By K Ramachandra Murthy
It was completely a one-sided war in Telangana. A tsunami swept across Telangana. Most of the exit polls predicted a clear victory for Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), but not such a clean sweep. TRS president Kalvakuntla Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR) was extremely confident of winning more than 90 out of the 119 seats. He should thank his neighbour Nara Chandrababu Naidu, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the CPM for the miraculous turnaround when Andhra Pradesh chief minister decided to aggressively campaign for People’s Front. Had the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) chief not intervened for his own reasons, Congress party with the support of Prof. Kodandram would have been able to stand up to the might of the TRS without compromising on moral grounds. The moment Rahul Gandhi accepted Chandrababu’s hand of friendship and decided to work together for a national front (or any other name) starting with Telangana elections, the die was cast in favour of the TRS. Had Rahul followed some morals and kept away from opportunistic alliance with the TDP refusing to shake hands with Chandrababu, he would have performed better in Telangana besides bagging Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. Mizoram is too tiny a State to make a difference. The Mizo National Front has got a clear verdict there. Winning three BJP-ruled States and doing well in a TRS State could have given a boost to Rahul’s image, especially since he has not been able to instil confidence in party leaders and workers so far. This is his hour of glory from the time that he has taken over the reins from his mother. This would give him the much needed self-confidence and help him lead the coalition, which is being cobbled, in the run up to the ensuing Lok Sabha elections in April-May 2019.
Considering that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had spent a lot of energy and time on Rajasthan, the BJP’s failure there, though expected, certainly hurts his ego. Modi must have worked overtime trying to make a Gujarat in Rajasthan by turning the tables on his rivals. The PM and the BJP president Amit Shah have to rethink and sit once again at the drawing board to prepare a fresh roadmap for the general elections. One can understand the BJP chief ministers of MP and Chhattishgarh losing after fifteen years long stay at the helm. The result in Rajasthan is not surprising. It stuck to the trend, since 1993, of defeating the incumbent.
Congress pays the price for aligning with TDP
Congress party in Telangana committed a series of mistakes. Lacking in self-confidence, TPCC chief Captain Uttam Kumar Reddy had agreed to welcome tainted young leader Revanth Reddy knowing that he is the pointsman of Chandrababu in Telangana. How can a national party admit into its fold a leader who was caught on tape offering currency notes to a TRS MLA to vote for a TDP candidate in Legislative Council elections? Revanth is accused number one in ‘note for vote’ case. Rahul or any other senior leader at the AICC should have objected to the proposal to rope in Revanth at least on moral grounds. True, Revanth is a very resourceful, bold and clever leader who has the gumption to take on KCR. But what about ethical values? For Rahul, who is yet to complete one year of stewardship of the Congress, moral values seem to be unimportant. Winning, by hook or by crook, is all that matters to the Congress leadership today. Chandrababu Naidu has pioneered the art of wooing voters through manipulative tactics and money. Rahul Gandhi was telling media persons the other day that he and Chandrababu have been working together for some time and he finds a lot of common ground between them. That was why they fell in love at first sight and decided to forget and forgive each other by burying the past in order to defeat the dangerous duo—Modi and Shah. But Rahul did not realise that he was committing political suicide by embracing a leader who is perceived as an enemy of Telangana by a majority of the people. The red-carpet welcome extended to the TDP supremo and candidates who were bitter critics of Chandrababu until recently being seen standing with folded hands behind him was a sordid spectacle the Telangana protagonists could not stand. Professor Kondandaram, a person who played important role in Telangana statehood movement, and Gaddar, a balladeer who spent his life supporting the Maoist party, hugging Chandrababu was detested by the people of Telangana.
Since winning was all that mattered to Rahul who was finding it difficult to mobilise funds for the campaign, Chandrababu was allowed to have his photograph as big in size as that of Rahul in full-page advertisements given to all the newspapers for a week at the rate of two full-pages a day. One can easily imagine as to who was funding the campaign. Compared to the money spent on advertisements by the Front, TRS was frugal as far as expenditure on publicity was concerned. Chandrababu, who has become a non-entity in Telangana after 13 of the 15 TDP MLAs, who won in 2014 elections, crossed over to the TRS, has come back into the act by sharing dais with the Congress president at Khammam rally and addressing street corner meetings together in Hyderabad. The Congress has apparently paid the price for dealing with the devil. Anybody with an iota of commonsense would understand that having a tie-up with the TDP in Telangana would be an outright folly considering the way Chandrababu Naidu was perceived as creating hurdles to the process of implementing the promises made in AP Bifurcation Act, 2014. He was also allegedly writing letters to the Centre objecting to a number of irrigation projects being built across Telangana. Chandrababu’s stock as a political leader has taken a severe beating in the last four and half years during which he did precious little for the development of Andhra Pradesh. Even his secular credentials are spurious as he did not have single Muslim minister in his cabinet as long as the TDP was in bed with the BJP in NDA. Only after exiting from the alliance with Modi did Chandrababu start talking about minorities. He gave a berth in his cabinet to a Muslim only recently, less than six months before general elections.
Lessons for Rahul Gandhi
There are a number of lessons for Rahul Gandhi to learn from his Telangana experiment which was doomed at the very outset. 1) As the president of a national party, he should never abandon the moral high ground and enter into opportunistic alliances. 2) He should consult the local leadership before deciding on tie-ups with parties like the TDP which has been a sworn anti-Congress party both at State and national level. 3) He should continue the practice of sending senior leaders from Delhi to persuade party rebels to withdraw from contest to help the official candidates. He has to select the candidates in more transparent and democratic way. 4) The Congress president should involve the cadres in various activities to mobilise people on important issues even after elections get over. 5) The party chief should visit the States and interact with party workers more frequently. Addressing rallies during elections alone would not energise the party machinery. It has to be a continuous process. 6) Making tall promises in election manifesto will not suffice. The party has to explain how the promises would be fulfilled and how the funds that are required would be mobilised. 7) Selection of candidates should be completed by the time the election schedule is announced. In Telangana this time too, as always, the Congress high command went on with the exercise almost till the time for filing nominations was over. 8) Attacking the incumbent government on issues and making allegations against prime minister or chief ministers is part of the game. But the party should offer alternative policies and solutions to improve the living standards of the people. In the election campaign, the Congress leaders did not mention the name of illustrious leaders like PV Narasimha Rao, Marri Chenna Reddy and Dr YS Rajasekhar Reddy. Instead, they were nodding in agreement when Chandrababu was making false claims like building Cyberabad and Rajiv Gandhi International Airport. Former Congress MP Lagadapati Rajagopal made a fool of himself by obliging Chandrababu and announcing before the polls that the Congress-led alliance would win in the elections. His credibility, however little, has gone to dogs.
There are lessons for Prof Kodandram too. The professor who spent most of his time in classrooms teaching political science, has faltered when it came to practicing politics. Political observers who respected Kodandram for his contribution to Telangana movement feel that he should not have floated a political party. Even if he founded one, he should not have entered into an alliance with the TDP. If he has a relationship with the Congress or even the BJP, nobody would question him since both are pro-Telangana parties. He should have said a firm ‘No’ when the Congress was trying to invite the TDP into the alliance. There were no strong leaders in Kodandram’s Telangana Jana Samiti (TJS) who can win an election. All the five he fielded have lost. He did not contest. He assured the people, in his capacity as the future chairman of manifesto implementation committee that he would see that the promises listed in the election manifesto would be implemented in toto. It is a very difficult task. The people of Telangana were witness to Juvvadi Chokkarao’s plight as chairman of Telangana Regional Development Committee. Had he opted to just campaign for the Front without being a part of it, he could have retained his stature.
Massive setback for Chandrababu
The biggest loser in the whole exercise is TDP supremo Chandrababu Naidu. He went in for a big gamble by dabbling in Telangana elections. Known for manipulative politics, Chandrababu crossed his own limit by joining hands with the Congress. Whatever may be his compulsions, he should know at least now that opportunistic politics will not be supported by the people when there is a credible option. Rahul and Chandrababu had drawn up a roadmap for 2019 elections. A non-BJP front was being created. The Opposition meet in Delhi on the 10th is a step towards this goal. After the Telangana rout, the Congress should have second thoughts about its decision to work with Chandrababu. Had the People’s Front won in Telangana, he would have boasted in Andhra Pradesh and Delhi about his skills. He and his friends in the media have to find a way to keep his image intact. But the slide down is likely to continue further greatly impacting the prospects of his party in AP which is already far behind the Opposition in popular esteem. Whether the alliance between the Congress and TDP would continue in AP in the light of the election results in Telangana has to be seen.
KCR, in contrast, has been very clear in his mind about the way he and his party should go about in the elections. He addressed the people of 90 constituencies. He occupied the TV space for almost ten days addressing six to eight meetings a day. He emulated Indira Gandhi in the sense that he communicated directly with the people. Even for Indira Gandhi, the media was not sympathetic. That was why she chose to address the issues and explain her government’s achievements and her party’s policies directly to the people.
The TRS supremo did not bank on publicity in newspapers or news channels. He explained the development and welfare programmes that will be implemented if he is re-elected. The Congress leader used improper language while talking about KCR and his family members. KCR is known for his pungent language adopted to attack his rivals during the movement. He deliberately avoided violent language while the Congress leaders were speaking in a very aggressive and impolite way. Young leaders like Revanth and Sampath were foul-mouthing KCR and his family members. People did not appreciate the offensive language used by the Congress leaders in their attempt to emulate KCR’s language during the movement. Perhaps that dented their chances even further. All the Congress leaders who were attacking KCR day in and day out were utterly defeated in the elections. The people of Telangana have reposed confidence in KCR by giving him greater majority than what they gave in 2014. All the chief ministerial candidates in the Congress lost their elections, as predicted by KCR during the campaign.