Telangana 2018
Will the TRS’ schemes keep Gampa Govardhan in power, or will Shabbir Ali’s work as former minister tip the scales in his favour?
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There’s chaos in the party offices of the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) and the Congress in the Kamareddy Assembly constituency of Telangana, as the constituency’s former MLA, senior Congressman and former minister Shabbir Ali and incumbent TRS MLA Gampa Govardhan go head to head for the fifth time.

Kamareddy was once considered an impenetrable Congress bastion. From 1952 to 1978, with the exception of one independent candidate who was elected in 1967, the seat was held by the Congress. In 1982, the rise of actor-turned-politician NT Rama Rao and the formation of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) bolstered a new wave in Kamareddy’s political history, with the new party storming into power.

Gampa Govardhan vs Shabbir Ali

Shabbir Ali, who began his career as a student leader in the Kamareddy Degree College as youth Congress leader, and became one of the prominent faces of the Congress, and has been acquainted with the first family of the Congress party from the very beginning of his career —  from Rajiv Gandhi to Rahul Gandhi. He was first elected in 1989, and went on to become the Minister of Minority Welfare and Information at the time.

Gampa Govardhan, a government whip and four-time MLA, started off as a politician in the TDP, when he entered the fray in 1994 on a TDP ticket, and defeated Shabbir, the then incumbent MLA.

Since Govardhan’s entry, the battle for the Kamareddy seat has always been bitter.

In 2004, Shabbir won from the seat during the YS Rajashekar Reddy regime (2004 to 2009) and was the Minister for Power. Gampa Govardhan, who won in the subsequent election in 2009 on a TDP ticket as a candidate from the then alliance of the TRS, TDP, CPI and CPM, soon resigned from the TDP. He then resigned as an MLA in 2011, in the wake of the Telangana agitation for separate statehood.

He then joined hands with the TRS and K Chandrasekhar Rao, and contested and won the bye-polls in 2012 as a TRS candidate, and subsequently won in the 2014 elections. Govardhan has now been the sitting MLA for close to a decade.

While they have both previously been elected from the constituency, they may be banking on different issues to take them to victory.

Tiding over anti-incumbency

In Kamareddy, whose economy is largely dependent on agriculture, irrigation and the concerns of beedi workers (who are mostly women) are the main issues. Additionally, the lack of employment opportunities which is leading to more people migrating to countries in the Gulf, along with the demand for turning the area into an education hub as it already known for various educational institutions.

While Govardhan is banking on KCR's populism, welfare schemes and development activities, Shabbir Ali believes that there is 'complete discontent'  among voters with regard to the TRS regime.

Chintala Tirupati Reddy, a graduate and a young farmer from Gudem, a village which falls in the limits of Kamareddy mandal, is seemingly unsatisfied with the incumbent MLA and TRS government, despite being a beneficiary of KCR's Rythu Bandhu scheme.

"I never saw our MLA speaking on local issues in the Assembly. In fact, it's the rule of a few. No one will be spared if they speak. I don't want a silent leader,” he told TNM.

He further went on to that the Rythu Bandhu scheme is only advantageous to big farmers, though they don't need it. “I know at least 10 Dalit farmers who have been cultivating some pieces of land since my childhood, but they neither have documents on their name nor Rythu Bandhu assistance. How can we say this is inclusive?" he asked.  

The Rythu Bandhu scheme, however, may be the TRS’ winning hand. Srujan*, a native of Domakonda’s Muthyampet village, said that certain sections of the electorate, like beneficiaries of old-age pension, allowances and pensions of beedi workers and of the Rythu Bandhu scheme are in favour of the TRS.

Who wins in Kamareddy is believed to be decided by its women voters, who outnumber the men by 5.83%. Four women beedi workers in Lingapur village, which is in Kamareddy, said that they would vote for the TRS. Rangavva* a farmer and beedi worker, said, “These days, even own son or brother does not give us a rupee, but the KCR government gives beedi workers Rs 1000 and other pensions to widows. We feel it's necessary to reelect TRS,” she said.

She further added that there’s often a cash crunch just before and during the monsoon season, which the Rythu Bandhu allowance helps them tide over.

While some people claim that they want to be loyal because of the benefits they receive, there is some dissatisfaction among people against incumbent Govardhan, which may tip the scales in favour of Shabbir Ali.

When it comes to Shabbir Ali’s credentials, Congress leaders say that him solving the drinking water problem in Kamareddy and bringing electricity infrastructure during his tenure as Minister from 2004 to 2009 will matter. Shabbir Ali's initiatives as a minister in YS Rajashekar’s cabinet may also be in his favour.

S Raju, a local Congress leader from the Domakonda mandal headquarters, claimed that there is backlash to the TRS campaign, and that there is discontent among people. “People didn't forget Shabbir Ali's infrastructure developments such as the sub-station and the Primary Health Centre (PHC) in Domakonda,” Raju said.

One point of contention is the Pranahita Chevella project, an irrigation project that was introduced during the Congress regime in pre-bifurcation Andhra Pradesh. Once the TRS government came to power, the project was redesigned. Shabbir Ali has alleged earlier that KCR halted the project in the name of redesign for his gains. 

However, there might be a new entrant into the fray who may throw a spanner in the works — the BJP’s Venkataramana Reddy Katipally. Observers say that Venkataramana’s work on the ground may help get a foot in the fight, which, up until now, has been a battle between Govardhan and Shabbir Ali.

With the two political giants all set to battle it out, it remains to be seen if Shabbir can wrest the seat back from Govardhan and put Congress back in the seat, or if the senior TRS leader will continue holding power for another five years.

Follow TNM's coverage of the Telangana Assembly Elections 2018 here.