The polling for 175 Assembly and 25 Lok Sabha seats in Andhra Pradesh with 3.93 crore electors is all poised to end up in a cliffhanger on Thursday. Counting of votes is scheduled for May 23.
The Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu as a TDP nominee is seeking election for his seventh term in succession in Kuppam in his native Chittoor district, while his son and IT minister Nara Lokesh is seeking his fortunes in Mangalagiri in the capital region of Amaravati. Jagan Mohan Reddy of the YSRCP is seeking re-election from his stronghold of Pulivendula in Kadapa district. Actor and Jana Sena leader Pawan Kalyan has chosen to contest in both Bhimavaram in his native West Godavari district and Gajuwaka in Uttarandhra region.
The ruling TDP is going the whole hog, doing everything to come back in a “now-or-never” manner. Its leader weathers strong anti-incumbency that obviously comes in handy for opposition leader Jagan.
In 2014, Andhra voters, deeply hurt by the way their state was divided against their wish by the Congress-led UPA-II, chose an experienced leader like Chandrababu Naidu with a stint of nine years as CM over Jagan Reddy for rebuilding their truncated state. Jagan then missed the bus as the TDP managed to come to power with a slender margin of 1.78%.
Naidu says it’s still an incomplete mission, urging voters to elect his party for another term. He blames Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s broken promises for the fate of his home state. In an apparent bid to stoke regional sentiments, Naidu sought to paint Narendra Modi and Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao as evil forces for his home state. Naidu parted ways with the NDA in March 2018 after sharing power for three-and-a-half years.
The current general elections are crucial for the TDP chief to take forward the mission of building the national opposition parties into an alternative powerhouse to replace the Modi-led NDA if the latter falls short of numbers. Naidu is also obligated to ensure a smooth transition of power to his son Nara Lokesh on his home turf so as to play a bigger role in Delhi, as envisaged by former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda during TDP’s election rallies in the state a couple of days ago.
The Congress as a big brother seemingly failed to bell the cat as it is seen engaged in pitched poll battles against prospective allies in the opposition camp even as its president Rahul Gandhi himself has made a foray into Wayanad in Kerala, taking on the Left.
Surge of anti-incumbency
The five-year rule of the TDP triggered a surge of anti-incumbency, giving a fresh lease of life for the 47-year-old Jagan. Banking on the legacy of his father and Congress leader former Chief Minister YS Rajasekhar Reddy, who saw the downfall of the monolith of a TDP regime in 2004 with his electrifying welfare schemes like Rajiv Arogya Sree, free power for agriculture and fee reimbursement scheme, Jagan connected with the people at the grassroots with his 341-day marathon padayatra. He is accused by the TDP of having entered into an “unholy” alliance with Telangana Chief Minister KCR and Prime Minister Modi against the state’s interests.
Struggling to overcome anti-incumbency, Naidu doled out a slew of freebies such as Pasupu-Kunkuma and doubling of old age pensions, targetting over 90 lakh women from self-help groups and pensioners. In addition, he is at his best rousing the self-pride of Andhra people by liberally invoking Modi and KCR.
When his rhetoric of development centring around reforms and his sobriquet as ‘tech-savvy’ cost him heavily in 2004 forcing him into hibernation for a decade, Naidu apparently transformed himself now as a man of freebies.
Pre-poll surveys suggest a photo finish between the Naidu’s TDP and the YSRCP. But election management, in which Naidu is believed to have expertise, matters at the end of the day, his party stock hopes.
Although the TDP and the YSRCP are the main players, the presence of the BJP, the Congress and the Jana Sena with its allies, the Left parties and Mayawati’s BSP, has made it a multi-cornered contest.