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Riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma

Since Andhra Pradesh may well decide the next Central government on May 16th,its political peculiarities demand national attention.

Rahul Verma & Dhananjai Joshi |
May 2, 2009 12:13:44 am

Since Andhra Pradesh may well decide the next Central government on May 16th,its political peculiarities demand national attention. The state is crucial for the Congress as it needs to retain as much it can of its tally of 29 in Lok Sabha and 185 in the Vidhan Sabha. It is a do-or-die battle for the state’s former “CEO” Chandrababu Naidu’s Telegu Desam Party (TDP),and also for the Telangana Rastriya Simiti’s (TRS) hope of keeping the flames of a ‘separate Telengana’ alive. Chiranjeevi’s Praja Rajyam has also joined the bandwagon to articulate the aspirations of the Kapu community,one of the largest communities in the state with over 10 per cent votes. He has made the race more dynamic,as has the TRS and Left switching sides. A new Mahakootami (grand alliance) led by the TDP is being projected as the “absolute victor’ of 2009. However,the questions is to what extent will Chiranjeevi and Mahakootami succeed in upsetting the calculations of Congress?

Though there is an element of truth in these ‘hopes’,for many reasons,Chiranjeevi and Mahakootami alone do not hold the key to Andhra’s battle this summer. The proposition that Chiranjeevi may garner Kapu communities vote en-bloc seems simply unrealistic and illogical. The National Election Study-2004 conducted by Centre for Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) reveals that the TDP polled around 46 per cent of the total Kapu votes while Congress polled 33 per cent in the 2004 Assembly Elections. More recently the CSDS/CNN-IBN State of the Nation Survey—January 2009 (indicates that the Congress will retain most of its Kapu votes,while the TDP will be reduced to less than half at only 22 per cent. Praja rajyam might get over 30 per cent of the total Kapu votes,but that is far from being en-bloc voting. Moreover TDP’s reward of dumping the BJP and gaining among Muslims comes at the cost of Upper Caste votes. The ongoing ‘reservation’ controversy between the two large schedule caste communities,Malas and Madigas too seem to be paying rich dividends to Chandrababu Naidu. Only 26 per cent Malas seem to have voted for TDP in 2004,but the CSDS survey reveals that TDP is all set to gain over 16 percentage points among Malas.

A closer look at the regional patterns presents a clearer picture of the battleground in Andhra. The TRS with its ‘loss of steam’ in 2008 seems to be breathing fresh air in the Telengana region with new partners. Stories of the Left devoting its cadres in Telengana will give a boost to the alliance’s performance in thiscrucial region with 119 assembly and 17 Lok Sabha seats. Congress and the TDP,both need to pay head to the fact that the coastal districts of Vizianagaram,Vishakhapatnam,East Godavari,West Godavari and Srikakulam have a significantly large presence of Kapus. These districts account for 68 assembly seats. With a tri-angular contest in these areas nobody knows whose side the pendulum will finally tilt,but certainly Praja Rajyam can play spoiler. However in the southern coastal belt,Praja Rajyam does not seem to have much of a chance. This region is a TDP stronghold and even in its wipe out in 2004,the party managed to maintain its presence in this region. The Rayalaseema region with 52 assembly seats,holds the key this time. Though traditionally a Congress stronghold,many Congress MLAs won here last time with small margins. If anti-incumbency does not take a toll here,Congress might easily retain this ‘fort’ as TDP’s allies do not have much of a hold in this region. PRP will again add to the spice,but its role in this regional battle will again be more of a spoiler than a winner.

Given the advantage of the TDP Mahakootami this summer,it still may not have the numbers for itself to form the next government in the state. Congress,being a loner this time,may fall little short of a majority,and internal rebellions are further spoiling the party’s prospects. Around 60 sitting MLA’s have been denied tickets neutralising the anti-incumbency effect,and many of them are damaging the party’s hopes overtly or covertly. Though the BJP and the BSP may still not have developed the capacity to play the role of spoiler in the state,the multi-cornered contest in Andhra is certainly difficult to predict. Though Praja Rajyam might not win many seats in the Lok Sabha elections,it might be in a position to hold the key to power in the state. However,it needs to be noted that in the past elections,voters have awarded almost the same verdict to the parliamentary elections as they have to the assembly elections.

The writers are researchers at Lokniti,CSDS,Delhi

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