In Andhra Pradesh, all planks centre on bifurcation

Last Updated: Sun, Apr 06, 2014 04:41 hrs

Delhi: Ahead of the coming Lok Sabha elections, the political environment in Andhra Pradesh is marked by an overwhelming sense of dependence of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on each other. Their previous alliance had fallen apart in 2004, a year before the end of the National Democratic Alliance's term at the Centre.

Out of power for 10 years, TDP president and former chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu is leaving no stone unturned to increase his hold in the residuary state of Andhra Pradesh. However, here, the YSR Congress has an edge, owing to the unwavering loyalty of rural voters towards Y S Rajasekhara Reddy, the late father of party chief Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy.

While the ruling Congress is expected to be completely sidelined by Seemandhra voters, the Samaikhyandra Party, floated by former chief minister N Kiran Kumar Reddy a couple of months ago, remains a non-starter.

Though there was speculation of a merger between the Congress and the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), the two have decided to contest separately. In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress had won 50 seats, while the TRS, in alliance with the TDP, had won just 10 seats in Telangana.

In the 2009 elections, 15 of the 30-odd Lok Sabha seats won by the Congress in Andhra Pradesh were accounted for by the coastal Andhra region. At that time, of the TDP's tally of eight, just two were from coastal Andhra. In the 1999 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP had won seven seats, while its ally, the TDP, had bagged 29. In the 2009 Assembly elections, the TDP and its allies won 107 seats, while the BJP had won just two seats, both in the Telangana region.

The BJP-TDP alliance is expected to help the latter secure gains in the Lok Sabha elections, as well as help it contain the tally of the YSR Congress in the Assembly elections. This is because of a favourable sentiment towards the BJP, especially in Seemandhra, where there is widespread resentment against the Congress due to the move to bifurcate the state.

The TDP leadership thinks an alliance with a pro-Telangana party such as the BJP will help it gain favour among the voters in Telangana. Though the TDP-BJP combine hasn't announced a seat-sharing plan yet, it is almost certain the TDP will leave only a small number of seats to the BJP in Seemandhra; but in Telangana, it is conceding about 50 of the 119 Assembly seats and about 10 of the 17 Lok Sabha seats to its partner, according to reports.

Seemandhra accounts for 175 of the 294 Assembly and 25 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in the existing state.

While the seat-sharing pattern explains the preferences of each of the two parties, it remains to be seen whether the two can turn prospects of a possible vote split between the Congress and the TRS to their advantage.

Meanwhile, the Congress has somewhat recovered from the initial setbacks it received at the hands of Seemandhra leaders and Kiran Kumar Reddy by projecting a new leadership, drawn from a wider social spectrum, including the backward castes in both Seemandhra and Telangana. It has also tried to weaken the TRS by roping in some of its leaders.

Analysts believe the Congress will fare well in Telangana, even without an alliance, as the party has fulfilled its promise of statehood for the region.

The Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, which has a strong hold among minority voters in Hyderabad (it has a sitting member of Parliament and eight members of legislative Assembly), is contesting more seats that earlier, while keeping a distance from the Congress, at least in the eyes of voters. The two parties are known to have a tacit understanding of fielding weak candidates against each other.

The YSR Congress, once poised to sweep the elections in Seemandhra, has lost some its initial momentum to the TDP, especially in urban areas, owing to a concerted attack on its leader as well as criticism from those who have deserted the party of late. To an extent, recent election surveys by TV channels such as CNN-IBN reflected this pattern. Many, however, say the party's rural voter base is almost unaffected by any amount of criticism against Jagan Reddy.

As various parties have just begun firming up alliances and announcing lists of candidates, it will take some time for clarity to emerge on their prospects. Moreover, the state faces a peculiar situation in that local body elections come just ahead of the general elections. While elections for urban local bodies were held on March 30, polls for Panchayat Raj bodies are due on April 6 and 9.

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