The tiredness of a long day visible, she sat on a sofa and removed a pink stole bearing her party name. It was already 5 pm, and she had been out since morning. But Kalvakuntla Kavitha said her day was not yet over. There was still another round of campaigning to go.
December 7 may be still several days away — that’s the day Telangana votes to elect a new assembly — but Kavitha is leaving nothing to chance. In fact, the entire Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) leadership is sweating it out in the constituencies.
Two months ago, when Kavitha’s father and Telangana’s first Chief Minister, K Chandrasekhar Rao, dissolved the assembly to seek early election, the picture was very different — every TRS leader was exuding confidence and political observers were declaring KCR’s return to power a foregone conclusion.
In the two months since September 6, the ground has shifted in the state — the looks of confidence have waned, and election speeches devoted to welfare schemes, claims of winning 100-plus seats in a 119-member House now focus on rousing Telangana pride and sentiment. Earlier this week, KCR, before setting out on the election trail, performed a grand two-day religious ritual, Rajyashyamala Chandi Homam, at his farmhouse at Eravalli in the Gajwel constituency, praying for his party’s victory.
KCR and the TRS were stunned when Opposition parties — Congress, Telugu Desam Party, Telangana Jana Samithi and the Communist Party of India — formed a Mahakutumi (grand alliance). TRS sources said they never expected such an alliance in the run-up to the polls. With new internal surveys predicting tough battles in some constituencies, TRS leaders say they “just do not want to take any risk”.
On the ground, voters agree that the welfare measures — 56 at the last count — have touched almost everyone, be it the pension scheme that has more than 40 lakh beneficiaries in different categories, the social welfare hostels, and programmes like Kalyanalaxmi and Shaadimubarak that provide more than Rs 1 lakh financial assistance to each girl for wedding expenses. The general sentiment is still with the TRS because voters across religious lines praise the government’s populist measures, mostly monetized.
But what worries the party is the unemployment among the youth, the disillusionment among those left out of the schemes and an air of general discontent over the failure to usher in the promised “Bangaru (Golden) Telangana”. Rivals and critics underline the general perception that the TRS government is a family affair — KCR, his son and Information Technology Minister K T Rama Rao, his nephew and Irrigation Minister T Harish Rao, and daughter and Nizamabad Lok Sabha MP Kavitha call the shots in the state. There is also talk of “tacit understanding” between the TRS and the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) in Hyderabad and the BJP in Delhi.
“Where are the jobs he promised? Where is Golden Telangana? People believed in them, but they failed,” Nizamabad Congress leader Nazeeb Ali said. Sensing unease among the youth, the Telangana unit of the Congress has launched a separate campaign to reach out to unemployed youths, online and offline.
“When he announced dissolution of the assembly and candidacy of 105 immediately, repeating almost every sitting MLAs, he started losing. People did not like his arrogance. Two dozens were defectors from other parties. There is anti-incumbency against the MLAs and ministers,” said K Amarnath, a political analyst who is also an activist.
In Bodhan, delivery boy Rajesh Vemula believes that TRS popularity is strong in urban areas but has eroded somewhat in the rural areas — he has family in a village. “The promises were too many and some of them remained on paper. Those who enjoy the benefits (of schemes) are satisfied with the government, but those left out are angry,” he said.
In Sircilla, the constituency of K T Rama Rao (KTR), Bingi Kamalakar said the promise of providing jobs had been kept on the backburner. “The government should have done something to financially empower the youth. There are a lot of unemployed youth who are angry,” he said.
The Rythu Bandhu Scheme for farmers — investment support of Rs 8,000 per acre per year (Rs 4,000 each for Rabi and Kharif crops) — has made small and medium landowners happy, but it has left the tenant farmers disappointed. Although the government claims that tenant farmers are less than 20 per cent, a study conducted in 2017 showed that in each village, tenant farmers made 25 to 40 per cent of the households.
A study by NGO Rythu Swarajya Vedika found that more than 75 per cent of the farmers who committed suicide in Telangana during the last four years were tenant farmers. Official data pegs the number of farmer suicide at 1,149 while the unofficial toll is over 4,000.
Yet there are voters like Sreenivasan, who works at a textile mill in Sircilla, and Sreenivas Pochari, a washerman in Vemulavada, who don’t want KCR to go though they have not benefitted from government schemes and are disappointed that the Chief Minister did not do anything for their sectors. “We are confident that he will still do something for us. We don’t want him to lose power and discontinue the good work he does,” Sreenivasan said.