The results of Nandyal bypoll triggered a fresh round of political rhetoric between the ruling Telugu Desam and the opposition YSR Congress. Quite characteristic of himself, the opposition leader Jaganmohan Reddy refused to give up and challenged the TDP supremo to seek the resignations of all the defected legislators to make it a referendum on his rule.
Besides, usual explanations are that the ruling party pressed into service money, official machinery to win over the electorate. No one can deny the influence of money in Indian elections. No party is clean in this regard. Obviously, the party in power may have greater fiscal muscle. But, it is difficult to measure the relative spending by the parties in the fray.
Most of the cabinet descended on Nandyal. Similarly, the opposition leader camped in the constituency. As the contest was projected as a sort of semi-final, such a concentration of political forces is obvious. In fact, the YSR Congress is equally responsible, if not more, for turning the contest into such a do-or-die battle, uncharacteristic of any by-election.
Yet another plausible reason cited for the ignominious defeat by the YSR Congress is that by-election normally favours the ruling party. That too when the government itself claimed that Rs 1,500 crore development activities were either initiated or were half way through, indicating the strategic advantage the party in power enjoys, disempowering the opposition.
This is true in the absence of any strong anti-incumbency. In fact, not just the TDP, the BJP and the AAP also won the by-elections in the respective states where they are in power. But, it is the YSR Congress that made the contest so prestigious. Enthused by the initial advantage it had with the entry of Silpa Mohan Reddy and the death of Bhuma Nagi Reddy, the YSR Congress thought that Nandyal could be an apt moment to frustrate the ruling TDP. But, the calculation boomeranged for the opposition.
The YSR Congress would have to face the tremors of Nandyal in the forthcoming days as the result certainly demoralises its camp. The TDP will move heaven and earth to woo as many legislators and leaders as possible from the YSR Congress. The only saviour for the party is the refusal of the Centre to increase the Assembly seats making it difficult for the Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu to accommodate the newcomers while keeping the old timers in good humour.
However, the TDP will selectively target the YSR Congress leaders focusing on the winnable candidates. The Nandyal bypoll has further polarised the state polity much to the disadvantage of other players. The Congress continues to be in the political quagmire as the people of Andhra Pradesh refuse to pardon the party that has divided the state against their will.
Pavan Kalyan with his policy of equidistance has hit a self-goal by failing to define his political position even as the state has almost embraced 2019 poll fever. Thus, the emerging political landscape will certainly result in fresh round of political permutations and combinations.
The BJP seems to be yet another loser without even remaining in the fray. The party could not even make its presence felt as its principal ally decided to keep it away from the electioneering. The TDP deliberately did not involve either state or local leaders of BJP in the entire campaign. Even the saffron flags were largely kept out giving an impression that the TDP is fighting it alone. Unlike the poll scene in Kakinada, the TDP cleverly adopted such a strategy given the composition of the Nandyal electorate.
Muslims constitute a sizable section whose voting preference had the potential to alter the fortunes of the parties. In fact, the mood of the Muslim voter in Andhra Pradesh is quite different from that of neighbouring Telangana, not to speak of North India. The linguistic identity dominates the religious identity in the Muslims of Seemandhra. Yet, there is a difference in the mood of the Muslim voter in Rayalaseema and Coastal Andhra. There is a reasonable religious identity in Rayalaseema. Sensing this, the TDP carefully crafted its poll strategy.
Despite the TDP's electoral strategy so discernible, the opposition YSR Congress miserably failed to evolve a counter strategy to encash on TDP's bonhomie with BJP. This weakness in the YSR Congress emanates from the party’s enthusiasm to grab the earliest opportunity to jump onto the BJP bandwagon in any eventuality of saffron brigade’s estrangement from TDP. But, such long-term strategies cannot be allowed to take the toll of immediate objective of winning the elections. In fact, any win for the YSR Congress at Nandyal would have facilitated BJP’s divorce with TDP. Now with the resounding victory, the TDP could establish a better leverage with the BJP.
In fact, the YSR Congress had initial advantage at Nandyal. This was evident from the TDP leaders refusing to accept the challenge to consider Nandyal by-poll as a referendum on its rule. The TDP was, therefore, cautious as it was always unsure of the mandate. The euphoria seen in YSR Congress camp is also due to the fact that the party initially had an advantage.
The YSR Congress is relatively strong in Rayalaseema.
An analysis of 2014 mandate also reveals the fact that the success rate of the party is much better for Jaganmohan Reddy on his home turf. In fact, the party won the Nandyal seat in 2014. The unprecedented concentration on Amaravati has certainly created a sense of alienation in the people of Rayalaseema. Even the TDP leaders including Deputy Chief Minister K E Krishnamurthy have expressed such reservations over the perceived neglect of the backward Rayalaseema region.
The politics of Rayalaseema are dominated by faction loyalties rather than the party convictions. The exit of Silpa Mohan Reddy from the party had the potential to upset the TDP apple cart as he is relatively better-known leader compared to the TDP nominee who is a political novice despite family credentials.
The Reddys still enjoy a formidable influence on the politics of Rayalaseema. The grassroots political leadership in this caste is still overwhelmingly rallying behind the YSR Congress. But, the campaign style adopted by the YSR Congress seems to be self-suicidal. The party unnecessarily turned the contest into a straight fight between Chandrababu Naidu and Jaganmohan Reddy. At a time when the government and the Chief Minister in particular enjoy relatively better approval ratings, such a strategy is always counterproductive.
The language used, the issues raised, the dust and din generated by YSR Congress during the campaign trail had little or no connect with the local people. Such a high decibel political rhetoric does not benefit in a by-election that does not determine the party or the person to rule the state.
No election can be a trend-setter for the other. One election cannot be taken as a decisive trend for the future. However, the Nandyal bypoll offers both the parties an opportunity to introspect and strategise further for 2019.