In the end, the Congress hand stopped all of them in their tracks — the Telugu Desam Party’s bicycle, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi’s car and Chiranjeevi’s rail engine. The bicycle picked up speed but not enough, the car was badly punctured while the engine went off the track. Vote-2009 in Andhra Pradesh, which saw the Congress achieving a landslide in Lok Sabha and retaining power in the assembly with just enough majority, is as much a story of an Opposition that lacked an alternative programme as it is about victory for Y S Rajasekhara Reddy.
But, before we get into statistics, let me deal with the more interesting part of Vote- 2009 — the tale of two actors who ultimately ended up as the most discredited personalities: Chiranjeevi and TRS’ K Chandrasekhara Rao. One is an actor-turnedpolitician who thought filmi glamour would bring him power. The other is a politician but believes more in drama, histrionics and chicanery, and less in building mass support, to achieve his avowed goal of a separate state of Telangana.
Look at the similarities. The TRS is now eight years old but still does not have a proper organisational structure, just as Chiranjeevi failed to put in place a network of leaders and cadre who could build on the support he had enjoyed when he formed the party in August last year. Both were accused of selling tickets exploiting the demand from aspirants who hoped to benefit from Chiranjeevi’s glamour or the Telangana statehood sentiment. In the process, Chandrasekhara Rao sidestepped loyal workers, as did Chiranjeevi’s party leadership (read his family members), ignoring right-thinking leaders and those who have a base among the masses.
That brings us to what they had to offer to the people. Apparently inspired by Barack Obama’s ‘Vote for a Change’ slogan in the United States, Chiranjeevi borrowed the same but it remained a mere slogan.
Unlike Obama, who could articulate his alternative programme impressively, Chiranjeevi had, in the first place, nothing much to offer and even if he had something, that was never put across in a manner that the people could understand. No wonder, he neither emerged a king nor a kingmaker, ending up with just 18 of the 294 assembly seats and without representation in the Lok Sabha.
Chandrasekhara Rao is no better. For almost every problem the people were confronted with, whether it was lack of potable drinking water, road network or school, the only solution, according to him, lies in a separate state. This writer cannot remember even one sustained campaign that this party had taken up on the injustice done to the region. Its legislators were disconnected from the constituents.
The final nail in the coffin was the TRS’ tie-up with the Telugu Desam Party and the Left, seen by many as a marriage of convenience rather than an alliance built on mutual respect for each other’s policies and programmes. The TDP merely declared that it was not opposed to a Telangana state as it was in the past but its changed stance never really carried credibility. The CPM kept saying it was against splitting the state even as it fought the election in alliance with the TRS. With transfer of vote not taking place among partners, the CPM drew a blank while the TRS tally came down to two MPs and 10 MLAs from five and 26 in 2004.
Nara Chandrababu Naidu not only dreamt of coming to power in Andhra Pradesh but also of playing a major role in Delhi. He positioned himself as a socialist, a changed man — a far cry from the techsavvy leader of 2004. Nothing should be given for free, he had argued then. But by 2009, he offered everything for free — power supply to farmers for as many as 12 hours a day, rice at a lower price than what is being offered by the Congress regime (Rs 2-a-kg), a colour television for every household and to top it all, the one scheme he thought would swing the voters’ mood — monthly financial support of Rs 2,000 for every poor family.
Apparently, none of them cut ice with the voters, as this writer realised during a tour of the coastal region a few days before the elections. “How can you give Rs 2,000 every month to so many poor families and how long will you be able give it?” retorted a woman, selling coconuts on the roadside in scorching heat. It was perhaps too good a promise to be believed. The result: The TDP doubled its tally from 47 to 92, but not enough to occupy the seat of power.
What tilted the scales in favour of Rajasekhara Reddy? An overall positive vote for the Congress apart, minorities appear to have decisively turned towards it. Add to this, a plethora of benefits the Reddy government has doled out like pension for the aged and widows, health insurance for all poor families, cheap rice and free power.
And, all of them were implemented quite effectively. When the voters weighed what they are currently getting and what the Opposition promises, they seem to have felt that a bird in hand is worth two in the bush.
A good monsoon in the past five years and waiver of loans has also ensured that the farming community was by and large not unhappy with the Congress government.
The final official figures were quite revealing.
The Congress polled 36.53 per cent, a mere one per cent less than in 2004, though it contested alone now while it was in alliance with three other parties last time. As against this, the TDP lost nine per cent (getting only 28 per cent). Chiranjeevi’s Praja Rajyam Party has secured almost 17 per cent and many believe that but for this split in Opposition vote, Reddy would have been voted out. But, to suggest that the PRP vote would have automatically gone to the Opposition if only Chiranjeevi was not in the fray is perhaps to simplify things.
Victory notwithstanding, Rajasekhara Reddy has quite a few lessons to learn. One of them is that 50 of the sitting MLAs have been defeated. This, after he himself did not re-nominate an equal number. Also, 25 have won by narrow margins ranging from a few hundred votes to less than 2,000. The result could have gone either way changing the whole equation. He can rejoice in his victory but not allow it to get into his head.
Election-2009 can possibly result in two things. Considering that Chiranjeevi has neither the resilience nor the capacity for a long haul, the demise of the PRP cannot be ruled out. As for the Telangana statehood, the issue as such may not die but it could well be the beginning of the end of Chandrasekhara Rao’s leadership. However, it is not the end of the road for TDP and how well it conducts in the next five years will determine its future