Hyderabad: The Congress in Andhra Pradesh has created a record of sorts by retaining power for a second consecutive term - the first time in three decades and by also contributing a major chunk of Lok Sabha seats for the United Progressive Alliance (UPA).
Securing a comfortable majority with 157 seats in the 294-member assembly, the party also belied all expectations by winning 33 out of 42 Lok Sabha seats. While its tally in the assembly came down by about 30, it has improved its Lok Sabha performance by winning four more than in 2004.
The Congress had not won a second successive term since N.T. Rama Rao launched Telugu Desam Party (TDP) in early 1980s.
The results this time have come as a surprise to all, even to the political pundits who did not want to hazard a guess in a three-cornered contest and especially when Congress' three former allies had joined hands with the TDP to form a grand alliance. Playing safe, some had predicted a hung house while few others foresaw a TDP-led government.
The one man who was very sure of Congress retaining power was Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, who single-handed took on the united opposition and the Praja Rajyam Party (PRP) of superstar Chiranjeevi.
YSR, as he is popularly known, was confident of the Congress winning 230 assembly and 35 Lok Sabha seats. While his prediction for parliamentary polls nearly came true, the party's strength in the assembly was reduced with several stalwarts including ministers and the state unit chief losing, which he attributed to 'local factors'.
Unlike in 2004 when there was a strong anti-incumbency wave, it was not an easy election for YSR as the TDP went all out to return to power, taking a U-turn to back the demand for a separate Telangana and promising a free colour television and cash doles of Rs.1,000 to Rs.2,000 per month for every family.
TDP chief N. Chandrababu Naidu also leaned on his father-in-law NTR's legacy by roping in his actor sons and grandsons in the campaign. YSR also faced a new rival in superstar Chiranjeevi who launched PRP with the slogan of social justice.
In the bitter campaign, YSR focussed on the performance of his government and that of Congress-led UPA at the centre and questioned Naidu's credibility in the light of his track record during nine-year TDP rule (1995-2004).
Instead of making any new major promise, YSR only vowed to continue what he has been doing, asking voters to see his record and compare it with Naidu's.
Political analysts say that YSR could make it as people believed in him and the performance of his government, feeling there is no family in the state which has not benefited from one or the other of the government's schemes. People preferred Congress to continue enjoying those benefits instead of trying TDP and believing its promises, especially when Naidu had gone back on his word in the past, they added.
In contrast, YSR not only implemented almost all of promises made in 2004 but also took up schemes like Rs.2-a-kg rice which were not promised. Free electricity for farmers, construction of irrigation projects, Rajiv Arogyasri to make healthcare in corporate hospitals accessible to poor, building houses for the poor, monthly pension for old age people, widows and handicapped, scholarships and fee reimbursement for students belonging to weaker sections and four percent reservations to backward classes among Muslims were some of the schemes which touched the lives of people.
At every election meeting, YSR used to mimic the siren of 108 ambulance while explaining how the scheme is benefiting people, especially in rural areas during medical emergencies.
The state also took the lead in implementing National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme (NREGP) introduced by UPA government. The state was also benefited immensely from farm loan waiver scheme.
Some of the schemes implemented by YSR's government were introduced for the first time in the country.
'Andhra Pradesh which was earlier considered a laboratory for economic reforms (during Naidu's rule) became a laboratory for welfare schemes,' said Rama Brahmam, a professor of political science at Hyderabad University.
The emergence of YSR as an undisputed leader also helped. It was only two days before counting that he became the first chief minister in the state's history to complete a full five-year term, also enjoying a smooth term with virtually no dissension in the party and full backing from the central leadership.
This was in contrast to the previous Congress regimes when the central leadership used to frequently change the leader due to groupism in the state unit.