“Congratulating KCR garu for winning the Assembly elections in Telangana,” said Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu in a tweet on Tuesday afternoon as it became clear that his nemesis K Chandrasekhar Rao was not just set for a comeback, but a sweeping victory in the Telangana polls. What was missing in Naidu’s reaction, however, was the acknowledgement that the experiment called ‘Prajakutami’ had failed miserably.
Entering into a pre-poll alliance with the Congress in Telangana appears to not have helped the TDP and the party could not even retain the seats they had won in the 2014 state elections. The TDP, once a major party in the region that has since become Telangana, has effectively been reduced to a politically irrelevant entity post the Telangana 2018 elections. Of the 14 assembly constituencies in which it contested, the TDP managed to win just two - Sathupally in Khammam and Aswaraopeta in Bhadradri Kothagudem districts. In Sathupally constituency, Sandra Venkata Veeraiah of the TDP took on Pidamarthi Ravi of the TRS and Namburi Ramalingeswara Rao of the BJP.
In Aswaraopeta constituency, Mecha Nageswar Rao of the TDP won against Thati Venkateswarlu of the TRS and Bhukhya Prasad Rao of the BJP.
The party, however, even lost seats such as Kukatpally and Serilingampally, long considered to be their strongholds due to a large presence of Andhra settlers who are party loyalists.
Shortly after the elections were announced in September, the Telangana unit of the TDP joined hands with their longtime rival in Andhra Pradesh, the Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee (TPCC) to form the Prajakutami alliance.
The Telangana Jana Samithi (TJS) and the Communist Party of India (CPI) were also part of this pre-poll alliance. However, the formation of this alliance came at a cost of alienating loyalists of both TDP and Congress in Telangana, observed political analysts.
Defections and caste equations
In 2014, the TDP had won 15 seats in Telangana but over the course of two years 12 of their MLAs, along with their followers, defected to the TRS. The defection by first rung leaders had severely eroded the party’s cadre base in the state.
Come 2018 elections, the TDP brought in many new faces to contest for the party in Telangana.
In the Serilingampally constituency, after A Gandhi defected to the TRS in 2014, the TDP fielded Bhavya Anand Prasad, a film producer. For their Kukatpally seat, the party banked on Nandamuri Suhasini, granddaughter of NT Rama Rao, former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister and film actor. Both these candidates lost the elections.
Gottimukkala Padmarao, former Kukatpally constituency in-charge for the TRS who had resigned from the party in November, told TNM that people from the Kappu and Reddy caste in Kukatpally actively voted against the TDPs Kamma caste candidate, Suhasini.
“The fact that she is the granddaughter of NTR did not sell due to the caste factor. The TDP made a mistake while allocating candidate seats, they gave 5 seats to the Kamma caste people, this did not go unnoticed by people of other castes. It should be noted that Jr.NTR also did not campaign for the party,” said Padmarao, “The TDP was banking on political loyalty towards their party by Andhra settlers. But many of these people have switched loyalties to Jagan Mohan Reddy and Pawan Kalyan, due to the political situation in Andhra Pradesh these voters would also vote for the TRS,” he added.
The party was reportedly even struggling to find polling booth agents for election work on polling day, say those who were keenly watching the party’s campaign performance. “At Kukatpally, the disgruntled Congress and the demoralised TDP workers were actively going against their own party candidates, they were asking people to vote for the TRS,” claimed Padmarao.
The former head of political science at Osmania University, K Purushotham Reddy asks, “Why should people vote for a non-existent party in Telangana? The TDP contesting Telangana elections was an attempt to put some life into the party unit here, it’s already a dead horse. The same thing with YSR Congress, they are not relevant here in Telangana.”
“The last few days of TRS campaigning where they focused on the possibility of an Andhra Pradesh domination in Telangana could have had an impact on the minds of voters. The TRS had managed to explain this well to the voters,” said Umeshesharao Vaidya, a political analyst. “The Congress had also not revealed their Chief Minister candidate, the people wanted to know who the CM from the Congress would be. The undecided voters in the last leg of party campaigns didn't want to witness a drama on who the CM will be,” he added.
Speaking on the performance of the Prajakutami, Purushotham Reddy said, “The Congress failed to present their point of view. The Prajakutami was fine but they failed to convince the people on issues of development, their manifesto did not connect with the people. They have not done their homework and till the last minute they were trying to find candidates.”