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Congress on comeback trail in Andhra?

With just four days to go for the first phase of polls in Andhra, the main Opposition Cong party is believed to be on a comeback trail.
PTI | By Indo-Asian News Service, Hyderabad
PUBLISHED ON APR 15, 2004 02:30 PM IST

With just four days to go for the first phase of polls in Andhra Pradesh, all indications are that the main opposition Congress party is widely believed to be on a comeback trail to power after a gap of nine years.

The anti-incumbency factor, the deep rooted anger among the farming community, electricity and drinking water shortage, the demand for a separate Telangana state -- all have the potential to end the nine-year rule of Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu.

Notwithstanding the bombardment of advertisements belittling the opposition parties on half-a-dozen Telugu television channels, people at large say that the government has failed to deliver and hence should go.

An analysis of the public mood in the Telangana region, which goes to the polls in the first phase on April 20, presents a dismal picture for the Telugu Desam Party (TDP)-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alliance.

The anti-incumbency factor will be on full display as the Congress has managed to forge an alliance with the Telangan Rashtra Samiti (TRS), the Communist Party of India and the Communist Party of India-Marxist as partners.

The reports from the region suggest that of 107 assembly seats, the TDP-BJP combine's tally might not cross 25 against the 58 it got from the region in the 1999 elections.

A majority of the combine's seats are likely to be from the state capital and suburbs, which benefited to some extent by the improved civic infrastructure and the strides made in IT.

A total of 147 assembly and 21 Lok Sabha constituencies are going to polls in the first phase. It will cover the entire Telangana region comprising 10 district and three north coastal districts.

The tremendous response Congress leader Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy got even in the northern part of the coast also suggest that the TDP might have a rough ride in 40 assembly and six Lok Sabha constituencies there.

Though TDP leaders have big hopes from the south coastal districts and the Rayalaseema region, which go to the polls April 26, the ground situation is not much different from what it is in Telangana.

The crisis in agriculture in the Rayalaseema region aggravated by drought for four successive years and the anger among farmers for not getting remunerative prices are dominating the poll scene.

Serious dissident activity in south coastal districts present not so rosy a picture to the ruling party. Dissident activity has surfaced even in Chittoor, Naidu's home district.

Adding to Naidu's woes as many as 30 rebels have entered the fray damaging the image of his party as a disciplined one and a model for others.

The rebels are threatening the prospects in many of these constituencies and even posing problems for the ally BJP.

It is not that the main opposition Congress party is not facing this problem. It is more severe in the Congress but rebel activity is not new to that party.

But the TDP, in its 22 years of existence, has never faced dissident activity on a large scale.

A spate of suicides by farmers and weavers, his privatisation drive (which was seen making thousands jobless), unhappiness among bureaucracy all appear to have eclipsed his image as a model chief executive officer who made the state the most happening place and placed it on the map of IT and biotechnology.

Vast stretches of parched fields due to lack of sufficient inflows in the reservoirs and erratic electricity supply have angered the farmers and hit hard the rural economy.

"Our tears will drown this government. We want a change. The Congress has promised free electricity to us, so we want to give them a chance," said Saidulu, a farmer in Paleru assembly constituency in Khammam district.

In Telangana, the farmers mostly depend on bore wells for agriculture and with the depleting level of ground water they require continuous supply of electricity to irrigate their lands. But the government failed to ensure the minimum supply for nine hours.

"We get two to three hours' supply. For this we have to sleep in the fields as the electricity is supplied late in the night," said Syed, another farmer in Sirur in Medak district.

Luck has traditionally favoured Naidu. After he led a revolt against his father-in-law NTR in August 1995, NTR's sudden death in 1996 solved many of his problems.

He once again proved lucky in 1999 when he rode back to power on the popularity of the BJP and its leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and in the process countered the anti-incumbency factor.

Luck was again on his side when he narrowly escaped a claymore mine blast triggered by Maoist guerrillas in October last year, prompting dissolution of the assembly nine months before it was to expire.

Naidu wanted to drive the mileage from a perceived sympathy wave. But seven months later there appears to be anger among large sections of people.

His party is still confident of pulling off a third consecutive win.

In the 1999 elections, the TDP-BJP combine bagged 192 seats in the 294-member assembly and 36 of 42 Lok Sabha seats. The share of the TDP was 180 assembly and 29 Lok Sabha seats. The Congress won 91 assembly and five Lok Sabha seats.

The TDP-BJP combine had bagged 58 assembly seats in the Telangana region alone. The TDP's share in this was 50 seats.

The TDP also performed well by winning 99 out of 134 assembly seats from coastal Andhra and 31 out of 53 seats in Rayalseema.

The most likely scenario is a two percent shift in votes away from the TDP-BJP combine due to anti-incumbency factor. If this happens, the Congress-led alliance will get 188 seats while TDP-BJP will have to contend with 91 seats.

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