A major contradiction in the TRS campaign is that it is seeking to woo Andhra settlers even as it tries to make this election a Telangana-vs-Andhra battle.
Hyderabad: Chandrababu Naidu, Andhra settlers, and the battle for the control of Hyderabad are among the key issues that will define this Telangana assembly election.
It’s as if the agitation to create the state is still not over. As the new state of Telangana gears up to vote for its second assembly polls on 7 December, its incumbent chief minister sees this as another battle in the war with Andhra Pradesh.
Four and a half years after Telangana was carved out of Andhra Pradesh, the Telangana versus Andhra battle rages on for the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), the ruling party. Chief Minister Kalvakuntla Chandrashekar Rao, better known as KCR, has made this election a battle between himself and Chandrababu Naidu, the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister.
As the polling date of 7 December comes closer, the TRS’ attacks on Naidu keep becoming sharper. In October, KCR called Naidu a demon. By the end of November, the language became crasser. Naidu is now a ‘mental case’.
KCR is trying to use the Telangana sub-nationalist ‘sentiment’ to polarise voters against Naidu. Sub-nationalist identity politics has superseded the claims of development in the TRS campaign. For the moment it doesn’t seem to have much resonance on the ground, but one wrong statement by Naidu and things could change.
Index of opposition unity
For the most part, voters have moved on from the Telangana agitation days, but the TRS’ desperation to revive the old slogans shows the quick turnaround in Telangana politics after he called for early elections.
Opposition parties have come together to form a grand alliance, called Mahakutami. Led by the Congress, the alliance includes Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party (TDP), the Communist Party of India and the Telangana Jana Samithi.
In 2014, when the TRS won the elections thanks to achieving the creation of Telangana, the party had 34.3 per cent vote share. The Congress and TDP separately had 25.2 per cent and 14.7 per cent. The TDP’s votes are mostly those of “settlers”, people who have been living in Telangana but have their roots in Andhra Pradesh. For the TDP to have won 14.7 per cent votes even after Telangana creation, which it opposed, tells you what a major force they still are.
The settler votes are concentrated in districts neighbouring Andhra, especially Khammam, as well as the Greater Hyderabad region around the capital. They could influence 25-30 seats. The TRS’ stronghold is north Telangana, the Congress and TDP are strong in the south. The 29 seats in the Greater Hyderabad region have thus become key to this election. The Andhra settlers are important here, giving the TRS sleepless nights.
A major contradiction in the TRS campaign is that it is seeking to woo Andhra settlers even as it tries to polarise against Andhra. TRS leaders are quick to point out that they are not attacking Andhra Pradesh or even the TDP as a party — only Naidu.
KCR goes around the rural parts of the state, arousing fears that Naidu wants to grab the state’s resources, capture the rich Hyderabad region, call the shots through the Congress. This is similar to the Telangana versus Andhra rhetoric of the statehood agitation days. KCR says Naidu is coming in the way of irrigation projects and wants to stall the progress of Telangana. That will definitely read like anti-Andhra sentiment to Andhra settlers.
The TRS has tried to keep the Andhra settlers happy: They haven’t faced violence or legal harassment, and their influential industrialists have continued to win government contracts. Yet it’s not their ‘own’ party or government. They have good reasons to back the Mahakutami.
While KCR travels around the districts, his son Kalvakuntla Taraka Rama Rao, better known as KTR, focuses on the Greater Hyderabad metropolitan region. He divides his days between roadshows through a luxury rath and meeting with specific caste and regional groups. He is the suave English speaking face of the party, modelling himself as the new Naidu, laying claim to the future of Hyderabad as a hi-tech metropolitan taking India into the future.
Sub-nationalism vs. caste
While KTR goes around wooing Andhra settlers in the name of development and governance, his father KCR tries to revive the Telangana sentiment against the “exploitative” Andhra elites. The contradiction may come back to bite them, but they’re hoping they’ll sail through on the back of their development projects and welfare schemes, as well as KCR’s mass-connect. While opposition leaders have a strong ground presence — popular local leaders and cadres — they don’t have a pan-Telangana leader with a mass connect.
Yet it may not be easy this time, because the TRS has many things going against them. Joining forces with the Andhra settlers are the Congress-voting Reddys. An influential caste whose proportion in the population has only gone up after the Andhra bifurcation, the Reddys like the state to be run by a Reddy. From Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy to Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, the state has been ruled mostly by this community. Naidu, a Kamma, and KCR, a Velama, have been notable exceptions.
As a group of the Reddy community waits for KTR to come and address them in Hyderabad, folk dancers perform on the stage to live music from the Telangana agitation. The songs are about the motherland — ‘our waters’, ‘our rivers’, ‘our people’, ‘our culture’. In the background, a digital screen displays the achievement of the government: Housing, irrigation, pensions among others.
It is impossible to not be moved by the music, even if you don’t understand Telugu. The achievements in loud colours on the digital screen are less emotive. They are the usual banalities of a government claiming to have made extraordinary improvement in people’s lives. For the dance and music, however, the crowd hoots and claps.
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