Electioneering for the first phase of polls in Andhra Pradesh is over, and it is clear that Chief Minister and Telugu Desam Party president N Chandrababu Naidu is facing a tough fight.
He is battling an anti-incumbency wave, a combined opposition led by the Congress, the issue of a separate Telangana state as well as backlash from the outlawed People’s War.
The TDP-Bharatiya Janata Party combine is likely to fare badly in the first phase covering the entire Telangana region and three coastal districts in the north.
In fact, the alliance is poised to suffer losses in the Telangana hinterland as the Congress-Telangana Rashtra Samithi-Left combine throws up a formidable challenge.
Four years of continuous drought, lack of irrigation facilities, growing unemployment, lack of work for labourers, rising prices of essential commodities, erratic power supply and drinking water scarcity have fuelled an anti-establishment feeling across the state.
There is resentment over the neglect of the backward Telangana region and exploitation of the natives by ‘settlers’ (people from coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions).
There is much support for the TRS, founded by K Chandrasekhar Rao, a former TDP minister.
The growing pro-Telangana sentiment and the perceived clout of the TRS forced the Congress to forge an alliance for the assembly and Lok Sabha polls.
The Congress also worked out seat-sharing agreements with the Communist Party of India and CPI-Marxist to prevent opposition votes from splitting.
The TDP-BJP alliance has also invited the PW’s wrath.
The PW has not only imposed a ‘ban’ on the TDP and BJP, but warned the local functionaries of these parties to desist from campaigning, setting up election offices or attending election meetings.
Armed naxalites have been attacking some TDP-BJP local leaders to induce fear among the cadres.
Moreover, the PW has asked people to vote against the alliance.
The threats have affected campaigning in the naxalite strongholds and created a scare among the people.
As many as 147 assembly and 21 Lok Sabha constituencies will go to polls on April 20.
There are 132 candidates in fray for the Lok Sabha seats and 857 contestants are trying their luck for the assembly seats.
In the 1999 polls, the TDP-BJP alliance had won 18 Lok Sabha and 89 assembly seats in the north coastal and Telangana regions.
The Congress bagged two Lok Sabha seats and 50 assembly seats.
The CPI-M got two assembly seats but the CPI drew a blank.
The Majlis-e-Ittehaadul Muslimeen retained the Hyderabad Lok Sabha seat and won four assembly seats. Only two Independents managed to win.
This time, the Congress-led alliance is more comfortably placed. Even in the three north coastal districts (Srikakulam, Vizianagaram and Viskhapatnam) — considered to be TDP strongholds — the Congress is expected to make significant gains.
By Syed Amin Jafri in Hyderabad