It is a bit like the Ugadi pachadi for Congress leaders from Telangana. Both sweet and sour. Sour because the parting with the Congress is taking place on a bitter note since the ruling party has taken no positive decision on Telangana. Sweet because changing the party increases their political virility.
K Chandrasekhar Rao, president of the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), is actually walking the extra mile, reaching out to MPs and MLAs in the Congress who he thinks can be assets for his party in the polls next year. Andhra Pradesh is due to vote for both the Lok Sabha and the Assembly at the same time in April-May 2014.
Given the antipathy towards the Congress in the region, the status of a passenger in KCR's ambassador car (TRS election symbol) is seen as a passport to reach the destination (read Lok Sabha or the Andhra Pradesh assembly) successfully.
Nagarkurnool MP Manda Jagannatham has already decided to join the TRS later this month. He was a TDP MP earlier who broke ranks after he was wooed by the late Y S Rajasekhara Reddy to defy his party whip to vote for the government in the nuclear trust vote in July 2008. Now before another general election, Jagannatham has decided to find a new nest.
He won't be short of company. Former Rajya Sabha MP Kesava Rao and two other Lok Sabha MPs, G Vivek and S Rajaiah are likely to leave the Congress hand too.
Having gained little from the Centre even after intensifying the agitation on the streets of the cities, towns and villages of Telangana from November 2009, KCR is now focusing entirely on the political battle. The election provides him with a huge opportunity to improve the TRS's political muscle and by co-opting ambassadors of the Telangana cause from the Congress and the Telugu Desam, KCR is establishing himself as the sole spokesperson of the region.
The TRS by announcing it will fight the polls alone, is also indicating its self-confidence. It realises that an alliance with the BJP will be a lose-lose scenario as not only will the TRS stand to lose the minority vote (that are a crucial factor in several assembly constituencies of the region) but also allow the saffron party to claim credit for Telangana in case the NDA comes to power in New Delhi.
The flip side is that there could be a few Mahbubnagars along the way (the BJP defeated the TRS in a bypoll in Mahbubnagar in 2012) but that is a risk the TRS seems to be willing to take. The pitch that is likely to be sold to the voters in the region is that unless they vote in big numbers for the TRS, there will be no Telangana.
That the onus will be on them not to fritter away their vote on other pro-Telangana parties (read the BJP and CPI). Such an argument is also likely to work since to give him credit, KCR has been pursuing this single-point agenda for more than a decade now and the others joined in much later.
But it is not as if the drive is not going to be bumpy for KCR. Organisationally the party is not strong in all districts of Telangana and it would do well not to dismiss the cadre strength of the TDP. Chandrababu Naidu's padyatra has also rejuvenated the party in the region though the trickle of leaders leaving the party has not quite stopped. The latest is MLA Gangula Kamalakar from Karimnagar district, who has junked the TDP bicycle for the TRS car.
Two, while the TRS has done very well in by-elections, its track record in general elections has not been anything to write home about. Only 26 of its candidates were elected to the Assembly in 2004 and the number dipped to 10 in 2009. Its leaders argue that on both occasions, it fought the elections in an alliance - with the Congress (in 2004) and the TDP and Left (in 2009). The failure to make an impact is another reason for deciding to remain single and unwilling to mingle this time.
The BJP will hope a Narendra Modi plus Telangana pitch will help it do better in the Lok Sabha elections than the Assembly polls. That will also be a challenge to the TRS as the middle class voters could strategically vote for the BJP in the Lok Sabha polls and the TRS in the Assembly.
For more than a decade, KCR has been selling a dream to the people of Telangana. The sentiment is still strong in many parts of the region but it is also coupled with disenchantment not only with the Congress but also with the TRS. That the party has used the emotion for statehood to gain politically, with KCR's family now virtually in control of the TRS.
The next election will be make or break for the TRS. If it wins anywhere close to one hundred seats in the assembly and 13-15 MPs, it will call the shots both in Hyderabad and in New Delhi. And KCR has a reputation of being a hard bargainer. But if it gets less than 60, it will be seen as empirical evidence that the Telangana sentiment is not widespread across the region as it is made out to be and will dilute the demand for statehood.
The ball is now in the Telangana polling booths.