Will Congress’ Poll Arithmetic Steal KCR’s Thunder in Telangana?
Telangana Chief Minister and TRS leader K Chandrashekar Rao seemed supremely confident when he suddenly decided to go for an early election this year. In fact, he had openly supported the BJP on the idea of joint Assembly and parliamentary elections, but suddenly changed course and set the stage for early polls.
Arguably, this was because he did not want the TRS – a regional party – to get squeezed out in a Narendra Modi versus Congress battle for the Lok Sabha polls. Moreover, Rao could have felt that getting a clear mandate in the Assembly poll, ahead of a parliamentary election, would raise the TRS stock.
But, as Telangana heads to the polling booth, will the KCR gamble pay off?
The Congress was in disarray when the decision was announced, but it seems to have regrouped itself over the last two months, and the TRS does not seem as invincible as it was in September.
Telangana’s Vote Share Game
What has primarily changed is the fact that the Congress has stitched up an alliance – and a cohesive one at that – with the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), the Left and the Telangana Jana Samithi (TJS). Three of the alliance partners – TJS was formed in 2018 – had a combined vote share of over 40 percent that is more than the TRS’s 34.5 percent in 2014.
This is important because 2014 was the best ever election, by a massive margin, for the TRS.
In a united AP, its vote shares were 6 and 4 percent in 2004 and 2009 and its highest seat tally was 26 seats in 2004 when it had an alliance with the Congress.
This is a reminder that the Congress was the dominant party in the districts that formed Telangana in 2004 and 2009. But, in 2014, the TRS rode a wave election on the backdrop of the agitation, and subsequent decision, to divide Andhra Pradesh and its vote share, in the Telangana region, went up to 34.5 percent (62 seats)
While it was the Congress-led UPA government that announced the decision to divide Andhra Pradesh, in Telangana’s electoral narrative, it was the TRS and leader KCR who were seen as champions of the Telangana cause.
How TRS Spoiled Congress’ Caste Arithmetic
Given this, if the combined arithmetic of the alliance partners was better than the TRS vote share in its best-ever election, could it have changed dramatically over the last five years? To answer this question, it’s important to understand the composition of the sudden surge in the TRS vote in 2014.
Firstly, one part of the huge jump in vote share for the TRS was attributed to a major shift of SC/ST and backward caste votes from the Congress to the TRS. Led by the forward Reddy caste in the state, the Congress arithmetic was a combination of a section of the backward caste, Muslim and SC/ST vote.
A large chunk of the Congress’s SC/ST and Backward caste vote was seen to have gravitated towards the TRS as it suddenly became a regional party that was the favorite to be in power in a newly formed State. In effect, the Congress vote share dropped from approximately 36 percent in 2009 to 25 percent in 2014.
This is why KCR’s focus on social welfare schemes and populist politics is important. The incumbent Chief Minister hopes that these schemes would solidify the backward and SC/ST vote base that shifted towards the party.
But the Congress has been making strong efforts to regain presence among the castes it lost. Anti-incumbency is also stronger among lower economic sections of the society and the Congress hopes to build itself on this. It may not be able to regain the entire lost base, but it hopes wrest a significant shift.
The other significant portion of vote that shifted to the TRS in 2014 was the erstwhile TDP vote, which deserted the party after its stand against the formation of a separate Telangana. The TDP was seen as a party that championed the Andhra region and hence lost major presence in Telangana.
This vote, traditionally anti-Congress, can be considered as good as lost for the TDP and is likely to remain with the TRS. It must be remembered that KCR himself split from the TDP to form the TRS in 2001.
Congress-TDP-TJS: An Alliance of the Indispensables
Building on the mandate in 2014, over the last five years, the TRS has made Telangana a bipolar battle with the Congress. This is why TDP, the original party of Telugu pride and opponent of the Congress, has to rely on the Congress to make electoral gains in Telangana.
However, there is a section of old TDP loyalists, especially those who trace their origins to the Andhra region, who remain with the party and this number is larger in areas bordering Andhra Pradesh and in Hyderabad city. These votes will bolster the alliance arithmetic.
Additionally, Telangana Jana Samithi was seen as an organisation that spearheaded protests, especially among students, for a separate Telangana. The presence of the TJS as part of the grand Congress-TDP-Left alliance gives Congress the platform to puncture TRS’s claim as the sole champion of the Telangana cause.
All these factors indicate that while the vote dynamic and arithmetic of Telangana may have changed over the last five years, the alliance arithmetic remains a formidable factor and seems to have strong electoral logic. The question is can the KCR charisma overpower this arithmetic?
(The writer is an independent journalist. He can be reached @TMVRaghav . This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same. )