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|October 7, 1999||
TDP sweep vote of confidence for Naidu
Shireen in Hyderabad
The ruling Telugu Desam Party's sweeping victory in the elections to the Lok Sabha and the Andhra Pradesh legislative assembly is a positive mandate for party president and Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu.
Despite the Congress making a serious effort to gain ground, the TDP retained power, even gaining many seats from the Congress.
There seems to be many reasons for the TDP good performance.
To some extent, the TDP benefited from seat adjustments with the Bharatiya Janata Party since without it, they might have eaten into each other's votes.
In that event, the non-Congress vote would have been split to the advantage of the Congress as it happened in the state in the 1996 and 1998 Lok Sabha elections, when the Congress won 22 out of 42 seats in the state each time.
To avoid a split in the non-Congress vote, the TDP entered into poll adjustments with the BJP at the last minute, conceding just eight Lok Sabha seats and 24 assembly seats to the BJP. The TDP contested 34 Lok Sabha seats and 270 assembly seats.
Chandrababu Naidu had begun work on an agenda for the elections long before they were due, garnering the support of various sections of the people.
Besides introducing the Janmabhoomi programme for community participation, the chief minister also launched schemes like the Adarana (for backward class artisans), the Chaitanyam (for tribals), the Mundadugu (for dalits), the Cheyutha (for the physically handicapped), Roshni (for the minorities) and Deepam (to provide subsidised cooking gas connections to women).
Naidu timed the unpopular decisions carefully. So a hike in the price of subsidised rice for the poor, enhancement of power tariffs and bus fares, and the lifting of prohibition on Indian-made foreign liquor, were effected in 1996-97, giving enough time for the anger to fade before the 1999 assembly poll.
The TDP also worked on its party structure, right down to the polling booth level, supplementing it with the party's elected functionaries in local bodies like the panchayat and municipalities, and self-help groups that have been formed by the thousands in Andhra Pradesh in the last few years.
These self-help groups include those of the Development of Women and Child in Rural Areas, the Chief Minister's Empowerment of Youth, the Vana Samrakshana Samithis, the watershed committees, the water-users associations, the mothers' committees and the village education committees. These groups are liberally funded by the government in the last few years and their members, in many cases, happen to be TDP activists or, at the very least, sympathisers.
But the TDP has also been aided by the failure of the main Opposition Congress to live up to its role since Naidu came to power. The Congress relied only on a propaganda offensive against the ruling party, without participating in any mass movement to highlight the government's mistakes.
In the run-up to the present elections too the Congress launched a vicious propaganda against the TDP.
Andhra Pradesh Congress Committee president Y S Rajasekhar Reddy orchestrated a personal campaign against Chandrababu Naidu, writing him open letters accusing him of amassing "illegal wealth to the tune of 14 billion". The allegations backfired on the Congress but Reddy kept at it, filing a batch of 22 writ petitions in the state high court seeking action against the chief minister.
Factionalism within the Congress was already hobbling it before it was really in the race. But the TDP didn't take things easy, taking steps to ensure an anti-incumbency sentiment didn't do it in.
So, as many as one-third of the sitting TDP legislators were denied renomination and fresh faces were fielded.
The Congress took no such step, since most candidates happened to be former ministers, former legislators and kith and kin of senior leaders who could not be annoyed. The result was another debacle.
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