On Friday morning, a list of 60 Congress candidates for elections to the Telangana Assembly started doing the rounds. Most of the names were known leaders who had represented those constituencies in the past. Among them was KR Suresh Reddy from Armoor constituency in Nizamabad district.
The list was fake but in the world of WhatsApp forwards, it acquired a life of its own. Which is why it was embarrassing when by noon, Suresh Reddy, the former Speaker of the erstwhile Andhra Pradesh Assembly declared that he was shifting loyalties to the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS). The Congress confirmed that Armoor would have been allotted to Reddy, a four-time MLA, if he had not moved sides.
Though the party is annoyed that a senior leader who enjoyed the perks of office during the Congress regime, chose to part ways when elections are at the doorstep, a section is also happy with Reddy's exit, calling him a âspent forceâ.
âIt will be one Reddy less from the Factory of Reddys as the Congress is derisively referred to,â said a Congress leader, hoping that the Armoor ticket can now be given to a young BC candidate.
It was not so much Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao's decision to dissolve the Assembly and go in for early polls that surprised the Congress. It was KCR's bravado in announcing the list of 105 candidates that helped mould the media narrative in his favour as it suggested that the captain of the TRS ship was high on confidence, going into battle.
Which is why the Congress has started work on releasing its candidates list as soon as possible. Former bureaucrat K Raju, who heads the core team in Rahul Gandhi's office, reportedly has a list of three to five candidates for each constituency and a team is poring over the names to grade the options. The effort is as much to keep pace with the TRS but also to ensure that those who are potential candidates like Reddy, do not shift sides.
The other ploy is to make former MPs contest the Assembly Election to reap the benefits of a larger mass base. For instance, former Karimnagar MP Ponnam Prabhakar is likely to try his luck from Karimnagar Assembly constituency.
Realising that KCR plans to train his guns on Congress President Rahul Gandhi, the party wants UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi to make her presence felt during the campaign, even if it means addressing just a couple of public meetings. The Congress believes there is positive sentiment for Sonia Gandhi as she is seen as having kept her promise to deliver Telangana.
The Congress-Telugu Desam alliance, both parties believe is a mutual need. The TDP faces the risk of extinction in Telangana and for the Congress, the intention is to ensure the anti-TRS vote does not split. The hope is that the Andhra settler vote in urban pockets and the TDP cadre would help the Congress and the transfer of vote can happen seamlessly. To make that happen will be the biggest challenge for the alliance because both partners are being thrown into the relationship and the lack of chemistry is apparent.
In 2014, at the height of the Telangana sentiment, the TRS won 63 Assembly seats out of 119. The opposition vote was then splintered between the Congress and the TDP-BJP alliance. The hope is that if the electorate can be convinced about the narrative of a TRS-BJP tacit understanding and the alliance works on the ground, there is a reasonable chance of upsetting the KCR applecart.
The Congress is also banking on TRS elements turning rogue. In the last four years, KCR ensured the TRS strength swelled to 90 by poaching MLAs from the opposition ranks, including 12 from the TDP. This means in every constituency, apart from the sitting MLAs, 88 of whom have been re-nominated, many other aspirants have been left high and dry. Most of them are original TRS leaders who rose from the Telangana movement and resent the paratroopers from the TDP and the Congress who will get to fight the election again. There is no guarantee that these leaders will want to work for the intra-party rivals and the opposition wants to tap their potential to create mischief.
Work on the Congress manifesto to do one better than the TRS is on. Among the promises is to extend the Rythu Bandhu scheme to the 14 lakh tenant farmers in Telangana. The KCR government is giving Rs 8000 per acre to 58 lakh landowners, incurring an expenditure of Rs 12000 crore every year. But there is resentment that the real tillers of the land are not benefiting and the money is being pocketed by landlords who reside in the cities.
Though on the face of it, it seems that the TRS has stolen a march over the Congress, the opposition believes this may well turn out like the hare and tortoise story. In the Telangana version of this fable, the tortoise can also take a lift from the TDP âbicycleâ (election symbol). But will it be good enough to beat the hare who is speeding away in the TRS âcarâ?