded alleged repression under KCR, that he had engineered defections of opposition MLAs to the ruling party to curb political dissent as well as numerous instances of the arrest of civil society members and closure of civil society spaces. The widespread allegations of corruption against KCR and his family members, including in the BRS’s much-publicised Kaleshwaram Project, have also provided fodder to the Congress’s campaign, which has been egging on the people to join hands in “another struggle” to “liberate” Telangana from “Dorala Palana (rule by Doras)”.
On the lines of its Karnataka manifesto, the Congress has announced six ‘guarantees’ to the voters of Telangana. The manifesto, which is high on welfare and covers various sections of society, could work in its favour. The BRS, aware of the damage potential of the Congress’s manifesto, sought to outshine the Congress through its own manifesto.
As part of its Mahalaxmi guarantee, the Congress has announced Rs 2,500 per month to eligible women. The BRS, for its part, promises Rs 3,000 as a monthly honorarium. While the Congress has promised to provide an LPG cylinder at Rs 500, the BRS has said it will offer the same at Rs 400.
Similarly, the Congress has promised to increase investment support given to farmers (under the existing Rythu Bandhu of the BRS government) from Rs 10,000 to Rs 15,000 per acre per year. The Congress has also gone a step further by promising it to tenant farmers as well, who don’t benefit under the Rythu Bandhu scheme. The BRS, in turn, has promised to make it Rs 16,000 per acre per year.
Under its Cheyutha scheme, the Congress has promised Rs 4,000 per month to old-age pension beneficiaries. The BRS has assured them that it would raise the amount from existing Rs 2,000 to Rs 5,000 over the course of the next five years.
The Congress is largely banking on the youth and government job aspirants, who are angry with the BRS government. Even by its own admission, the BRS government has failed the unemployed youth of the state, by not being able to fill vacancies and conduct recruitment exams without any irregularities. The youth seems clearly not in favour of the BRS, which could help shore up Congress’s prospects. In fact, the Congress has gone even a step further by announcing a job calendar, confident of forming the next government.
Among other segments who are disillusioned by the BRS government are government employees who have been waiting for long for interim relief, restoration of the Old Pension Scheme, and Pay Revision Commission (PRC), among other issues. A large number of those who are left out of the BRS government schemes like Dalit Bandhu and double-bedroom housing could potentially vote in favour of the Congress. Both Muslim and Christian minorities could also rally behind the Congress due to its effective messaging that the BRS and BJP are two sides of the same coin.
Although the perception of the BJP as an alternative to the BRS has lowered significantly since the Congress’s victory in Karnataka, the party could play spoilsport for the Congress by splitting the anti-incumbency votes in several constituencies. The Congress, in particular, is expected to face a stiff fight for anti-BRS votes in about 20 seats, including in Korutla, LB Nagar, Bodhan, Kamareddy, Nirmal, Maheshwaram, and in a few handful of seats of the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC).
For Congress, it is still an uphill task despite the positive perception it has built over the last few months given the BJP’s role as well as the BRS’s public relations overdrive and poll management. A senior party leader remarked that the Congress party would not be able to form the next government in the state even if it wins one seat less than 60 in the 119-member assembly due to the possibility of the BRS and BJP coming together. Can the Congress pull off a handsome victory?