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Deciphering Warangal poll scene

Deciphering Warangal poll scene
Highlights

Elections are an opportunity for political parties to assess their political strength and the distance between them and the people. It‘s an apt occasion for governments to take stock of people’s perception of their performance. It’s a moment for political analysts to empirically and qualitatively analyse the state of polity at a given point of time.

Though an MP election, Warangal poll has turned out to be a referendum on the performance of KCR-led TRS government in the State. This, in fact, is becoming an advantage for the TRS as the people are ready to strike but not wound the party and its government.

As for BJP, it is reluctant to call it a vote on the achievements of Modi government. It lacks a strong cadre up to mandal and booth levels and has to depend on the rank and file of TDP. As far as Congress is concerned, it is an uphill task for it as the TRS has kept identity politics and Telangana idiom alive. The only challenge to the TRS is the growing discontent among different sections of society, especially peasantry

Elections are an opportunity for political parties to assess their political strength and the distance between them and the people. It‘s an apt occasion for governments to take stock of people’s perception of their performance. It’s a moment for political analysts to empirically and qualitatively analyse the state of polity at a given point of time.

Understanding of politics should also be a scientific exercise devoid of partisan amnesia. Election epistemology is a challenging task as the political climate is not static. Instead, it is driven by complex and ever varying factors.

Irrespective of whether who wins or loses in Warangal and with what margin, let’s look at the poll scene from a perspective of throwing some light on the political process in the new State of Telangana. In fact, thus deciphered trends perhaps would also be greatly relevant to even Andhra Pradesh as the polity in both States also has some striking similarities despite equally striking dissimilarities, too.

The rather paradoxical but an interesting context of Warangal polls is that this election is to elect a Member of Parliament. But, the electoral and political scene has turned out into a referendum on the performance of KCR-led TRS government in the State. This in fact is turning out into an advantage for the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) as the people are ready to strike but not wound the TRS and its government.

Though the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is in the fray in Warangal, it’s willy-nilly disinclined to convert it into a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi whose hands will be strengthened if BJP wins this Lok Sabha by-elections. There may be many reasons for this dilemma of BJP, given the local weaknesses that make BJP not so formidable force to reckon with in Warangal.

The party perhaps may not be keen on projecting it now as a sort of referendum on the Centre and invite an unpleasant experience to its central leadership. Especially after the Delhi and more recently Bihar debacle, the party is much more disarmed even to think of making it into a plebiscite on Modi. In case the NDA had a resounding victory in Bihar, the BJP would have certainly roped in Modi, Centre etc., into the Warangal poll scene.

Meanwhile, the BJP suffers from ground limitations like lack of local cadre and leadership up to mandal and booth levels. It has to mainly depend on the organisational machinery of Telugu Desam Party.

Given the antipathy between the TRS and the TDP, the latter has no reason to ditch its ally. But, the fact remains is that the TDP cadres are only doing tenant agriculture. Obviously this robs off the killer instinct from the TDP rank and file. Political observers in Warangal feel the TDP would have fared better than the BJP.

But, as the seat was contested by the BJP in 2014 and with the TDP in no mood to test waters now in Telangana, the mantle fell on the BJP to contest. In electioneering and vote catching, the presence of local leadership is crucial. This is clear when one takes a disaggregated view of the electoral scene in Warangal Loksabha constituency.

Wherever the opposition has strong local leadership, a dent into the vote of TRS seems to be imminent. For instance, poll watchers speculate that the TRS may lose its margins in Assembly segments like Palakurthy, Parakal, and Bhupalpally etc. But, this advantage opposition is dissipated between the Congress and the TDP, turning to be advantageous to TRS.

Meanwhile, electoral outcome is an aggregate vote count. Normally in Parliamentary elections, political parties compensate the loss in a few Assembly segments by greater margin in others. Similarly, the TRS has overwhelming presence in both the urban seats of Warangal. The opposition suffers from lack of local strong leadership while the TRS has fairly strong local legislators. Thus, the TRS is most likely to square up the losses in Palakurthy, Parkal, Bhupalpally etc., if any, with urban Warangal margins.

It may be worth noting here that the TRS got more than half of the votes while the remaining half was distributed between the Congress and the BJP in 2014. The triangular contest in 2015 has tendency to make 2014 repeat with a few additions this side or that side, hope the TRS circles.

The Congress is hopeful of opposition vote consolidating in its favor as it would be perceived as the main challenge to the TRS and voters may spring any surprises. Thus, the Congress leaders are keen on attracting even the grassroots TDP vote as this party is directly not in the fray. But, the TDP– BJP circles lament that the Congress is living in fool’s paradise.

Such strategic vote shift from one party to the other happens in two instances: First, if there is an organisational push to this extent; and secondly, if the Congress is in a formidable position to make the ruling party eat a humble pie. Both the factors do not exist in Warangal poll scene today. The Congress has not gained anything significantly to turn the tables against the TRS in the post 2014 period. Besides, there are no cracks in the TDP–BJP combine.

A visit to various places in Warangal reveals yet another interesting political feature. The surging Telangana identity has forced all the other electoral dimensions like parties, candidates and local issues onto the backburner, thus turning the election into a people’s desire to reward a party that made their long-cherished dream a reality.

Though the Congress-led UPA, risking its stakes in the residuary Andhra Pradesh, delivered Telangana, it could not convince the voter as he or she was determined to reward the TRS for creating political compulsions for the Congress to act decisively in favor of separate Telangana State. The ruling TRS has also deftly ensured that the Telangana identity, which catapulted it to power, was alive.

The unending saga of differences with Andhra Pradesh on water, power, distribution of employees, division of departments, assets and liabilities and, at last, on the manner in which the State Re-organisation Act is implemented etc., whether they are real or engineered, kept the Telangana identity alive and kicking. This is evident in Warangal poll landscape benefiting the TRS.

The Congress attempt to rope in former Speaker who presided over the momentous occasion for the formation of separate Telangana State is yet another attempt to present itself as the party that delivered Telangana. But, the TRS beat the Congress on this wicket way back in 2014 itself. How far the Congress bid to market the same political idiom would cut ice with the people of Warangal is a million dollar question.

On the contrary, the TRS could counter the Congress with the same old slogan of party that made Congress deliver Telangana. Now after over a year of separate State, the TRS is trying to present itself as the sole protagonist of Telangana identity by keeping the inter-state issues with Andhra Pradesh in focus, and also through cultural politics like the Bathukamma festival etc. The TRS strategy is to counter the opponents with identity politics. As the Telangana sentiment continues to sustain, the TRS hopes for a political dividend out of it.

The last one year of political changes brought about a shift in the loyalties of political class in general, especially at the grassroots level. The ruling TRS has manufactured this shift in a clever manner. To begin with, it attracted influential leaders from other parties including legislators.

This created a sense of despair in the opposition. The politician-contractor nexus also helped the TRS woo a significant chunk of leaders and cadres from other parties. This shift is intact as the election in 2019 is too far and there are no signs of any change in the correlation of political forces.

The only challenge to the TRS is the growing discontent among different sections of society, especially peasantry. But, this has created an indifferent voter, but not a voter hostile to the party. This indifferent voter may refrain from voting or could even be managed by the TRS through poll management.

Even otherwise, the indifferent voter, even if hostile, it’s dissipated character makes this assailable for the TRS. The indifferent voter also suffers from political inertia and may even choose to retain his or her political preference, though with a cynicism. The multiple undercurrents still have to precipitate to define the electoral mandate by the election eve.

Editor: Prof K Nageshwar

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