Sensing chink in KCR armour, Congress pushes narrative of Sonia Gandhi as 'mother of Telangana'

In William Shakespeare's The Winter’s Tale, the ill-tempered king Leontes of Sicily orders his daughter Perdita to be abandoned in a faraway place when she is born. A shepherd brings her up, and the king sees her in dramatic circumstances when she is a grown-up. European audiences who watched this play were elated by this reunion of father and daughter. Some apparently sobbed with joy and fainted.

The “Telangana thalli”— or the “mother of Telangana”, as Congress leaders described Sonia Gandhi — claimed her child at an election rally near Hyderabad on Friday night. But the audience didn’t faint with joy. They might even start asking questions. The most important question is: Why didn’t Sonia come to see the “child” even once during the four-and-a-half years after Telangana was born?

Sonia and Rahul Gandhi with other Congress leaders at an election rally in Medchal, Telangana. PTI

Sonia and Rahul Gandhi with other Congress leaders at an election rally in Medchal, Telangana. PTI

But the claptrap of election rallies is not meant to be dissected like an animal in the laboratory. So Congress and Sonia did their emotional best — or worst as some might see it — to sell the mother-child yarn to voters. Congress leaders competed with one another to say why Telangana could never have been born without her. The reference, of course, was to the fact that the state was formed in 2014 by the UPA-II government.

For her part, Sonia spoke of Telangana being a new baby that has been neglected. The UPA chairperson said: “All mothers know what it’s like denying nutrition and good upbringing to children. Every mother wishes her children to grow up well. I feel sadness when I see Telangana.”

Watched by the leaders of Telugu Desam Party (TDP), the Telangana Jana Samithi and CPI, which are part of the Mahakutami alliance along with Congress, party chief Rahul Gandhi continued the theme, saying: “Sonia stood by your side when you fought for Telangana.”

If the ‘mother’ hadn’t come calling to Telangana for close to five years, it was, in fact, because Congress had abandoned the ‘child’. It was a case of goofing up in haste and repenting in leisure. In an unseemly hurry, Congress divided Andhra Pradesh in 2014, carving Telangana out of it. With the juggernaut of Narendra Modi marching through India and sensing a rout in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, the party broke the state with the hope of winning both parts of it.

Congress dreamed that the people of Telangana, once they got a separate state, would be grateful enough to stand by the party. They didn’t. It hoped that the promise of special status would prompt what remained of Andhra Pradesh to toe its line. It didn’t. With TDP and Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) winning Andhra Pradesh and Telangana respectively in 2014 and seemingly ensconced in the two states, Congress lost hope of getting them back anytime soon.

Cong smells power in Telangana

Like a hound on the scent of a fox, Congress is now smelling power in Telangana. This had been evident for some time now, but it was doubly confirmed at the Friday night rally. Apart from the mother-son tale that Congress was peddling to reclaim power in Telangana, two other things couldn’t be missed at the rally at Medchal, 30 kilometres north of Hyderabad.

One was that DK Shivakumar, Karnataka’s ace trouble-shooter, was prominent on the dais. Just in case you are wondering what the Congress leader from a neighbouring state was doing there, you must remember that Shivakumar is Karnataka’s richest politician. Officially, we were informed that Shivakumar’s services had been commissioned to “talk to” rebel Congress candidates in Telangana. The number of rebels Congress has in the field is always in direction proportion to the chances of the party’s victory. Congress had as many as 20 rebels in Telangana in this election.

There were other senior leaders as well to persuade rebels to withdraw from contest, but Shivakumar’s presence was most overpowering. Possession of wealth and skills of persuasion go famously hand in hand. With a victory in Telangana a distinct possibility — as Congress sees it — the party didn’t take a chance and did everything it could to ensure that the rebels didn’t make this election a slip between the cup and the lip.

The second thing that confirmed how seriously Congress is viewing the Telangana Assembly election is the fact that Sonia chose to campaign there despite poor health. She hasn’t addressed a single rally, so far, in any of the other four states going to polls: Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Mizoram. The party apparently thought her presence was essential for playing the Telangana-thalli card, which, in turn, was key to winning the state.

Sonia sets campaign theme

Though evident even earlier, the party’s campaign theme from now till the 7 December polling will be crystallised on the lines of Sonia’s speech. By projecting her as the fairy godmother who created the new state, Congress will pander to Telangana sub-nationalism, which was what TRS leader and Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR, as he is better known) did in 2014. Thus claiming credit for Telangana’s creation, Congress will also promise all the good things that KCR assured people but hasn’t delivered.

At the same time, Sonia walked the political tightrope at the rally — and the party leaders will continue to do that during the campaign — by promising “special status” to Andhra Pradesh. This was a condition on which TDP leader and Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu agreed to be an ally of Congress. This is aimed at pleasing the 60 lakh people of Andhra Pradesh origin in Telangana as well as the voters in Andhra Pradesh in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

At the root of Congress’ optimism is the fact that though Rao won Telangana in 2014, Congress didn’t do too badly. While TRS won with a vote share of 34 percent and 63 seats of 119, Congress polled 25 percent votes and 21 seats. What makes Congress a formidable opponent this time around is that TDP, its ally now, had a vote share of 14.5 percent and 15 seats. What also makes Congress hope for a win is the possible negative vote against KCR. The problem with the KCR government is not that it hasn’t done any good work. It’s simply that the chief minister made the mistake of promising too much.

During the long agitation for a separate state, the people of Telangana had been told ad nauseam that the sole reason for almost all their problems was that they remained part of Andhra Pradesh, which allegedly stole their resources and jobs. But even four-and-a-half years after Telangana became a separate state, they find little perceptible improvement in their lives, despite the flurry of populist schemes that target almost every section of the society.

The TRS leader may have lost the battle of perception about the work he has done, but two weeks before polling day, it’s yet too early to rule out his victory. The one thing that KCR can take comfort from is the fact that despite hyping up its campaign, Congress hasn’t projected a chief ministerial candidate, and the available choice for the top job in that party doesn’t exactly fill people with too much enthusiasm. Whether the story of Congress in Telangana will end on a happy note like Shakespeare’s tale of King Leontes will be known on 11 December, the day of counting of votes.

In the middle of all this hoo-ha about motherhood and statehood, one question begs to be answered: Where does BJP figure in Telangana? Answer: Like the “clown” in the Leontes story, BJP stays on the sidelines with little support in the state.

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Updated Date: Nov 24, 2018 19:30:24 IST

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