As Telangana Assembly elections draw nearer, predicting an outcome turns into psephologists' nightmare
The Telangana Vidhan Sabha elections are quickly turning into a psephological nightmare as a host of contradictory factors are confusing both the voter and the pollster alike. The battle-lines are clearly drawn between the TRS contesting on its own and the Congress cobbling up a four-party alliance to take on the ruling party. The coming-to-fruition of such an alliance despite initial bickering has certainly spruced up the political climate. The resultant realisation widely acknowledged across political and public life is that TRS will not have a cake walk as KCR repeatedly asks everyone to believe.
The chief minister and TRS supremo who initially claimed that his party would win 100 out of 119 seats has now increased his predicted tally to 108, leaving only four seats to all other parties after giving seven seats to his ally, MIM. This is certainly a figment of the imagination dished out primarily as part of mind games to bewilder the Opposition. If the final figure is anywhere near the claim, it will be certainly a miracle.
KCR quotes reportedly-conducted surveys to buttress his point. Meanwhile the state Congress chief Uttam Kumar Reddy said that the alliance led by his party will win at least 85 seats. The BJP, the CPM-led Bahujan Left Front (BLF) and others are contesting separately and outside the TRS or Congress-led People's Front. In case of a keen contest between the TRS and the People's Front, even a small number of votes polled by these other parties can prove to be decisive in defining the mandate:
First, Dalit voters are largely disenchanted with KCR and there are enough reasons for this. The TRS government has been lukewarm to the vexed question of categorisation of SCs into subgroups. The Madigas who are the larger constituent of Scheduled Castes in Telangana have been demanding such a categorisation. The KCR government has shown high-handedness towards the leader of the Madiga Reservation Porata Samithi (MRPS) (which spearheads the movement for sub-classification of SCs), Manda Krishna Madiga. This influential leader is now supporting the Congress-led alliance.
During the Telangana movement, KCR promised to make a Dalit chief Minister if he came to power in a separate state. He has not only belied this promise by assuming office himself, but has not included anyone from the Madiga or Mala sub-castes into his cabinet, ever though a member of a Scheduled Caste was made deputy chief minister. Madigas and Malas constitute most of the Dalit electorate with the former holding a larger share in Telangana. The promise of three acres of land for Dalit families remained more or less a non-starter. Barring setting up a significant number of residential schools, the KCR government has not implemented any welfare schemes particularly targeting SCs.
There is a shift in the OBC vote in favour of TRS due to the government's welfare schemes and the weakening of the TDP. The KCR government's popular scheme of providing sheep and cattle for shepherd families has created a strong positive sentiment for TRS among Yadavas, the largest OBC community in the state. Similarly, the TRS government implemented specific welfare schemes for fishermen, handloom weavers, toddy tappers etc. However, the Most Backward Classes (MBCs) got a raw deal. Even the popular Rythu Bandhu scheme (providing cash support of Rs 8,000 per acre per year which, as has been promised, will be upped to Rs 10,000) is not benefiting Dalits as they are mostly landless. However, the OBCs who are largely small and marginal famers could benefit to an extent.
The TDP has a history of politically empowering OBCs. Post-bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh, the party has suffered a huge erosion in its support base, which may not return fully to the TDP fold despite the party's alliance with the Congress. Thus, KCR was successful in attracting the OBC voter away from TDP, given the post-bifurcation political narrative. The Muslim vote is divided despite TRS-MIM open embrace. The MIM influence is largely limited to Hyderabad and its adjoining areas barring few pockets like the Karimnagar, Adilabad districts outside the state capital.
Besides the MIM factor, the TRS could also lure Muslim votes with its welfare schemes like Shadi Mubarak (over Rs one lakh in cash assistance for the marriage of poor Muslims girls), minority residential schools, liberal grants for mosques, Imams, Mauzams and poor Muslims during Ramadan etc. However, the Congress alliance campaign that a vote for TRS is a vote for the BJP will also have some impact. KCR cleverly nullified such adverse impact to an extent by delinking Assembly and Parliament elections anticipating polarisation for and against Narendra Modi.
Second, it was widely speculated that the BJP will cut into the anti-government vote, thus damaging the Congress. But, the latest reports also indicate that the BJP is eating into even the TRS vote as there is an increasing belief of undeclared bonhomie between the pink and saffron parties. This is due to increasing electoral polarisation between the TRS and Congress combine.
Third, Chandrababu Naidu's intense campaigning is under fire from the TRS. This is resulting in the rise of the Telangana sentiment in the core areas of Telangana. Thus, the favourable electoral arithmetic for the Congress-led People's Front is pitted against the possible perils of adverse political chemistry for the grand alliance. The Congress tried to minimise this possible damage by largely limiting Naidu's campaign to Hyderabad and Khammam districts where the demography of voters is more conducive to the Andhra Pradesh chief minister. However, in the age of hyper media activity and social media blitzes, KCR 's powerful speeches countering Naidu or his hectic campaigning has reach wider than any geographical limitations.
Fourth, while KCR still enjoys a positive image, TRS candidates look relatively weaker when compared with candidates of the Opposition combine in several constituencies. Thus, many ministers are forced to largely confine themselves to their constituencies. To avoid unwanted dissidence, KCR took a calculated risk by renominating most of his sitting MLAs. Whether this will pay off or cost him is anybody's guess. Will the voter consider the MLA candidate or the chief minister?
Fifth, the KCR regime has neither a strong pro- nor anti-incumbency as there is no universal discontent on the incumbent government. The government had a mixed record. KCR had only one term and voters may prefer to give him the benefit of doubt as the other players are not new to power. Meanwhile, KCR is also playing the victim card appealing to the voters that Congress has ganged up with TDP and two others to defeat him.