The stage is set for a keen contest among the ruling Congress, the main opposition Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and the Praja Rajyam Party (PRP) of film star Chiranjeevi in the second and final phase of polling in Andhra Pradesh on Thursday.
Upbeat over favourable reports from the first phase of polling for the Lok Sabha and the assembly, the TDP is going for a kill and seems to have an edge over the other two.
Polling in 20 Lok Sabha constituencies and 150 assembly segments in south coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions will be held in the second and last phase.
While the first phase saw a straight fight between the Congress and the TDP-led four-party Grand Alliance, it is going to be a three-cornered contest in the second phase with the PRP likely to cut into the Congress’ vote share.
Unlike in the first phase, in which the TDP left half of the Lok Sabha and assembly seats for its allies - the Telangana Rastra Samiti (TRS) and the two Communist parties - it is taking on the Congress on its own in almost all constituencies in the second phase.
There is no anti-incumbency factor as many people point out that the Congress government implemented several welfare and development schemes. But it is a mix of caste factor thanks to Chiranjeevi’s entry and the TDP’s promise of free colour television sets and cash transfer for poor which seem to have turned the tide against the Congress.
Kapus, the traditional voters for the Congress, are sailing with Chiranjeevi, who belongs to this community. This is likely to help the PRP win some seats in the Godavari- Krishna belt, but the major beneficiary will be the TDP in the six districts of the south coastal region and some constituencies in Rayalaseema.
Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy tried to divert people’s attention from the TDP’s promises by raising the issue of a separate Telangana state. He has warned people in the coastal and Rayalaseema regions that a vote for the TDP would mean bifurcation of the state.
Political analysts, however, say YSR may not benefit from this as he is perceived to be adopting double standards on the issue as his party had promised top priority to Telangana during the campaigning for the first phase.
TDP chief N. Chandrababu Naidu has been attacking the YSR government for corruption scandals and is going all out to highlight the promises of TV sets and cash doles.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is going it alone in the polls, is likely to get votes in some urban areas in coastal Andhra but that may not translate into wins for the party.
All eyes are on YSR, Naidu and Chiranjeevi, the key contestants in the assembly elections in the second phase.
All the chief ministerial aspirants are contesting from the Rayalseema region though Chiranjeevi is also testing his fortunes from Palakollu in his native West Godavari district in coastal Andhra.
The chief minister’s son, Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy, central ministers Pannabaka Lakshmi and Pallam Raju, veteran actors U.V. Krishnam Raju and Murali Mohan and industrialist L. Rajagopal are among the prominent candidates for the Lok Sabha.
Jaganmohan Reddy, an industrialist, is making his debut from Kadapa, which his uncle Y.S. Vivekanand Reddy had won in 2004. He is facing P. Srikant Reddy of the TDP.
Minister of State for Defence Pallam Raju is facing a tough battle in Kakinada. His main rival is V. Satya of the TDP. The going is tough also for central Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare Pannabaka Lakshmi in Bapatla. She is in a direct fight with S. Malayadri of the TDP.
In Rajhamundry, veteran film actor and former union minister U.V. Krishnam Raju of the PRP is taking on his contemporary Murali Mohan (TDP). It is a three-cornered contest also involving sitting Congress MP Undavalli Arun Kumar.
Former chief minister Kotla Vijaybhaskar Reddy’s son Kotla Suryaprakash Reddy is contesting again from the Kurnool Lok Sabha constituency.
The key contestants in the assembly elections include former chief minister N. Janardhan Reddy’s wife and state minister N. Rajyalakshmi and actress R.K. Roja of the TDP.
Over 26.6 million people in 10 districts are eligible to vote and decide the electoral fortunes of 254 candidates for the Lok Sabha and 1,822 candidates in the assembly polls. About 60,000 policemen will be deployed in 30,427 polling booths, where 60,854 electronic voting machines (EVMs) will be used.
Nearly 70 percent of 31.2 million voters cast their votes in the first phase April 16 when polling was held in 22 Lok Sabha and 154 assembly constituencies. The polling in Telangana and north coastal Andhra remained peaceful barring minor incidents.