Hyderabad: In 2009, 33 out of a total 42 Lok Sabha MPs from united Andhra Pradesh belonged to the Congress, which was one of the highest number of elected representatives from the state that the party had ever sent to Parliament.
However, at present, seven years after Andhra Pradesh was bifurcated, the party does not have a single elected representative in the state, either in the assembly or Lok Sabha. The situation in Telangana, its sister state, is no better with six MLAs and three MPs.
Since 2014, the Congress has suffered a spell of political defeats in the two Telugu-speaking states, particularly in Andhra Pradesh.
The Andhra Pradesh wing of the Congress has been plagued with issues like lack of unity and internal leadership tussles for years now. And it is these that have led to the party’s downfall, according to its own cadre.
On paper, the Congress has roughly 700 members in the state, including ground level workers, mandal-, district- and state-level leaders. However, hardly 25 per cent of them are active, party leaders, who wished to remain unnamed, told ThePrint. Even the Andhra Ratna Bhavan — the head office in Vijayawada — wears a deserted look with no party worker around.
Several leaders attributed the decline to the lack of communication between the party cadre, the two working presidents N. Tulasi Reddy and Shaikh Mastan Vali and the new PCC chief Sake Sailajanath.
“The party has two working presidents who have largely limited to their own districts, monthly coordination meetings are not held, the new PCC chief does not come to the office regularly and there’s hardly any interaction with district level leaders, which ideally is supposed to happen every month,” said a senior Congress leader, who wished to remain unnamed.
“He introduced a ‘slip system’ where if any party worker wants to meet him, he has to take a prior appointment and the name will be written on the slip and only if he agrees we can meet him,” he told ThePrint.
Another leader cited the lack of the party’s presence on the ground. “We’re totally lacking ground level presence. And instead of pushing the cadre to get onto the ground, the new PCC chief once in a Zoom meeting said that key opposition party TDP (Telugu Desam Party) is only missing from the ground, so we do not have to stress much,” he said.
A Dalit leader, Sailajanath took over the reigns of the party in January. He was a Cabinet minister in Kiran Kumar Reddy’s government and was a strong voice in pre-2014 Andhra Pradesh. However, he has maintained a low profile since the Congress’ defeat in the 2014 assembly elections
“I am aware that there is some discontent among cadre about not much communication but that is going to change. In the next six months, we’re going to strengthen our cadre and show ourselves on ground more so this tough time will continue till January,” Sailajanath told ThePrint.
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Dalit leader as PCC President
Sailajanath’s predecessor N. Raghuveera Reddy, a former minister from the Anantapur district, resigned after the party’s defeat in the 2019 elections.
After that, the post lay vacant for almost eight months with no takers, which is also an indication of the party’s low-morale.
Things, however, did not improve with the appointment of Sailajanath. According to senior party leaders, caste equations have also come into play with not many ready to “take orders” from a Dalit leader.
Furthermore, Sailajanath is not a well-known face in the state. While he was a Cabinet minister in the past and is also a two-time MLA, political analysts noted that the PCC chief lacks support on the ground.
“(I) agree both Raghuveera Reddy and Sailajanath held minister posts in the past and they’re well-known but do they have that appeal on the ground in districts? That’s not the case,” senior political analyst Bhandaru Srinivas Rao told ThePrint.
In fact, Andhra Pradesh Congress barely has well-known faces and the few that still enjoy mass appeal have been missing. For instance, former CM Kiran Kumar Reddy is a member of the party’s state core committee but has not been very active politically.
Members of the Congress’ student wing, National Students’ Union of India, alleged that the party has also not conducted any ‘training programmes’ for the young party workers.
Unmotivated district-level leadership, they said, often restrict youth workers from carrying out work on the ground, which has killed morale.
“Consider Bharatiya Janata Party, they conduct regular training programmes for their workers and brief them with their ideology, nothing of such sort happens here, half of them don’t know what the Congress ideology is,” a senior NSUI member said.
“Money is also an issue, BJP has full-time and part-time workers. At least full time workers get social security from the party, there’s nothing like that in Congress, so how will workers be motivated to work or travel?,” he added.
Congress has failed to make a mark as the Opposition in several key issues of the state including protests for ‘special category status’ and against the privatisation of the Visakhapatnam Steel Plant, unlike the TDP.
Even the BJP, which hardly has a presence in the state, managed to stay in the limelight by taking up the issue of temple attacks in the state.
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Fallout of 2014 bifurcation
While it was the Congress-led government at the Centre that fulfilled the demand of a separate state of Telangana, the party failed to capitalise on it.
The credit of the move was instead taken by K. Chandrashekar Rao, which also made him CM in 2014. In Andhra Pradesh, meanwhile, the party was facing backlash for going ahead with the separation.
“There’s a saying in Telugu ‘Rentiki Cheda Revadi’, which loosely translates to ‘not here nor there’. That is how the party’s position is and they failed to use the opportunity (created by separation) in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh,” Rao said.
He added: “They faced a very humiliating defeat like never before due to the anti-bifurcation sentiment and there was resentment for the party, because people held Congress responsible for the division. That’s how it backfired for them.”
In addition to the fallout of the separation, another major blow to the Congress was the shifting of loyalties to present CM Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy’s YSR Congress.
His father, late Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, also former chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, was a strong Congress face in the state.
However, the sudden death of the leader in 2009 in a helicopter crash was the first big blow to the party, which led to its downward slide.
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Massive election losses
The election losses suffered by the Congress since 2014 also indicate the party’s decline in the region.
In 2014, the TDP-BJP alliance bagged 17 out of 25 Lok Sabha seats in the Seemandhra region, which is what present-day Andhra Pradesh was referred to as before the bifurcation, and the YSRCP won almost 8 seats. The Congress’ count, however, was zero.
In the same year, during the assembly elections, the party lost in 150 constituencies out of the total 175. In Telangana, the Congress contested all 17 Lok Sabha seats but managed to retain only two of them.
In the assembly elections, the party won 21 seats from a total of 119 seats.
While the elections were held in united Andhra Pradesh, the parties would go on to form separate governments after the official bifurcation on 2 June 2014.
The party’s vote share across Andhra Pradesh also fell from 38.95 per cent in 2009 to 11.5 per cent in 2014, according to Election Commission data.
This trend continued in the subsequent elections as well. Congress did not win a single seat in the assembly or general election in 2019.
According to the EC, the party polled a mere 1.17 per cent votes in the state, which was even lower than NOTA’s 1.28 percent in the assembly elections.
In the Lok Sabha elections, it managed a 1.29 per cent vote share against 1.49 per cent of NOTA votes.
Meanwhile, in Telangana, the party won only 19 assembly seats in the 2018 polls but 12 of its MLAs defected to the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) causing a collapse.
“What the party failed to do after every election is course correction. They had to look back and see how and why they lost in at least constituencies, which were once a stronghold,” said Marri Shashidhar Reddy, a senior Congress leader from the state.
In Telangana, however, hope is rekindling among the party cadre with Revanth Reddy’s appointment as the new PCC Chief.
The elevation of the 53-year-old leader, who is a staunch critic of KCR, is being seen as a strong chance of revival for the party, which was almost written off in the state.
(Edited by Rachel John)
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