The winter of 2018 has set a tensed mood for general elections of 2019. The results of state assembly elections have set off new debates and calculations. The Congress, which was seen as a weak alternative to BJP in Hindi-belt states, has managed to wrest power in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. Though BJP has suffered an honorable defeat in two out of three states, the formation of Congress-led governments in these states will make Congress a serious alternative to BJP.
Although the outcome of this winter election is revolving around national parties but it is also important to note the developments occurring at the regional level which should not be ignored. The attempt of the leaders from two Telugu states, Chandrababu Naidu and KCR, playing a pivotal role in forming a national alliance for general elections is a significant development. While Naidu’s mission started off prior to winter elections to be a facilitator of Mahaghatbandhan against NDA, the landslide victory of TRS in Telangana has motivated KCR to play a major role in national politics. KCR is excited to pivot a non-BJP, non-Congress federal front to take on national parties. He made his national ambitions clear soon after the results.
The victory of Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) and the failure of Congress-led Mahakutami (Congress-TDP-CPI-TJS) in Telangana has improved the stakes of KCR. The analysis of election results shows that TDP’s vote share declined from 14.6% in 2014 to 3.5% in 2018 while that of the Congress increased from 25% to 28.4%. The TRS managed to increase its vote share by a resounding 12.9% from 34% to 46.9%. This shows that the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) failed to transfer its votes to Congress but benefited TRS at the cost of TDP.
The Mahakutami, instead of becoming a strong alternative, failed miserably. Congress and TDP have historically been arch rivals in united Andhra Pradesh. In fact, TDP was founded in 1982 as an alternative to Congress party, subsequently leading to the two party system in Andhra politics. The coming together of historical rivals was seen as an opportunistic alliance to defeat KCR. Naidu, who was a staunch opponent of Telangana statehood, was accused of backdoor entry into state politics with the help of Congress. This led to the polarization of votes.
KCR’s farm policies like Rythu Bandhu and welfare schemes were a huge hit among farmers and poor sections. He also doubled pensions and provided unemployment allowance. His good performance in irrigation and power sector added up to his achievements. Nevertheless, KCR faced severe criticism for cracking down on the students of Osmania University, who played a major role in Telangana movement. Congress, on the other hand, failed to convert the discontent among youth into votes. The Mahakutami promised similar welfare schemes implemented by KCR but that did not impress voters to drift towards the alliance.
The strong rise of KCR and the rout of TDP in Telangana, may have a serious impact on Naidu’s leadership in the two Deccan states and national politics. Naidu will have to face resurgent Congress at the national level and a tough opposition led by YSRCP at the state level. This might force Congress and TDP to rethink their partnership in upcoming elections to Andhra assembly and Loksabha. Congress, which is under resurgence in Andhra Pradesh, may not be an ideal partner for TDP as this could negatively impact the alliance like it did in Telangana.
The outcome of the state elections has shifted the focus from Chief Minister of one Telugu state to another. Naidu’s role as a facilitator in Mahaghatbandhan may take a hit due to his party’s negative impact on Mahakutami and Congress’ victory in the three Hindi-belt states. Though KCR has supported NDA in some of the legislations passed in Parliament, the likelihood of him being a part of NDA during general elections is very less as his national ambitions would be thwarted in the presence of BJP. It is also unlikely for him to ally with the Congress as it is the principal opposition party in Telangana.
If KCR succeeds in forming a non-Congress, non-BJP front, the idea of a strong Mahaghatbandhan would suffer in the absence of Congress. The strength of Mahaghatbandhan comprising Congress, if facilitated by KCR, would be dependent on the accommodative spirit of Congress, TRS and other regional parties. The December results of 2018 have given rise to a number of speculations and will keep the people of India guessing about the future course of politics.