Interpreting the Middle Class Mandate
Notwithstanding the victory of the ruling combine-sponsored candidate in North Coastal Andhra, the discernible trend that cuts across several constituencies is clear rejection of TDP. Any consolidation of opposition vote will be a serious threat to TDP in 2019, given the fact that the difference in the vote share of TDP-BJP and YSR Congress in 2014 was slender. But, the TDP can heave a sigh of rel
Notwithstanding the victory of the ruling combine-sponsored candidate in North Coastal Andhra, the discernible trend that cuts across several constituencies is clear rejection of TDP. Any consolidation of opposition vote will be a serious threat to TDP in 2019, given the fact that the difference in the vote share of TDP-BJP and YSR Congress in 2014 was slender. But, the TDP can heave a sigh of relief from the recalcitrant attitude of opposition leader Y S Jaganmohan Reddy
Biennial elections to the Andhra Pradesh State Legislative Council were held recently. Nine of the 13 districts of the state went to polls to elect representatives form graduates and teachers constituencies. The interpretation of this mandate has its limitations and significance. It’s significant that such a large part of the state has gone to polls for the first time since the bifurcation of the state in 2014.
Contrary to the general practice of major political parties keeping away from these polls, the ruling combine was actively in the fray while the opposition parties were selectively in the race. The presence of political parties provides political significance to these elections.
Unlike the elections to the council from other constituencies like the Assembly and the local bodies, the elections in graduates and teachers constituencies are a direct election. This is evident from the contrasting results in the Rayalaseema region.
However, there are significant limitations to the elections to the House of Elders. The elections are held on preferential ballot. The contest is not exactly between the same political parties that fight head on in the general elections.
A small section of the society, that too educated voters, participates in these elections. The mandate for the Council is not going to determine who will rule the state. Not just the political loyalties, the union affinities also significantly influence the voters’ choices.
Any interpretation of this mandate should be understood within this framework of limitations and importance. Notwithstanding the victory of the ruling combine-sponsored candidate in the North Coastal Andhra, the discernible trend that cuts across the several constituencies is the clear rejection of Telugu Desam candidates.
Thus, the TDP lost in all the four seats it contested. The trend was much more perceptible in the Rayalaseema region where its candidate for teacher’s constituency of West Rayalaseema was even relegated to the third position. Though any hurried conclusion of anti-TDP sentiment prevailing in the state is unwarranted, yet, the defeat of the ruling party despite pressing into service its money and political machine in a big way cannot be brushed under the carpet.
Enthused by its performance in Krishna-Guntur teacher’s constituency in 2015, the TDP now jumped into the fray by involving even ministers including the education minister. The TDP-backed candidate defeated the sitting two-term MLC belonging to Progressive Democratic Front (PDF), K S Lakshman Rao, in Krishna-Guntur in 2015. Despite the popularity of PDF nominee, the TDP could wrest this seat, thanks to its consummate deployment of political and state resources.
But, the repeat of this did not happen in the Rayalaseema constituencies. The point which the TDP leadership missed was its 2015 abortive experiment in East and West Godavari districts teachers constituency. The TDP nominee here despite his massive money power apart from the ruling political patronage lost to the relatively not so familiar PDF candidate, Ramu Surya Rao.
But, his victory proved that mere political manipulation and money power cannot always alter the popular mandate. Even the Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu acknowledged the failure of TDP to defeat him. The moral outrage is sometimes invincible rather than the political machinery.
The 2015 biennial mandate has two facets. In Krishna-Guntur, the TDP experiment succeeded while its similar one failed in the neighbouring Godavari districts. The overwhelming presence of the social group that identified with TDP in Krishna and Guntur districts contributed to a great extent to the TDP’s win besides several facts including the fact that the sitting MLC was seeking a third term.
The TDP suffered from selective perception and strategised to win the 2017 polls to repeat the 2015 formula. Similar to 2015, the TDP fielded candidates with corporate power. The selection of candidates incurred the wrath of even party machinery.
Candidates with little or no political background descending with money bags was distasteful even to the party activists who feared a similar thing happening in 2019 too, if the party succeeded then. Besides, the internal rumblings stemming out of the group rivalry in the districts also took a heavy toll on the party‘s fortunes.
The conflict between the ministers had cast a deep shadow on the chances of TDP nominee, especially, in West Rayalaseema graduates constituency. Similarly, the dominance of municipal administration minister Narayana in East Rayalaseema was not to the liking of party rank and file. In fact, the elections were a personal challenge to the minister as he ensured candidature to his close confidants.
The success of YSR Congress candidate in West Rayalaseema graduates constituency is the cynosure of this mandate. The PDF is not a direct political rival to the TDP, though the presence of its candidates in the council is unpalatable to the ruling dispensation. But, in the triumph of YSRCP, the TDP finds a direct political challenge.
Contrary to the often repeated claims of TDP leadership, right from the lowest to the supreme level, that YSR Congress is driven to the oblivion, the graduates of Rayalaseema gave Jaganmohan Reddy a significant mandate, much to the chagrin of TDP. Similarly, the absence of YSRCP in the contest also contributed to an extent to the defeat of TDP candidates in the east Rayalaseema graduates and teacher’s constituencies where the PDF nominees retained their seats.
The PDF candidates backed by several middle-class organisations are in fact formidable candidates. This is evident from the fact that while V Balasubramanyam was re-elected for the third term, Y Srinivasulu Reddy won for the second term. It’s a fact that a larger chunk of the seats won by YSRCP in the general elections are from the Rayalaseema and Prakasam districts.
Its absence in the fray helped in further consolidation of anti-TDP vote. This is a grim pointer to the TDP strategists. Any consolidation of opposition vote will be a serious threat to TDP in 2019, given the fact that the difference in the vote share of TDP-BJP and YSR Congress in 2014 was slender. But, the TDP can heave a sigh of relief from the recalcitrant attitude of opposition leader Y S Jaganmohan Reddy.
The opposition leader fails to read the character of 2014 mandate and makes no effort to rally the opposition. The over confidence of the opposition leader proved to be dearer for him in 2014 and can do so in 2019.
The opposition cannot ignore the fact that the ruling combine could wrest the sitting seat from PDF in North Coastal Andhra. The PDF leader, MVS Sharma, represented this constituency in the last two terms. The YSR Congress absence in the fray also did not stop the win of BJP candidate backed by TDP. In fact, this is more a TDP win than that of BJP. This indicates the fact that TDP despite being in power for three years continues to enjoy significant popularity.
The defeat of TDP in Rayalaseema and adjoining districts and its win in North Coastal Andhra offers a study in contrast. The TDP leadership can learn important political lessons from this.
The TDP’s poor performance in Rayalaseema is a reflection of growing disenchantment within the populace of this region over the capital-centric model of development pursued by Chandrababu Naidu government.
The euphoria generated around Amaravati is not without its backlash in the regions that suffered decades of backwardness. The regional disparities will have a political expression provided there are forces to trigger. Unlike in North Coastal Andhra which too suffered such neglect, the Rayalaseema region saw sporadic attempts to rally people on the sub-regional identity.
Similar such efforts in north Coastal Andhra were feeble. The regional or sub-regional sentiments will have their first reflection in the vocal middle class. This dimension is the critical factor apart from several other aspects including the caste consolidation in favour of YSR Congress nominee in defining the mandate in west Rayalaseema.
However, similar such euphoria around Visakhapatnam and the redoubtable political and organisational presence of TDP in the rural parts of the constituency have all contributed to the BJP’s victory in North Coastal districts.
The contrasting mandate across the state only exposes the chinks in TDP armor rather than any outright political rejection of TDP. It’s not for despair but points to ponder for TDP.