April 30, 2014 will be a big day for 2.81 crore voters in Telangana as they exercise their franchise for electing the first government of the new state that will formally come into existence on June 2. The voters, including 1.37 crore women, will decide the political fate of 1669 candidates contesting for 119 Assembly seats in the region, as also 265 candidates for 17 Lok Sabha seats.
Congress, Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) and Telugu Desam-Bharatiya Janata Party combine are the main contenders for power in what will be the 29th state of Indian Union. Though there are other players like YSR Congress, Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, Aam Aadmi Party, Lok Satta Party, CPI and CPM in the fray, they have little at stake in the elections. The electoral battle between the main contenders is so intense that picking a "favourite" is no easy task. The general elections will be a close contest between the TRS and the Congress while the TDP-BJP combine is also expected to make certain gains.
More than anyone else, the elections are highly critical for the TRS as it will be a "now-or-never" chance for it to realize its ultimate target of achieving power in the new state.
Prominent among those seeking election to Lok Sabha are Union Minister S Jaipal Reddy, TRS president K Chandrasekhar Rao, his daughter Kavitha, Lok Satta Party president N Jayaprakash Narayan, former DGP V Dinesh Reddy, former IAS officer M Chaya Ratan, CPI state secretary K Narayana and Majlis chief Asaduddin Owaisi.
The TRS head, whose ultimate dream is becoming the first Chief Minister of Telangana state, is also contesting the Assembly election while other aspirants like C Damodara Rajanarasimha, J Geeta Reddy and a host of others too are in the fray. It will certainly not be a cakewalk for the TRS in the elections to the new state Assembly as its clout is largely restricted to only some of the ten districts in the region and also the fact that it is fighting the elections on its own. Its image of being a "by-election party" is also not helping the TRS, as it is not known to win big in general elections.
The TRS has little presence in districts like Khammam, Nalgonda and Mahbubnagar while it is no force in Hyderabad city and parts of neighbouring Ranga Reddy district.
These five districts have a total of 65 Assembly constituencies in them, more than half of the total 119 in Telangana. Hyderabad and Ranga Reddy districts alone account or 29, and of them 24 are purely urban segments in which 'non-Telangana' voters hold the key. According to estimates, one-third of voters in Hyderabad and Ranga Reddy hail from coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions while Muslims form one-fourth of the total electorate who could effectively tilt the scales against the TRS.
In 2009, the TRS won only 10 of the 45 seats it contested in alliance with the TDP and the Left. It displayed a strong presence only in Karimnagar and Adilabad districts in north Telangana and very limited influence in Warangal, Nizamabad and Medak.
The scene in 2014 is completely different, now that Telangana got statehood, but will that ensure significant electoral gains for the party that spearheaded the movement is the big question. The TRS and the Congress are vying for the share of pie, each claiming credit for securing statehood for the region. Both are banking on the "Telangana sentiment" to reap electoral dividends.
The Congress tied up with the Communist Party of India, which too backed Telangana, to consolidate the "sentiment" votes as the Left party has good strength in certain districts where, incidentally, the TRS is weak. But the anti-incumbency blues are haunting the Congress while the TRS is hit by a "trust deficit". By going back on his promise of making a Dalit the first Chief Minister of Telangana and a Muslim the Deputy CM, TRS chief K Chandrasekhar Rao has only added to the trust deficit.
Interestingly, the Congress has promised to make a Dalit the CM of Telangana while the TDP vowed to give the post to a backward class leader. Indeed, this could well turn out to be a significant factor in the election as BCs and Dalits constitute over 65% of the electorate in Telangana.
The TDP has, in fact, pinned its hopes mostly on the Backward Classes and also a section of the Dalits to ward off the negative campaign that it tried to block the creation of Telangana state.
Also, by tying up with the BJP that supported the creation of the new state, the TDP hopes to nullify the negativity and simultaneously ride on the "Modi wave". It is also showcasing its past record to make a fresh bid for power to carry forward the development process in the new state.
The BJP, on the other hand, wants to reap the dividends of its support for Telangana and re-build its strong base in the region. It expects the "Modi wave" to be an added advantage in this effort.
Newly-formed Jana Sena Party of film star Pawan Kalyan is not in the electoral fray but he has lent support to the TDP-BJP combine, which is seen a big boost to the allies. The YSR Congress fielded its candidates in more than 100 Assembly constituencies in Telangana though its base has largely eroded after it opposed the bifurcation of the state. There is not one notable face among its candidates but the YSRC hopes to garner votes of non-Telangana populace in urban areas and possibly spoil the chances of the TDP-BJP combine.