Telangana, naxalism top issues
The renewed demand for Telangana statehood, naxalism and development plank of the TDP government dominated the poll scene in Andhra Pradesh as a high-decibel, star-studded campaign for the first phase of simultaneous elections to 21 Lok Sabha and 147 Assembly constituencies closed on Sunday.
"Can Chandrababu Naidu pull off an electoral hat-trick?". This was the most frequently asked question in the run-up to the polls, billed as the toughest ever challenge for the longest serving Chief Minister of the state.
Unlike in the past, the TDP is up against a combined opposition strength with Congress, facing a do-or-die battle, forging electoral alliance with the fledgling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) and left parties to defeat the regional party.
As leaders of major political parties raced against time to reach out to voters in a high-voltage campaign, marked by extensive use of technology and fair sprinkle of tinsel glamour, the war of words bordered on personal attacks with TDP and Congress hurling mutual charges of 'cash-for-tickets'.
While TDP focussed its campaign on 'Development versus Destruction' theme and attacked Congress for its alleged double standards on Telangana issue and naxalite violence, the opposition parties highlighted the plight of farmers, neglect of agriculture, irrigation and rural employment sectors and made free power promise its main poll plank.
As the first phase of polling covers extremist-affected Telangana region, elaborate security arrangements, including deployment of IAF helicopters, have been made to ensure peaceful polling.
Over 2.73 crore voters are expected to exercise their franchise in the first phase of polling for 21 Lok Sabha and 147 assembly constituencies spread over Telangana and North Coastal Andhra regions, besides the state capital.
The Union Ministers C H Vidyasagar Rao and Bandaru Dattatreya, the TDP leader in the dissolved Lok Sabha K Yerran Naidu, TRS President K Chandrasekhar Rao, AICC Spokesman S Jaipal Reddy, former Congress Chief Minister N Janardhan Reddy and state Home Minister T Devender Goud are among the prominent leaders whose fate will be decided in the first phase.
The emergence of TRS as a formidable political force was the highpoint of the poll scene as Telangana region, accounting for 107 assembly seats in the 294-member House and 16 Lok Sabha seats out of a total of 42 in the state, has the potential to tilt electoral scales.
Apart from Telangana issue, the TDP's 'pro-urban' tag in the face of growing urban-rural divide, severe drought and power tariff hike are among the challenges Naidu is facing in his run for a hat-trick.
Opting for early polls apparently to capitalise on perceived sympathy in the wake of an abortive assassination attempt on Naidu by naxalites, the TDP made extremism a key poll issue and accused the opposition Congress and TRS of 'joining hands with naxals in obstructing developmental programmes'.
Questioning the opposition parties for keeping mum on naxalite violence targetting TDP and BJP cadre, the Chief Minister, during his whirlwind electioneering, warned people that ultras will 'freely roam around the towns brandishing guns' if Congress was voted to power.
Claiming that there is an undercurrent of anti-incumbency, particularly in rural areas, the opposition parties are highlighting farmers' suicides, the adverse impact of unbridled privatisation, mounting public debt, winding up of public sector units and corruption and have called for an end to TDP's misrule.
In the constituencies going to polls in the first phase, as many as 3,173 villages have been identified as extremist-affected.
On behalf of TDP-BJP combine, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee launched poll campaign from Nellore town on April 3 and followed it up with two more public meetings at port-city Visakhapatnam and Rajahmundry, seeking a stronger mandate for NDA at the Centre and TDP in the state to ensure continuity in development.
The Congress President Sonia Gandhi addressed election meetings in Nizamabad, Mahaboobnagar and Visakhapatnam, calling for an end to 'misrule' at the Centre and the state.
The poll campaign was marked by a flurry of ad films by political parties on electronic media and extensive use of technology as a tool to provide punch to their campaign.
A strong battery of film and television personalities provided a non-stop, entertainment-filled poll campaign for TDP as they criss-crossed the state atop hi-tech vans, fitted with 16 mm projectors and public address system.
The heroine of yesteryears Vanisri pitched in for Congress whose poll campaign was spearheaded by Rajya Sabha member and noted Producer-Director Dasari Narayana Rao.
Popular actress Vijayasanthi, referred in film circles as 'Lady Amitabh' for her action-packed roles, was the star campaigner for BJP.
Tragedy struck BJP camp on the penultimate day of the first phase campaign with the death of popular South Indian actress Soundarya in a plane crash near Bangalore while she was on her way to Karimnagar to participate in electioneering.
The Lok Sabha constituencies going to polls in the first phase are Srikakulam, Parvathipuram, Bobbili, Visakhapatnam, Bhadrachalam, Anakapalli, Nagarkurnool, Mahaboobnagar, Hyderabad, Secunderabad, Siddipet, Medak, Nizamabad, Adilabad, Peddapalli, Karimnagar, Hanamkonda, Warangal, Khammam, Nalgonda and Miryalguda.