"I do not know how many in our party are on KCR's payroll."
This was how a senior Congress leader in Telangana reacted when asked if the party was prepared for an early battle. With K Chandrasekhar Rao dissolving the Legislative assembly, paving the way for early polls in the state, many in the opposition Congress are tentative, unsure of the Trojan horses in their stable.
The Congress response to KCR's decision, typical of the splintered nature of its unit in Telangana, is a divided one. While some feel it gives KCR an advantage, there are those who feel there is sufficient anti-incumbency against the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) to get the better of the ruling party. This group is banking on the alliance that the Congress is likely to stitch with the Telugu Desam and Prof Kodandaram's Telangana Jana Samiti (TJS). Nothing can lead the Congress to a second successive defeat in Telangana more than this smug and lazy attitude.
For one, arithmetic can work only if it is seen as fighting for a public cause. If parties and leaders come together with the sole purpose of defeating another politician and coming to power, the people usually do not bless the alliance. That is what happened in 2009 when Chandrababu Naidu joined hands with KCR to dislodge YS Rajasekhara Reddy. The Mahakutami, as it was called, came a cropper. It did not work the way it did in 2004 when YSR forged an alliance with the TRS, riding on agitations against agrarian distress and the Telangana cause respectively and defeated Naidu.
Ideally, the Congress-TDP alliance should have been firmed up by now and taken up issues that matter to the people, be it unfulfilled promises made at the time of creation of Telangana in 2014, farm distress or urban civic issues. Firming it up on election-eve will mean there is no guarantee the vote transfer from the Congress cadre to a TDP candidate and vice versa will take place smoothly. Even with a fledgling party like the TJS, haggling over seats has begun. The TJS wants to rather ambitiously contest on 35 of the 119 assembly seats and has even announced names of 20 candidates. The Congress is not willing to spare more than two.
But the TRS is not taking the possibility of arithmetic trumping chemistry lightly. It has started deriding the Mahagatbandhan as Maha Ghatiya Bandhan.
Congress leaders also argue that KCR is taking guard early because he wants to take advantage of the lack of preparedness of the opposition, including mobilisation of financial resources. Which is why this group within the party wants to take the legal route to prevent a poll this winter.
The argument is that the TRS submitted to the EC its support for one nation, one poll. Advancing assembly elections means forcing two elections on Telangana within four months of each other, incurring wasteful expenditure of around Rs 2500 crore. Moreover, this would also mean from September till May 2019, Telangana will be in election mode, stalling all development work. This is criminal waste of time given that the non-monsoon period is the best time to carry out developmental work.
The rationale for early polls is also being questioned. The legal battle that the opposition is certain to pursue will ask if KCR had lost his majority or there was a political crisis in Telangana that necessitated this decision.
"KCR cannot decide election dates based on what his astrologer advises him,'' says a Congress leader sarcastically.
With elections to be held within six months, the EC will have to conduct the process by the first week of March. The Congress strategy then is to point out that by that time, the Lok Sabha electoral routine will kick into motion. It wants to suggest to the EC that Telangana could be made to vote in the first phase, thereby ensuring the state votes for both Parliament and Assembly at the same time.
The EC has started the process of revision of electoral rolls on 1 September. Ideally this process will be completed only in the first week of January to enable all those who complete 18 years by December 2018 to vote. The Congress argument is that it is not fair to go to polls with an outdated voter list.
The Congress is also apprehensive that KCR would attempt to inflict last-minute damage by poaching on high-profile Congress leaders who have been in secret talks with him for many months now. This would help the TRS send the message that the Congress is a sinking ship.
Lastly, a separate assembly poll will help KCR make the election all about himself. With no tall leader of comparable stature in the opposition, KCR will dip both into the Telangana sentiment equating a vote for KCR as a vote for Telangana.
With no leader in its state unit to match KCR in stature, the Congress will bank heavily on Sonia and Rahul Gandhi to do the heavy lifting.
The Congress, to put it mildly, has its task cut out.
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Updated Date: Sep 06, 2018 15:20:09 IST