Telangana polls: Congress’ fate decides national political landscape in 2024

Telangana is going to be the central piece of ongoing assembly polls in five states. The outcome of the 2014 carved out state from erstwhile Andhra Pradesh is going to have a serious and far-reaching impact on the national politics and in the run up for 2024 general elections. A resurgent and victorious Congress in […]

Telangana is going to be the central piece of ongoing assembly polls in five states. The outcome of the 2014 carved out state from erstwhile Andhra Pradesh is going to have a serious and far-reaching impact on the national politics and in the run up for 2024 general elections. A resurgent and victorious Congress in Hyderabad on December 3, 2023 would send ripples through the high echelons of power at the Raisina Hills, New Delhi. It would not only signal Narendra Modi-BJP’s inability to make any inroads in the Deccan corridor but also indicate the Congress’ ability to wrest back power from a third front protagonist. The Congress, has an otherwise Pathetic record of losing control of state politics once concedes power to a regional outfit. BJD in Odisha, TMC in Bengal, Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh, RJD in Bihar, YSR Congress in Andhra, AAP in Delhi are few among many such examples.
A poor showing by the grand old party, on the other hand, would weaken the Congress standing within the INDIA alliance. The Congress’ dream of crossing 100 plus Lok Sabha seats in 2024 general elections would be shattered. The taunts and pressures from the Samajwadi Party, TMC and AAP would become strident, frequent and test the patience of Mallikarjun Kharge and the Gandhi trio who have been working overtime to keep the united face of INDIA. At another level, a poor showing in Telangana would point that Rahul Gandhi ‘s Bharat Jodo Yatra was indeed high on optics and low on substance.
The Congress hopes continue to be high on Telangana. Call it fantasy or delusional attitude, a number of senior Congress leaders say they sense a ‘aa ab laut chalen’ moment for the Congress. Aa ab laut chalen, a 1999 movie starring Rajesh Khanna, Aishwarya Rai, Akshay Khanna is a story about a NRI family living in USA returning back to their roots in India. The optimists are also counting heavily on otherwise uncorroborated satta bazar, opinion polls surveys and ‘ground zero’ reports that reportedly predict Congress success in Telangana.
Would Telangana voters return to the Congress? We would get to know on December 3 but the history of the region shows an uncharacteristic and emotional side of the voters having the ability to move against the tide or springing surprises. In 1980 when Indira Gandhi had floated her own breakaway Congress [Indira], she won from Medak defeating Jaipal Reddy of the Janata Party by over two lakh votes. Indira was so overwhelmed by her success that she chose to retain Medak, giving up her traditional seat Raibarelli that had elected her with a bigger margins. Perhaps it was Indira ‘s way of expressing gratitude to the people of Andhra and Telangana who had given her all 42 Lok Sabha seats in 1977 when the north, east and western-central parts of India had voted against her with a vengeance.
Incidentally, the united Andhra Pradesh had come into existence following the revolutionary freedom fighter Potti Sreeramulu’s fast unto death, demanding that a separate Telugu state be carved out of the Telugu speaking districts of Madras state and Hyderabad state. Creation of new states on linguistic and regional aspirations has always been a tricky and volatile subject in India as there are never-ending demands for smaller states by vested regional and linguistic groups. Bowing to the pressure from Potti Sreeramulu, prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru had to set up the First States Reorganization Commission that sought to reform the boundaries and governance of the country’s states and territories. When Andhra was formed in 1953, for the next three decades –up to 1983, the Indian National Congress won every election held in the state. In 1983, film actor N T Rama Rao spearheaded a political campaign in Andhra Pradesh which probably has no precedent in India’s political history.Rajiv Gandhi was AICC general secretary in 1982 when he visited Andhra on the ‘private’ visit. At the Begumpet airport, the otherwise sober Rajiv lost his cool when he spotted Congress chief minister Tantuguri Anjaiah, armed with garlands and the entire cabinet in attendance. The pomp and crowd of party workers continued as the chief minister failed to read Rajiv’s angry face. At the end of it, those within the hearing distance heard Rajiv calling Anjaiah, an old man hailing from weaker sections, a “buffoon.” The rash of arrogance did not end there. Palace intrigue and courtiers convinced the then prime minister Indira Gandhi to sack Anjaiah. As he left, Anjaiah remarked, “I came by the grace of Madam, I am going under her orders. I don’t know why I came and why I am going.” The “insult” of a “Telugu Bidda” turned into ammunition in newly arrived actor turned politician Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao’s hands. In the 1983 state assembly polls, the newly created Telugu Desam Party led by him, stormed to power on the “atmagauravam” (self-respect) plank.
NTR as Rama Rao was popularly known, was not the first matinee idol to storm a Congress citadel as that distinction goes to Maruthur Gopalan Ramachandran or MGR of Tamil Nadu. But NTR’s rise was sudden, spectacular and without having an organised political party. Unlike MGR, NTR did not have the benefit of tutelage under C N Annadurai, training as a Congress activist or backing of a potent Dravidian social and political movement in Tamil Nadu.NTR’s bond with Andhra became so strong that in 1984-85 Lok Sabha polls, held after Indira Gandhi assassination, the Congress won three fourth of majority in the Lok Sabha but failed to capitalise “sympathy vote” in the united Andhra. Out of 42 Lok Sabha seats from the state, The TDP won 30 parliamentary seats earning itself the space of the principal opposition party in Lok Sabha.
Andhra returned to the Congress when it needed it most. In 2004 and 2009 Lok Sabha elections, Andhra gave Sonia Gandhi 29 and 33 Lok Sabha seats that helped in creation and consolidation of the UPA that ruled between 2004-2014. The events leading to the creation of a separate Telangana requires a separate volume but in brief, split of Andhra into two harmed the Congress both in truncated Andhra and in Telangana immensely resulting in poor performance in both state and national elections. Can December 3 2023 chalk a different course and promise a better future for a struggling Congress. Hope is light and bravery too.

(Rasheed Kidwai is an Indian journalist, author and political analyst. He is a visiting Fellow with the Observer Research Foundation. Kidwai has appeared on News 18, Times Now, ABP news and NDTV.)