It's a battle of prestige for Andhra Pradesh's ruling TDP and opposition YSR Congress in the bye-election for Nandyal assembly constituency scheduled for Wednesday.
Both parties have gone all out to win as the result may indicate the direction in which the wind will blow in the 2019 elections.
Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and YSR Congress Party (YSRCP), the lone opposition party in the state assembly, are locked in a straight fight in what is being described as the costliest ever bye-election in the state's history.
Over 2.30 lakh voters are eligible to cast their votes in the bye-election. For the first time, the Election Commission will use the Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT), which helps the voters know the candidates they have voted for.
Though the Congress party, which drew a blank in the 2014 elections, has also fielded a candidate and there are 12 other candidates, the contest is between the TDP and YSRCP.
After the 2014 elections, this is the first time that the two parties are locked in a key poll battle. Though bye-elections for three assembly seats were held since 2014, they avoided a contest keeping in view the tradition to allow unanimous election caused by the death of sitting legislators.
Though Nandyal bye-election is also necessitated by the death of sitting legislator Bhuma Nagi Reddy, YSRCP this time decided to contest, claiming it as its own seat. Bhuma, a key political figure in Kurnool district, had switched loyalties to TDP last year.
TDP has fielded Bhuma's nephew Brahmananda Reddy, who is facing a tough challenge from Silpa Chandra Mohan Reddy. Interestingly, Mohan Reddy had quit TDP to join YSRCP, after the ruling party denied him a ticket.
The bye-election result will not only be seen as a referendum on the performance of TDP government but may virtually set the stage for the next elections. A win for YSRCP will put pressure on TDP and also lend legitimacy to its demand for the resignation of all 20 MLAs who crossed over to the ruling party over last two years.
The opposition party had been challenging TDP to make these legislators resign and face bye-elections. Four of these legislators were inducted in the state cabinet in April.
These four ministers include Akhila Priya, the daughter of Bhuma Nagi Reddy. She represents neighbouring Allagadda constituency. Interestingly, she was elected as the YSRCP candidate in the bye-election caused by the death of her mother Shoba Nagi Reddy in a road accident during the 2014 election.
Considering the high stakes, YSRCP chief YS Jaganmohan Reddy led the party's campaign in Nandyal by camping in the town for the past 15 days. On the other hand, the TDP's charge was led by party President and Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu.
The acrimonious campaign was marred by bitter attacks by the two leaders on each other. Some of Jagan's words angered the TDP. "It's not wrong to hang Naidu for not keeping poll promises," Jagan told one election meeting.
On another occasion, he said it would not be wrong if Naidu is shot dead on the road. He also called Naidu a thief for luring his party legislators to join the TDP.
The ruling party launched a bitter counter-attack on Jagan, digging up corruption allegations against him. Naidu went a step further by accusing Jagan's late father, YS Rajasekhara Reddy, of plotting a Maoist attempt on his life in 2003.
Almost the entire TDP leadership, including several ministers, participated in the aggressive campaigning.
The Congress party, which was virtually wiped out in the 2014 elections held in the immediate aftermath of bifurcation of undivided Andhra Pradesh, has fielded Abdul Khader, a High Court advocate.
Khader's presence may split the Muslim vote between the TDP and YSRCP. Muslims constitute about 25% of the voters.