By: Fatima Hasan
Once the grand old party, it is now not even the main opposition in Telangana State Assembly. The Congress, known for granting bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh and formation of Telangana State, was a favourite with the local people for long. It had sympathy among separate Telangana agitators and participants. However, the recent developments and in-fighting among its party leaders has led to erosion of its support base and strengthening of other parties. In the recent Lok Sabha elections, the party got three seats out of all 17 contested by it. In the Assembly polls held last year, the party had won 19 seats with the support of Mahakutami (which included Telugu Desam, CPI and TJS). Moreover, in the recent elections to local bodies, it managed to get 75 ZPTCs and 1,392 MPTCs.
Apart from its dismal national performance in Lok Sabha elections, the party suffered major setback at the state level when 12 out of its 18 elected MLAs sought their legislature party’s merger with ruling TRS. On 6 June, 12 MLAs, constituting two-thirds strength, submitted memorandum of merger to the Assembly Speaker wishing to work alongside TRS. Subsequently, considering the requisite strength, the Speaker endorsed the merger. Now, the strength of Congress MLAs is reduced to 6 and it can lose its main opposition status if the merger is not reversed.
Hence, the question now is whether there is any chance for the Congress to consolidate its vote bank again in the future. When we go by the ground situation in Lok Sabha and the recently concluded local bodies’ elections, we see that there are some sections of voters who still identify themselves with the Congress. In Nalgonda, Bhongir and Malkajgiri constituencies, the party wrested Lok Sabha seats from the TRS which means that the electors have preferred Congress over TRS and other parties. At the moment, when the party is riven by defections, if Congress leaders come together, work for the party, live up to their poll promises and groom some good leaders, then there is a fair chance for the party regaining ground.
Will AIMIM get the main opposition status and how do you think it will play its role?
Now that the Congress’ numbers came down to only 6 while AIMIM is ahead with 7 MLAs, can it get the opposition tag as it becomes the second biggest party in the Assembly? According to rules and conventions, 10% of the total strength of Legislative Assembly/Council is required for a party to be designated as a recognized party. But the Central law on the subject does not lay down any cap on the minimum strength.
When it comes to the question of opposition role, the AIMIM criticizes the government in the interest of people and presses for minorities’ issues. There is speculation that the AIMIM has its own agenda and can go with any party that comes to power. This is, however, countered by the party chief Asaduddin Owaisi saying that it would have supported Congress if the Lok Sabha poll outcome required it to. But AIMIM openly opposes the BJP which asserts the Hindutva policy and recognizes the Congress as a secular party.
Does this turn of events hold opportunity for other parties?
Yes. Going by BJP’s good performance in Lok Sabha elections where it secured 4 seats on its own, the saffron party is fast catching up with the Congress. There is opportunity for BJP for working hard and winning the trust of voters at a time when there is a declining image of the Congress. The BJP can focus on the plank of development of the State on par with other frontline states. However, one cannot overlook the fact that the Congress managed to win seats despite TRS onslaught and this shows that it will not be curtains down for the party.
But the Congress revival can happen only if there is immediate revamp of the party with organizational changes at both the Central and State levels. The party’s high command has to make its political ideology clear and its top leaders should make state visits from time to time. The party has to enroll cadres at each polling booth and groom strong leadership at the grassroots. The state leaders can invoke the party’s role in granting separate Telangana state.
Moreover, instead of being critical of TRS government schemes, the Congress has to focus on how TRS is delivering its poll promises and carrying out development works in the state. It can also take up door-to-door interactions with the people of Telangana, starting with the rural areas. As we see the party’s flair in recent panchayat and MPTC and ZPTC elections, we can say that it associates with rural people and farmers better. It can build pressure on the TRS government on the farmers’ issues especially in Nizamabad and other districts.
More importantly, the Congress should not go for stitching alliances in the State and fight elections on its own so as to send clear message on the party’s agenda to the people. It can exploit the image of Late CM YS Rajashekar Reddy and his schemes in erstwhile united Andhra Pradesh and promise a better deal to minorities and other weaker sections. The State Congress leaders have to highlight the role of Rahul Gandhi as a secular leader.
With this, wasting no more time, the state leaders must start working on forthcoming municipal elections by planning the campaign and picking up strong candidates. This, the state leaders have to do for reviving the party instead of making castles in the air and taking up protests on the defection of the party MLAs. Currently, as there is a favorable TRS wave, the Congress party should first only focus on its revival and not take on TRS head-on.
The party first got the main opposition status in Telangana State in 2014 and subsequently, in 2019, it again assumed the opposition status with Mallu Bhatti Vikramarka named as Leader of Opposition in the Assembly. Now, the State High Court is looking into the issue of disqualification of defected MLAs and the verdict will decide the fate of opposition status of Congress Legislature Party. The hearing is posted to 12 July.