As TRS, Congress compete for tie-up with TDP, Chandrababu Naidu is faced with tough balancing act
Both the Congress and the ruling TRS are competing to ally with the TDP in Telangana. However, the choice before the TDP is a difficult one.
The TDP’s action of walking out of the NDA in Andhra Pradesh has now led to tremors in neighbouring Telangana. The BJP in Telangana has parted ways with the TDP long back. After leaving the NDA, the TDP has now become the most sought-after alliance partner in Telangana.
Both the Congress and the ruling TRS are competing to ally with the TDP to have an edge in 2019. Despite bifurcation inflicting heavy damage on the prospects of TDP in Telangana, it is still stronger in a few pockets, especially Hyderabad, where there is a sizable presence of Seemandhra voters. The TDP, which is desperate to ally with some party to survive in Telangana, is caught between the devil and the deep sea as any alliance choice in Telangana can have implications for the party in Andhra Pradesh.
The TRS and the Congress are wooing TDP in Telangana for the simple reason that the party still enjoys support among certain sections and pockets. This was evident from the TDP’s performance in Telangana in 2014, that too in the backdrop of bifurcation.
The TDP was the victim of the politics of bifurcation in the Telangana region, though it benefitted from it in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh. The TDP is seen as a party under the Seemandhra leadership. The Seemandhra region now constitutes the residuary state of Andhra Pradesh. The inter-regional acrimony inflicted heavy damage on TDP. The TRS successfully depicted TDP as a Seemandhra party during the 2014 elections. Despite such political headwinds created by the wounds of bifurcation, the TDP successfully won one Lok Sabha seat and 15 Assembly seats. Its alliance partner BJP, which was a votary of bifurcation, could get only one Lok Sabha seat and five Assembly seats. The BJP was instrumental in the bifurcation of the state. Still, the TDP performance was considerably percent better than the BJP, indicating the support enjoyed by the former in the Telangana region despite an unfavourable political climate.
In fact, the TDP's performance was only marginally lower than the Congress that delivered a separate state to the people of Telangana.
However, the TDP suffered deep erosion as most of its MLAs were poached by the TRS and the party is now left with only two legislators. Its lone MP also defected to the TRS. Besides, the party lost its cadre and lower rank leadership, mostly to the TRS. The party working president and MLA Revanth Reddy joined Congress.
In the wake of the 'notes for votes scam' (in which the TDP attempted to buy a nominated MLA for winning MLC elections; Chandrababu Naidu was caught on tape endorsing the deal), Naidu is shying away from leading the party's campaign against TRS from the front. This has further demoralised the party in Telangana.
There are historical and demographic reasons why the TDP still enjoys support in this region. The TDP under NT Rama Rao abolished the traditional village revenue system called Patwari, which local people hated for its high handedness. The introduction of mandal system has decentralised the public administration. Besides, the party has politically empowered OBCs. The sizable presence of Seemandhra origin voters especially in Hyderabad further bolsters the TDP.
The TDP's strength has significantly come down post-2014. However, the TRS and the Congress expect a very keen contest in 2019. In fact, the TRS did not get a landslide mandate in 2014 either. The party amassed its strength only by encouraging defections from other parties. In a narrow contest, any small additions to political parties’ tallies could prove to be decisive in defining the people's mandate in 2019. Thus, both the TRS and the Congress hope to secure these crucial additional votes with the support of TDP. The TDP may not get sizable seats. There is no question of the party repeating its 2014 performance if it contests on its own. Thus, the TDP leadership also feels that an alliance is crucial for the party's survival in Telangana. Thus, the TDP on one hand and the TRS or Congress on the other feel that any alliance between them can prove to be a win-win partnership in 2019.
However, the TDP's course of political action cannot be independent of its interests in Andhra Pradesh, as the party leadership is from this region and will be from Seemandhra even in future, given the dynastic character of leadership transition in the party.
The TDP is finding it difficult to make its choice and the party in Telangana is divided. A section is already batting for an alliance with ruling TRS, hoping to win few seats. The Revanth Reddy-led faction lobbied for an understanding with Congress. But, he left the party to join the Congress, making the pro-Congress voice feeble.
Chandrababu Naidu fears a possible backlash in Andhra Pradesh by arriving at an electoral understanding with TRS. The wounds of bifurcation are still fresh in the minds of the people. Several disputes between the two states remain unresolved. Such disputes include sharing of river waters, distribution of assets etc. These have the potential to flare up further in the run-up to elections.
Similarly, the TDP was historically an anti-Congress party. The TDP came to power in residuary Andhra Pradesh by exploiting people's resentment over what they believed to be an arbitrary bifurcation. Chandrababu Naidu, through all these years, left no stone unturned to keep the issue alive for his own political ends. The people of Andhra Pradesh still believe the bifurcation to be a nightmare and refuse to forgive the Congress for authoring it. Thus, the TDP is worried of the political fallout of any alliance with Congress. However, a section of the party argues that as of now, the electoral fight would be over the BJP's injustice to the state. Thus, according to this section, an alliance with the Congress may not be a cause of concern.
However, the party is yet to come to a decision on this. Thus, even as the TRS and Congress are keen on forging an electoral understanding with it, the TDP leadership is still to decide its Telangana strategy.
The writer is a former MLC in Telangana, former editor, The Hans India and Professor, Journalism, Osmania University
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