Congress scores a self-goal in Telangana
By: Syed Amin Jafri
The Congress seems to be have scored a self-goal in seeking the minority votes in Friday’s assembly elections in Telangana. The Congress campaigners had been telling the minority voters that “voting for TRS would be like voting for BJP” and that, after the Assembly polls, TRS would ally with BJP in the ensuing Lok Sabha elections. However, the Congress leaders had virtually walked into their own trap. Minorities, particularly Muslims, have been wary of TDP right from the days of NT Rama Rao and later N Chandrababu Naidu, in Telangana region in view of frequent poll alliances between TDP and BJP for successive Assembly and Lok Sabha elections in erstwhile united AP. The Congress thus raised the suspicions among the minorities by roping in TDP into Praja Kutami.
The minorities know too well that TDP and BJP are “made for each other” entities right from 1984. TDP, under NTR, invited the wrath of the minorities in 1989 which, incidentally, brought the Congress to power after a seven-year break. In 2004, again, TDP-BJP alliance that remained in force during 1998-2004 and helped the NDA under Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s stewardship to remain in power at the Centre, was voted out in AP as the minorities and other sections of people turned their ire against them and brought the Congress-led alliance to power. When the Congress faced severe anti-incumbency over its 10-year rule, it had to bite the dust and lose power inspite of bringing in the legislation for bifurcation of united AP and formation of separate Telangana State in 2014.
In the 2014 elections, all across Telangana, the minorities voted in unison with the other sections of the society and rewarded TRS with a simple majority and reduced the Congress strength to 21 in the 119-member Assembly. TDP, which had opposed Telangana tooth and nail, and BJP, which was on separate Telangana bandwagon, struck an opportunistic alliance to save themselves from rout in Telangana. They tasted success in Hyderabad and Rangareddy district and a few other places in the State by bagging 20 seats (TDP 15 and BJP 5) in 2014. However, in the last four years, TDP lost much ground in Telangana as 12 of its MLAs switched over to TRS. Congress, too, lost two seats in by—elections and seven of its MLAs crossed over to the ruling party. Even a TDP MP and a Congress MP jumped onto TRS bandwagon.
The Congress, which has lost byelections to Assembly and Lok Sabha by huge majorities since 2014, has also seen severe depletion of its strength right from the grassroots (panchayat raj and urban local bodies) to the state legislature. What has added to its woes is the gradual desertion of the Grand Old Party by its traditional vote-banks—Dalits, Adivasis, a section of BCs and Muslim minority—since 2014. On the eve of the current elections, the Congress leadership realised that large sections of the people, including minorities, have benefited from the series of schemes implemented by TRS government in Telangana and they would remain with the ruling party.
In a desperate bid to woo the minorities back to its fold, the Congress unleashed the propaganda aimed at Muslims that a vote for TRS would be a vote for BJP and that the TRS, AIMIM and BJP are in a “secret relationship.” The tirade had grown louder with the Congress bigwigs like Rahul Gandhi and Ghulam Nabi Azad echoing the allegations mouthed by Uttam Kumar Reddy and local Congress leaders. They embarked on a two-pronged strategy of cornering TRS all over the State and targeting AIMIM in its strongholds by lambasting the open support of these two parties for each other.
But the twist in the tale surfaced when, in its anxiety to take on TRS, the Congress leadership decided to stitch an alliance with TDP and other parties opposed to the pink party. While the Congress could have projected itself as a formidable force by going it alone like TRS, it chose to rope in Chandrababu Naidu, knowing fully well that doing so would raise the hackles of the minorities and other sections of people which do not trust the yellow party. TDP’s crucial support to BJP-led NDA during the Gujarat riots in 2002 and its strategic alliance with Modi-led BJP during 2014 polls till it parted company of the NDA a few months ago, is still fresh in the minds of the minorities.
The Congress has been targeting KCR over the issue of 12 percent reservations for minorities in the last 4 years. However, the Grand Old Party maintained a stoic silence on raising the quota for the backward Muslims from the existing 4 percent. In fact, Ghulam Nabi Azad and A Revanth Reddy have gone on record claiming that giving the 4 percent quota itself was a herculean task and that raising the quota to 12 percent was impossible. While the Congress promised to introduce Minority Sub-Plan with allocations proportionate to the population of minorities, Telangana Uttam Kumar Reddy announced that the Sub-Plan would be implemented with an outlay of Rs 24,000 crores per annum, as against Rs 2,000 crores allocated by TRS government in the current year’s budget!
Thus, Mahakutami (the Congress-led alliance) turned out to be the undoing of the Congress insofar as its efforts to woo the minority voters to its side are concerned because the presence of TDP in this grouping literally drove away the minorities. On the other hand, the BJP also seems to have pushed the minorities into TRS fold by its strident and minority-centred offensive against both TRS and AIMIM. Besides roping in all its big guns right from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Party President Amit Shah to several Union Ministers and Chief Ministers including Yogi Adityanath, the BJP had deployed Swami Paripoornananda, a swamy from Shree Peetham in Kakinada (Andhra Pradesh) for campaigning and road shows across Telangana. These worthies targeted KCR for “minority appeasement” and spit fire against AIMIM and its leaders Asaduddin Owaisi and Akbaruddin Owaisi by raking up the issue of “Telangana’s liberation from the Nizam and Razakar rule.” Their provocative utterances created a scare about the fate of minorities if the BJP were to come to power in Telangana or if it wins a sizeable number of seats.
Thus, for the legions of Muslim voters in big towns, as well as the smaller communities living in the countryside, their safety from BJP threats lay in maintaining the status quo—ensuring that TRS retains power in the State by voting its candidates so that the atmosphere of peace and communal harmony would continue to prevail in Telangana. Their hopes were not without basis as TRS has ensured a riot- and curfew-free Telangana where all communities live in harmony. The Congress and TDP rule revives bitter memories of the rash of riots that the State had witnessed during the 1970s thru 1990s.
The writing on the wall was crystal clear. The minorities felt that a vote for Congress or TDP would be a vote for BJP as Chandrababu Naidu may play another Nitish Kumar (Bihar Chief Minister) and end up siding with BJP after the 2019 Lok Sabha