Andhra Pradesh gears up for a multi-cornered fight

by April 3, 2019 0 comments

Andhra Pradesh

Andhra Pradesh, with 25 Lok Sabha seats, is an important State that can play a key role in swinging the narrative of the upcoming General Assembly elections. It isn’t, however, going to be a cakewalk for parties as they are already trying too hard to grab the voter’s attention

With 25 Lok Sabha seats, Andhra Pradesh can become an important player in the event of a hung Parliament after the Lok Sabha polls. The State will also hold simultaneous Assembly elections for the first time ever since its bifurcation in 2014.

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu is fighting the elections with his back to the wall. In 2014, the ruling Telugu Desam Party (TDP) got 15 seats, YSR Congress Party eight and the BJP two; while the Congress drew a nil. Back then, the TDP and the BJP were allies but this time, both parties will contest elections separately after Naidu severed ties with the NDA last March on the issue of the Centre not giving special status to to the State. After 2004, this will be the first time the TDP will fight without any pre-poll alliance.

Though the contest will by and large be triangular — between TDP, the Congress and YSR Congress Party of YS Jaganmohan Reddy — the BJP and movie star Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena are also trying to make their presence felt. All parties are contesting without an ally and are contesting all seats. While the Jana Sena is strong in the coastal Godavari region and Guntur, YSR Congress has performed exceedingly well in the Rayalaseema region. The TDP is strong in coastal Andhra. The Congress and the BJP are just minor players.

Naidu is fighting hard to defend his throne while challenger Jaganmohan Reddy is inching towards power. Reddy has money, workers and age on his side. He has undertaken a Praja Sankalpa Yatra since 2017, covering the entire State to woo the voters. He has the backing of the influential Reddy community, which is pitted against Naidu’s powerful Kamma community.

In 2014, Naidu gained from the Modi wave, which helped him beat Jaganmohan Reddy to the chief ministerial chair. Kalyan also supported him. As against a vote share of 32.5 per cent of TDP, YSR Congress Party got 32.1 per cent vote that resulted in the former bagging 103 seats in the Assembly election as against 70 of the latter. The TDP got 15 Lok Sabha seats and the YSR Congress Party, eight seats.

Clearly, Naidu is facing the toughest challenge in his four-decade long political career. Fighting anti-incumbency and also charges from his critics that he could not get Andhra special status from the Centre, he continues to believe that Modi-bashing will help him get votes. A major worry for the TDP is which side the 17 per cent Kapu community will vote this time. In 2014, they favoured the TDP due to Kalyan’s influence. However this time, Kalyan’s party may end up splitting the votes. This will potentially harm the TDP.

For optics, Naidu has mobilised support of other regional satraps like Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, former Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and former Prime Minister Deve Gowda to campaign for him. He believes that his raised national profile will impress the voters.

On the other hand, Jagan has promised to implement the ‘Navaratnalu’ or nine welfare schemes. The scheme includes Rs 50,000 per annum to farmers, fee reimbursement to all students, Rs 15,000 to women to encourage them to send their children to school, waiver of all loans taken by women from cooperative societies, ban on alcohol, construction of 25 lakhs houses and reduction of pension age from 65 to 60 among others. Jagan thinks that these liberal doles might help him capture the throne.

However, Kalyan is the ‘X’ factor in these elections. A Kapu by caste, his party has influence in the coastal districts in over 50 Assembly seats. While chances are less for a win, he can damage Naidu’s prospects. Kalyan has tied up with the BSP and Left parties, who have a vote share of about two per cent. He has promised clean politics and also to bring the Chief Minister under the Lokayukta.

While the ruling TDP is depending on welfare schemes, Opposition parties are depending on anti-incumbency factor. The TDP will bank on a split in the Opposition vote. While Naidu is seen as a capable administrator, the Opposition plays up on his failure to keep promises of 2014. The world-class capital Naidu promised to build at Amravati has barely taken off.

The BJP is depending on Jagan to come to its rescue in a post-poll scenario, if required. Reddy can hardly afford to have a pre-poll pact with the BJP, given his strong support base among Christians and Muslims.  However, there is some tacit understanding between the two parties to support each other secretly wherever possible. Andhra Pradesh continues to remain relevant in the national scenario. Ultimately, even Naidu can go back to the NDA as he has been doing in the past.

(The writer is a senior political commentator and syndicated columnist)

Writer: Kalyani Shankar

Courtesy: The Pioneer

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