Congress faces Telangana polls with its back to the wall

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Hyderabad: With a few months to go for Assembly elections in Telangana, the Congress faces an acid test to remain relevant in the state politics as the BJP is making every effort to become the principal contestant to ruling BRS while in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh the chances of a revival of grand old partys fortunes remained bleak.

More than eight years after formation of Telangana as a separate state, the Congress party still appears clueless to regain the lost ground in its former stronghold.

Reeling under defections of several leaders and legislators during the last eight-and-a-half years and humiliating defeats in by-elections, the party looks to be in disarray. Infighting and lack of any charismatic figure have added to the woes of the grand old party.

The Bharat Jodo Yatra of Rahul Gandhi brought some enthusiasm to lift the spirit of demoralized cadre and the state Congress chief A. Revanth Reddy is trying to keep the momentum with ongoing padyatra as part of Hath Se Hath Jodo campaign, the party faces the acid test.

The Congress, which was hoping to reap the political benefit of carving out Telangana state in 2014, may find the going tough in the third consecutive election.

The party faces the biggest challenge to its survival as the BJP appears to have occupied the space of principal contestant for ruling Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS).

In both 2014 and 2018, the Congress party was the main rival for BRS but this time the party may face the next polls even without this status.

Political observers say that in the narrative of BRS versus BJP built by the saffron party, Congress party may face the going tough.

“It will be now or never for the Congress party in Telangana. To stay afloat in state politics, it will have to at least emerge as the second largest party in the Assembly,” said political observer Palwai Raghavendra Reddy.

“Wherever the Congress party lost the status of opposition, it never made a comeback. There are many examples like Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal,” he said.

In 2014, the Congress won 22 seats in 119-member Telangana Assembly, while it was completely wiped out in Andhra Pradesh due to the public anger over bifurcation. In Telangana, several party leaders including legislators defected to TRS.

In 2018 Congress faced another disaster. It could win just 19 seats, though it had forged an electoral alliance with the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), the Left parties and some smaller parties.

Even before Congress could gear up for Lok Sabha elections in 2019, it had lost as many as 12 MLAs to the ruling party. Though the party salvaged some pride by winning three Lok Sabha seats, with the reduced strength in Assembly it lost the status of main opposition to All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), a friendly party of TRS.

The party suffered a huge embarrassment a few months after Lok Sabha as it failed to retain Huzurnagar Assembly seat, where by-election was necessitated with the resignation of Uttam Kumar Reddy following his election to Lok Sabha.

The BJP wrested the Dubbak Assembly seat from the TRS in 2020 by-election to consolidate itself. The saffron party, which hardly had any presence in the constituency, pushed Congress party to third position.

The Congress suffered another humiliation the same year as it could win just two seats in 150-member Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC).

The party was pinning its hopes on by-election to Nagarjuna Sagar to revive its fortunes in the state. Its senior leader and former minister K. Jana Reddy lost the contest by over 18,000 votes to the TRS candidate.

The appointment of Revanth Reddy as the new state president by the central leadership in 2021 after ignoring several seniors and strong contenders triggered open revolt by a section of leaders, who saw Revanth as an outsider as he had defected to Congress from TDP just before 2018 elections.

The change of guard also could not bring any change in the party’s fortunes. Several seniors started openly attacking Revanth Reddy for sidelining them.

In the Huzurabad by-election held towards the end of 2021, the performance of the Congress was disastrous. Its candidate secured only 3,012 votes and lost the deposit. It was a big slump for the party, which had secured 47,803 votes in 2018 to finish runners-up.

The resignation of sitting MLA from Munugode constituency Komatireddy Rajagopal Reddy and his defection to BJP to force by-election late last year dealt another blow to Congress party. It faced more embarrassment with its candidate finishing a poor third and forfeiting the deposit.

Rajagopal Reddy’s brother and Bhongir MP Komatireddy Venkat Reddy, the star campaigner of Congress party, also stayed away from campaigning in Munugode, further embarrassing the party.

The continuing slide raised new questions on the leadership of Revanth Reddy, whose style of functioning also irked some seniors. Recently when he packed the party panels with his loyalists, the senior raised a banner of revolt and launched a movement to save the party. They called it a fight between real Congress leaders and migrants from other parties.

The allegation by seniors that AICC incharge Manickam Tagore is siding Revanth Reddy forced the central leadership to intervene and replace him with Manikrao Thakare.

The new incharge last began his efforts to put the house in order. It’s not going to be an easy task for Manikrao.

In neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, the prospects for the Congress party for revival of its political fortunes look really bleak.

Due to public anger over division of Andhra Pradesh, the party remained without any representation either in state Assembly or in Parliament from the state. It has yielded the political space to YSR Congress Party (YSRCP), which emerged as the number two force in 2014 and wrested power from TDP in 2019.

With many top Congress leaders defecting to either YSRCP or TDP after bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh, the Congress camp became deserted..

In the 2014 elections, Congress was virtually wiped out due to public anger over bifurcation of the state. It drew a blank in both Assembly and Lok Sabha and there was no improvement in 2019.

“People of Andhra Pradesh are still reeling under the after-effects of bifurcation, and it is evident the people there blame the Congress for this situation. The state politics has become more or less YSRCP versus TDP battle and in the foreseeable future, Congress appears to have no chance of making a comeback,” said an analyst.

That the Congress party recognized this reality was evident when Bharat Jodo Yatra covered less than 100 km in the state.

During the Yatra, in Andhra Pradesh, Rahul Gandhi Rahul Gandhi reiterated that the Congress party remains committed to grant special category status to the state and develop a single capital at Amaravati.

Special Category Status (SCS) to the residuary state was promised by the Congress-led UPA government at the time of bifurcation of united Andhra Pradesh in 2014 and this commitment was part of the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act 2014.

However, the BJP-led NDA, which came to power at the Centre in 2014, declined to grant SCS to Andhra Pradesh on the ground that this would lead to similar demands from other states. Both TDP and YSRCP also failed to achieve SCS.

In a statement issued at the end of the journey in Andhra Pradesh, he recalled the commitment made in and by the Parliament to the people of Andhra Pradesh. “We are determined to ensure that these commitments are met -fully and speedily. Both the central and state governments have failed in this regard,” he said.

Rahul Gandhi noted that the Congress party is aware of the challenges it faced in Andhra Pradesh. “The state has been a bastion of the Congress party in the past, and has produced outstanding statesmen for India. We are determined to do all we can to ensure that the Congress party returns to its pre-eminent position in the hearts and minds of the Andhra people,” he said.

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( With inputs from )

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