Hyderabad, March 17: When D.L. Ravindra Reddy, health minister in the former Kiran Reddy government, today announced he was joining the Telugu Desam Party, it was the latest in a series of setbacks for the Congress that seems to have miscalculated badly in a key state.
Party lawmakers and former ministers are now leaving in droves — for the Telangana Rashtra Samiti in the Telangana region, and for the Desam and the YSR Congress in Seemandhra.
The reason is that the Centre’s grant of statehood to Telangana, a move the Congress expected to boost it in the new state, appears to have backfired politically for the party, at least for now.
After a decade of dominating Andhra Pradesh — whose voters spearheaded the Congress’s return to power 10 years ago and gave it an advantage in 2009 too — the party is now looking down the barrel in both the Telangana and Seemandhra regions.
This will be the last election in united Andhra Pradesh, which had stood staunchly behind the Congress in critical elections, including the 1980 polls when it powered Indira Gandhi’s return by giving her 41 of its 42 seats. In both 2004 and 2009, the Congress and its allies won 34 seats.
But the Congress’s vote share, which stood at 51 per cent in 1989, had fallen to 36 per cent by 2009 and could slip further this time.
The first blow to the party in Telangana came on March 3, when the Telangana Rashtra Samiti of K. Chandrasekhar Rao, which led the statehood agitation, went back on its promise to merge with the Congress after the division of Andhra Pradesh. Last weekend, it rebuffed the Congress’s alliance efforts too.
Rao’s party has been claiming credit for the grant of statehood and now looks to be the main beneficiary of the decision. It has been attracting defectors from not just the Congress but also the Desam.
The Congress has almost given up on Seemandhra — which will form the residuary Andhra Pradesh state once a Telangana state is born on June 2 — despite the Centre’s package of sops for the region’s 13 districts.
Most of the party’s former ministers, MPs and MLAs from the region — even its last chief minister — have rebelled against the state’s division.
In Seemandhra, the Congress now faces the twin challenges posed by the YSR Congress of Jaganmohan Reddy and the Desam of Chandrababu Naidu.
Chandrababu is likely to tie up with the BJP, and the YSR Congress with the CPM. The Congress may be left on its own, as might the new party floated by Kiran Reddy, the Jai Samaikyandhra Party, which has so far failed to draw defectors from the Congress.
Surveys have given the advantage in Seemandhra to Jagan, who has begun a whirlwind tour of the state. The region’s 175 Assembly seats and 25 parliamentary constituencies vote on May 7.
In Telangana, whose 119 Assembly and 17 Lok Sabha seats go to the polls on April 30, the Telangana Rashtra Samiti is likely to ally with the CPI and the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen. The Congress, again, is on its own while the Desam and the BJP are together.
The fourth player will be the Jana Sena Party, launched on Friday by actor Pawan Kalyan, brother of Congress Union minister and actor Chiranjeevi.