Telangana: Congress sees a chance to break through decade-old BRS rule

Rahul Gandhi's efforts to unite the Congress and its six guarantees, so successfully implemented in Karnataka, look like the aces in the Grand Old Party's pack!

Congress will fulfil aspirations that led to Telangana's formation, says Rahul Gandhi, pictured far left with Congress workers (photo: National Herald archives)
Congress will fulfil aspirations that led to Telangana's formation, says Rahul Gandhi, pictured far left with Congress workers (photo: National Herald archives)

Naheed Ataulla

Armed with its six guarantees and buoyed by the party's electoral success  in neighbouring Karnataka six months ago, the Indian National Congress is raring to take on the ruling Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) in the Telangana elections later this month.

It will be counting on the anti-incumbency factor, even as it works to bring together its top leaders and their supporters who have in the past been criticised for pulling against each other rather than pulling together. However, the state Congress is ready to put that behind itself as it stretches to overthrow the decade-old rule of BRS chief minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao.

Telangana, the youngest of India's state, which was carved out of Andhra Pradesh in 2014, goes to the polls on 30 November. The poll notification  was issued on Friday, 3 November, with 10 November declared the last date for filing of nomination papers and 15 November the deadline for withdrawal of candidatures. The counting of votes will take place on 3 December.

The contest across the majority of the 119 Assembly seats promises to be a close contest between the BRS and the Congress.

The BJP, which won just one seat in the 2018 Assembly polls — from Goshamahal, in Old Hyderabad city — is nowhere in the final reckoning. However, it may still play spoilsport for the Congress by indirectly helping the BRS cause.

The All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) won seven seats last time in Old Hyderabad city, which has been its traditional stronghold all these years.

The BRS had won 88 seats overall and the Congress just 19, which went down to 6 finally, with some MLAs defecting to the BRS. A party requires 60 seats to form the government; the BRS had ample.

During the distribution of tickets, no party was free from the rebellious tantrums of those who were denied.

Among the disgruntled Congress leaders were Nagam Janardhan Reddy, former MLA P. Vishnu Vardhan Reddy (son of the late party veteran P. Janardhan Reddy) and the former Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee president Ponnala Lakshmaiah, who joined the BRS.

Vishnu Vardhan Reddy, who was an aspirant for Jubilee Hills, a Muslim- dominated constituency, quit after the party gave the ticket to former  cricketer and party state vice-president Mohammed Azharuddin.

The Congress's 'takeaways' from the BRS included former MLA M. Sudheer Roy and his son Sharath Chandra Reddy, the sitting zilla parishad chairperson for Medchal–Malkajgiri, former MLC Akula Lalitha and former legislator Mynampally Hanumantha Rao, among others.

For the BJP camp, the biggest loss was former Munugode MLA Komatireddy Rajagopal Reddy, who bagged a Congress ticket the very day he quit the BJP. This was of course a homecoming for Reddy, who was a Congress man earlier.

Another interesting pair of departures were those of BJP's manifesto committee chairman and former MP Gaddam Vivek Venkataswamy and, alongside, party spokesperson Angula Rakesh Reddy. 

What is favouring the Congress? 

"It is the josh (high spirits) among the cadres infused by Rahul Gandhi taking Telangana seriously and trying to unite the state unit with his Bus Yatra," said one political observer. "The six guarantees announced  are expected to favour the Congress here, just as they did in Karnataka."

According to a senior journalist in Telangana, while the first list announced by the Congress indicated bright prospects, the second one (which had  turncoats being accommodated) is causing concern for some in the party. "The selection of candidates has been solely on the winnability factor, whether the person is a day old or 100 years old in the party. This has, understandably, angered some loyal old-timers," he told us.

Congress sources said political strategist Sunil Kanugolu, who came up with the winning campaign strategies for the Karnataka polls, has been  assigned to Telangana too.

Besides, Karnataka deputy chief minister DK. Shivakumar, who is known for his electoral management skills, has done one round of campaigning in the state. "Shivakumar is the bridge between the Congress high command and the Telangana party unit," the source stated.

Unlike in Karnataka, where the choice for the chief minister's post was clearly between Shivakumar and Siddaramaiah, there are leadership aspirants in Telangana but no clear front-runners. 

The contenders include Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee (TPCC) president Anumala Revanth Reddy, belonging to the  dominant Reddy community; Congress Legislative Party leader Bhatti Vikramarka Mallu, who is from the Dalit community; Nalgonda MP N. Uttam Kumar Reddy,  so another Reddy; Campaign Committee chairman Madhu Yaskhi Goud, from a backward class; and MLA Danasari Anasuya, alias Seethakka, representing the Gotti Koya tribe.

Though a section of Congress members have accused Revanth Reddy of  allegedly 'selling' tickets, the party high command is said to be happy with his performance as PCC chief — and his fierce attacks on Chandrasekhar Rao.

While a major factor in the Congress to return to power in Karnataka was the overwhelming support of the Muslims, the community's vote bank in Telangana vote bank is expected to be split between the BRS and the Congress.

Muslims account for 12.5 per cent of the state's population and are a deciding factor in 40 of the 119 constituencies.

The BRS government's welfare programmes for Muslims and the tussles over ticket allocation to Muslim members of the Congress party may prove to be deciding factors therefore. 

On the BRS side, the chief minister himself is contesting from two constituencies — Gajwel in Siddipet district and Kamareddy from Kamareddy district. If the BRS pulls off a hattrick, Chandrasekhar Rao is the automatic choice for the CM's post again, too — which could be a blessing or a weakness. "The BRS is a one-leader (Chandrasekhar Rao) army, whereas in the Congress, every member is a leader,'' sources said. Rao represents the Velama community, 4 per cent of the Telangana population.

As for the BJP, with its chances of forming any government in the South  looking bleak, the biggest guns have been brought out—three Lok Sabha MPs of the total four from the state, including former state unit president Bandi Sanjay Kumar. 

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