As the counting of votes began across polling stations in Telangana on Tuesday, a minivan pulled up at Gandhi Bhavan - the Congress headquarters in Hyderabad, loaded with drums that were to be played as the winning candidates arrived at the party headquarters. However, within a few hours after the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) started leading in votes across the state, the van along with the drums made a quiet exit.
For the Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee (TPCC), the beating they took in the Telangana elections stood out even as the party’s state units in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan managed far better. In Telangana, the party managed just 19 seats as compared to the 22 seats it had won in 2014.
As TRS gained more electoral ground through the day, the Gandhi Bhavan wore a deserted look. At one corner of the party headquarters, a stall displaying party merchandise was set up but there were no buyers. Reporters from national media who had arrived to cover the action at Gandhi Bhavan moved base to the TRS camp instead. A few TRS party workers burst crackers on the road next to the Congress party headquarters in a clear attempt to mock the Grand Old Party of India. The All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen (AIMIM) later that day took out a procession before Gandhi Bhavan.
The only excitement at the Congress base were the accusations levelled by senior Congress leader V Hanumantha Rao alleging tampering of electronic voter machines (EVMs) by the TRS in collusion with the BJP and executed through the Election Commission of India (ECI).
On the day of results, the TPCC chief Uttam Kumar Reddy was initially expected to arrive at Gandhi Bhavan at 10am to address the media. But once the party started trailing in most of the 94 assembly constituencies they were contesting from, Uttam Kumar also emerged with allegations of EVM tampering.
“What they are saying about EVM mismanagement is bull shit,” said Kranthi Kumar, a Congress worker from Chandrayanguta constituency, who had been listening to Hanumanth Rao screaming into the mikes of TV channels. “The party has only itself to blame, all these senior-level leaders of the TPCC, especially Uttam Kumar Reddy, must resign. They have destroyed Congress in Telangana,” Kranthi Kumar added.
The three other Congress party workers listening to Kranthi Kumar agreed with him.”The party lost valuable campaign time bickering over seats with the allies, we should never have allied with the TDP and TJS,” said Puli Srikanth, another party worker from Musheerabad.
Slow off the blocks
Elections in Telangana were announced on September 6, with the TRS dissolving the legislative assembly and announcing 107 candidates to contest polls, giving the party a head-start for campaigning. The Congress, on the other hand, was slow to react.
Though talks for a pre-poll alliance began soon after, a formal alliance was formed only by the end of September. The alliance that called itself Prajakutami was formed between the TDP, Telangana Jana Samithi (TJS) and the CPI. It took all of September for the Congress to stitch together an alliance and the whole of October and three weeks in November to decide on their candidates for an election that was to take place on December 7.
(The drums meant for winning Congress candidates remained unpacked)
“We got barely 10 days to campaign, can you believe that? says Ravula Srikanth, a Congress worker from Musheerabad. “Let’s say 10 days are enough to campaign for a state election, but the party leaders gave winning seats to the allies. All the work that was done by the party workers for the past four years got wasted at many constituencies. As a result, Congress workers worked against the candidates fielded by the party. One must understand their anger, you work for four years for a leader and someone else with no chance of winning gets the party ticket, that is not fair,” claimed Ravula.
November saw many small protests by Congress workers at their party headquarters that began with workers from Malkajgiri constituency in Secunderabad protesting against the seat being gifted to TJS. Congress workers say the eight seats that the party gave TJS were constituencies where the party had been putting great effort to revive the party since the state’s bifurcation. The TJS lost all the eight seats they contested this election.
The same month, around 40 Congress candidates who were denied ticket formed a rebel front to contest the polls. They accused the Congress of handing out tickets to those who had defected from other parties and to those who had lost more than three elections consecutively.
The Congress eventually suspended 24 of the rebel candidates for a period of six years for contesting against the official candidates of the Congress party and its allies. Another five leaders were expelled for working against the party.
“The party also lost the Backward Caste (BC) voters as most of the leaders they fielded were from Reddy caste. The party brought in leaders from Delhi to talk to the rebel candidates from BC community to withdraw their nominations, but they allowed some of the upper caste rebel candidates to contest,” alleged Shashi Yadav, a Congress party worker from Yakathpura. “The TPCC has misinformed the All India Congress Committee (AICC) about the ground reality of the party in Telangana. Senior Congress leaders like K Jana Reddy and Shabbir Ali benefited a lot under four years of TRS rule. Jana Reddy is totally disconnected from the party cadre. He even praised the TRS’s Rs 5 meal scheme for the GHMC even though it was first introduced by the Congress. The man doesn't even know that,” he added.
Fresh blood needed
Kranthi Kumar wants the entire top leadership of the TPCC to be replaced by the AICC and fresh blood to be brought into the party. “Even during the campaigning phase, apart from a few leaders like K Revanth Reddy and Mallu Bhatti Vikramarka, no other senior leader campaigned outside their own constituency for the weaker candidates. Uttam Kumar Reddy also did not campaign for other Congress candidates, which is very demoralising for party workers. These senior leaders are not bothered about meeting party workers and look uninterested even when you take a picture with them,” he pointed out.
When these party workers were asked why they are still loyal to the Congress and are not moving to other political parties, Kranthi replied, “Being a Congressman is part of our identity now. Our candidates may lose in a constituency but there is still respect for us on the ground. We hope the party looks at issues within rather than blaming EVMs for the loss.”