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Why Congress MUST re-think its gameplan in AP

Last updated on: June 16, 2012 15:25 IST

Why Congress MUST re-think its gameplan in AP

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Mohammed Siddique in Hyderabad

With the YSR Congress delivering a crushing blow to the Congress in the Andhra Pradesh by-polls, the latter will have to do some quick re-thinking to prevent itself from being booted out of the state, says Mohammed Siddique

The votes polled by the YSR Congress in the recently-concluded mini-elections in Andhra Pradesh were more than the vote share of Congress and the Telugu Desam Party put together.

While the Congress lost deposits in seven of the 18 assembly constituencies that went to polls, the TDP met the same fate in five constituencies.

These two vignettes are enough to tell the entire story of the 'semi-final' polls in which the YSR Congress handed a crushing defeat to the two main political parties of the state and emerged as the new regional force.

Thirty-nine year old YS Jaganmohan Reddy, currently in jail on charges of corruption, has undoubtedly become a man to watch out for.

While the YSR Congress amassed an impressive 46.85 per cent of the total votes, Telugu Desam came second 24.23 per cent and ruling Congress third with 21.84 per cent.

It is often said that the by-elections are different from the general elections and the people vote in by-elections on the basis of local factors, but this theory does not hold good in case of these recent turn of events.

Though only 46 lakh people, less than 7 per cent of the total electorate, were to vote in these by-polls, the geographical spread of the constituencies was such that it covered almost half the state.

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Image: Activists celebrate the victory of YSR Congress in the AP by-polls
Photographs: SnapsIndia

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Secondly, the outcome suggests that people in 12 districts voted with striking uniformity, right from Srikakulam to Nellore and Chittoor to Kurnool, covering the entire coastal Andhra and Rayalseema regions.

The Congress could find a fig leaf in victories in the two constituencies in Godavari belt -- Ramachandrapuram and Narsapuram. At both the places, the leaders of erstwhile Praja Rajyam Party won mostly because of the Kapu caste factor, but that too, not with any huge margins.

Comparatively, the victory margins of YSR Congress candidates were huge, specially in Rayalseema, the biggest of them being 56,891, in Rayachoti in Kadapa district.

In Nellore Lok Sabha constituency, Mekapati Rajamohan Reddy created a record of sorts by winning the by-elections by a huge margin of 2, 91,745 votes.

Being the home turf of Jaganmohan, the YSR Congress swept all the eight seats in Rayalseema region, three of them in his own district Kadapa. The Congress was further humiliated as it lost its deposit in the Anantapur urban constituency.

The victories registered by the YSR Congress in the constituencies of both northern and southern coastal Andhra are also very significant as it underlines the ability of Jagan and the YSR family to reach beyond the Rayalseema region.

This is what makes the YSR Congress worth watching as an emerging regional force, as it will continue to try to gather more strength in the days to come by luring more YSR loyalists from the Congress. Twelve more party MLAs are reportedly in touch with Jagan.

The TDP has come out as badly bruised as the Congress party from these by-elections, touching a nadir. In fact, since its defeat in the 2004 elections, the situation has only worsened for the TDP and all the efforts and various strategies of its chief Chandrababu Naidu, including joining hands with friend turned foe KCR of TRS, failed to work.

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Image: Jubilant supporters at the YSR Congress party office at Jubilee Hills in Hyderabad
Photographs: SnapsIndia

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That the TDP came second in 10 constituencies could be a little solace, but it too, is in danger of witnessing an exodus.

Two big worries have emerged for the Congress from these by-elections. In the short term, its government in the state can be destabilised if Jagan goes all out and woos a dozen or more members of the legislative assembly in the weeks and months to come.

In the long run, the 'earthquake' in Andhra can send strong shockwaves all the way to Delhi, shaking the very foundation of the United Progressive Alliance. The Congress can have little hope of returning to power at the Centre if it loses the state which had sent the biggest contingent of Congress MPs -- 33 --  to Delhi in 2009.

Without AP, the UPA does not have any future.

Despite being a ruling party, the Congress will have to start from scratch if it wants to be seriously in the reckoning by the time of the general elections in 2014, if the government survives that long.

Even in Telangana, where the political situation is completely different from the other two regions and where the elections have been dominated by the single issue of separate state since 2001, the YSR Congress has put up an astounding performance.

The Telangana Rashtra Samiti did wrestle the seat from Konda Surekha of YSR Congress, but with a great deal of difficulty. The victory margin of Bhikshapati was only one per cent. The TRS polled 33.02 per cent against 32.03 per cent of the YSR Congress. The Congress touched a nadir by coming fifth, with a mere 3.2 per cent of the vote.

The YSR Congress's performance, in which Konda Surekha's personal standing plus sympathy factor seemed to have worked equally, came as a surprise to the Telangana votaries because Jagan, like his father, is seen as an opponent of the Telangana state.

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Image: Supporters of YSR Congress chief Jaganmohan Reddy celebrate his party's victory
Photographs: SnapsIndia

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This can also mean that the TRS and its chief K Chandrasekhar Rao were losing their hold and charisma as the 'champions of Telangana state'. It was in the same district of Warangal that Jagan had faced the fury of the Telangana supporters when he tried to under take his 'Odarpu Yatra' in May 2010.

He was stopped in Mehubabad and arrested by the police after violence broke out. However, Jagan's mother Vijaylakshmi and sister Sharmia did not face any such resistance when they campaigned for Surekha.

The first and foremost lesson the Congress has to learn is that its debacle in Andhra Pradesh is not simply because of the YSR Congress or handling or mishandling of Jagan. Even if there was no Jagan factor, it would have lost miserably.

The Congress is paying a price for misgovernance in the state and the back-breaking burden put on the aam aadmi by the price rise and economic hardship related to UPA policies.

The biggest challenge for Congress president Sonia Gandhi will be to overhaul the party in the state and find a new leadership to rejuvenate a dormant and shell-shocked rank and file.

Both Chief Minister N Kiran Kumar Reddy and the state Congress president Botsa Satyanarayana have failed in giving confidence to and energising the party.

They wasted precious time during last one and a half years in trying to weaken each other rather than strengthening the party. If Botsa has become a liability for the party due to his tainted image in the liquor syndicate scandal, Kiran has turned out to be an ineffective leader, singularly lacking charisma.

Sonia had chosen him as a counter to Jagan in the hope that he will be able to retain the loyalty of the powerful Reddy community, but the Reddys have left the Congress in droves in these by-elections.

The Congress today is more or less in the same state of mind as it was when the NTR wave swept the state in 1982-83, wiping out the party.

To save Andhra Pradesh Congress from meeting the fate of Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, Sonia Gandhi will have to do some quick thinking and devise two different strategies for Andhra-Rayalseema and Telangana regions.

Agreeing to bifurcate AP could be a good beginning. The fear that the party will lose ground in Andhra if it accepts the demand for a Telangana state has become irrelevant.


Image: Supporters of YSR Congress gather at a rally addressed by Vijayamma
Photographs: SnapsIndia
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