Telangana2018
Rebel leaders, independents, “friendly contests” are all part of the drama playing out in India's youngest state.

If you are a voter in Telangana, the state that goes to polls in less than a week, don’t despair if you still haven’t figured out which party is in cahoots with who. With alliance accusations flying left, right and Centre (pun intended!), most party cadre are sailing in the same boat as you. 

The BJP alleges Telangana Rashtra Samiti-AIMIM-Congress is one, the Congress counter alleges TRS and BJP as being on the same team, while of course there is the surprise alliance of Congress-TDP-TJS-CPI called the Prajakutami or the People’s Front. And if this isn’t enough confusion, add the rebel leaders, independents, “friendly contests” in constituencies where an arrangement between the allied parties could not be reached, and you have the script for yet another Great Expectations episode in the series of Indian elections. 

Let’s start with the firsts.

After its creation in 2014, this is Telangana’s first Assembly Election.

The first Legislative Assembly of Telangana was dissolved before term, calling for early elections in December 2018, as opposed to being called alongside Parliamentary Elections in May 2019.

And now for the head-turning first, the first of firsts, if you wish: Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party (TDP) joining hands with the Congress, a party it has vehemently opposed since its inception in 1982. TDP’s founder, cine idol NT Rama Rao, had famously floated the TDP on the plank of Telugu aatma gouravam (Telugu self-pride) and went on to win and form the first non-Congress government of Andhra Pradesh in 1983. The TDP and Congress have been bitter political rivals for 35 years but have been forced to come together to find relevance and ground in a state they both lost in 2014.  

The head-turning ‘first’, though, goes to renowned revolutionary poet and balladeer Gaddar sharing the stage with Congress President Rahul Gandhi and giving a bear hug to TDP supremo Chandrababu Naidu in Khammam on November 28. It was an inconceivable moment up until now, given Gaddar’s staunch opposition to Naidu’s hardline strategy against Naxals and an assassination attempt on him during the TDP regime in 1997. But like I said, it’s the season of political firsts in the state.

Despite having won 63 seats in 2014 in Telangana and gaining a vote share of 34.3%, the TRS now holds 90 seats out of the 119 constituencies of Telangana. With most bigwigs and elected representatives from Congress, TDP and other parties jumping aboard the TRS ship soon after, the opposition was all but abandoned in the state.

Seats held in 2014

Current scenario

It is this compulsion to start from scratch, coupled with political grievances of being sidelined, not being given tickets and the ambition to wrest back territory from K Chandrasekhar Rao that has stitched four very different pieces of political fabric together as the opposition flag.

Challenges are aplenty. After some now-here-now-gone alliance talks and high drama posturing, the list of candidates was hesitantly agreed upon by the TDP, Congress, TJS and the CPI, barely before the nomination deadline. But will party heads be able to convincingly justify their decision to the cadre on the ground? Will cadre, TDP’s biggest strength, rally behind erstwhile rival Congress candidates in constituencies where the seat has been allotted to the grand old party? The alliance has so far also dodged the issue of declaring their CM candidate. There is also the trouble of a strong campaign face for the alliance. Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, Chandrababu Naidu are the star campaigners, not one face though, from the contesting candidate fray. On the other side is the sharp-witted and crowd savvy KCR family -- clear in its candidature, sarcasm, war plan and power centre.

With no permanent foes or friends in politics, analysts feel that the Congress, TRS, TDP, BJP and AIMIM are all testing waters through alliances and veiled support, before they re-group, re-align and re-negotiate in May 2019.

For now, the burden of finding sense in this chaos and making a choice is on the voter.

 

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