Hyderabad: A repeat of 2004 in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections for the Congress in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh is highly unlikely, considering the current standing of the party and changed political dynamics in both the Telugu states.
The bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh in 2014 to carve out Telangana state and consequent public ire, have wiped out Congress in the residuary state of Andhra Pradesh, while in Telangana the party failed to politically cash in on the credit of creating Telangana state.
Desertion of the party by several key leaders in the aftermath of the bifurcation, lack of any charismatic face, continued infighting in the party, series of electoral reverses have considerably weakened the party in its former strongholds.
After drawing a blank in both the Assembly and Lok Sabha in two successive elections (2014 and 2019), the Congress has already yielded the political space to the ruling YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) in Andhra Pradesh.
In Telangana, defections, electoral losses and infighting has pushed Congress into a tight spot and regaining the lost glory remains a daunting task for the party with Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) sitting pretty to win another term.
Undivided Andhra Pradesh was an important bastion of Congress party and its performance in the state in 2004 and 2009 had propelled Congress-led UPA to power at the Centre for two terms.
In 2004, the Congress party had not only ended the decade-long rule of Telugu Desam Party (TDP) to come back to power in Andhra Pradesh with a landslide majority but also bagged 30 out of 42 Lok Sabha seats to contribute significantly to the party’s national tally.
This performance was mainly credited to the charismatic leadership of Y S. Rajasekhara Reddy or YSR as he was popularly known.
With a pro-poor image and pathbreaking schemes for welfare of farmers and weaker sections of the society, he consolidated party’s position and riding on the popularity retained power in 2009 despite popular Telugu actor Chiranjeevi taking a plunge into politics with Praja Rajyam Party.
In the simultaneous Lok Sabha elections, Congress bagged 34 out of 42 seats to once again play a key role in formation of UPA government at the Centre.
However, a few months later with the death of YSR in a helicopter crash dramatically altered the political scene and triggered the party’s downfall.
The revolt by YSR’s son Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy plunged the Congress party into a crisis. Later, Jagan floated his own party YSR Congress to eat into Congress votes.
The death of YSR also provided an opportunity to K. Chandrasekhar Rao-led Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) to launch a mass movement for statehood to Telangana.
KCR’s indefinite fast forced the UPA government to announce on December 9, 2009 that the process for formation of Telangana state will be initiated. This triggered massive protests in Seemandhra (Rayalaseema and Andhra regions). The UPA government backtracking on the announcement and protests and counter-protests threw the entire state into chaos and uncertainty for four years.
A few months before the 2014 elections, the UPA government decided to grant statehood to Telangana. It faced open revolt from Congress leaders in Seemandhra including then Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy. Several powerful leaders deserted the Congress party in Seemandhra when a Bill was passed in the Parliament amid high drama to bifurcate Andhra Pradesh.
In the simultaneous Assembly and Lok Sabha elections held days before formal bifurcation, Congress was wiped out in Seemandhra due to people’s anger. The party could not win a single Assembly (out of 175 seats) or Lok Sabha seat (out of total 25) and there was no improvement in 2019.
The Congress which was hoping to politically benefit in Telangana by claiming credit for delivering a separate state was in for a rude shock. In 119-member Assembly, the party could win 21 seats while TRS formed the first government in the new state. Out of 17 Lok Sabha seats, Congress could win two. Defections of Congress MLAs and resignation of several leaders to join TRS further weakened the party.
The slide continued in 2018. Despite an alliance with the TDP, Left and other small parties, Congress could win only 19 assembly seats while TRS retained power by increasing its tally from 63 to 88. The Congress could not keep its flock together as a dozen MLAs defected to TRS a few months later. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Congress managed to win three seats.
The performance of Congress in 2024 Lok Sabha elections in Telangana may depend on the outcome of assembly elections scheduled in November-December this year.
Political analysts say despite the euphoria created by Congress party’s victory in Karnataka, the grand old party faces an uphill task in Telangana. Projecting itself as the true champion of Telangana interests, BRS (earlier TRS) is in a strong position .
The BJP’s emergence as the main opponent to BRS has pushed the Congress party to the third place. “The BJP has succeeded in building a narrative of BRS versus BJP,” said political analyst Palwai Raghavendra Reddy
Series of defections, defeat in all the by-elections, disastrous performance in Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) elections and continued infighting have all weakened the Congress party, which has also lost the status of main opposition in assembly with its tally coming down to just five.
The appointment of Revanth Reddy as the new state president by the central leadership in 2021 after ignoring several seniors and strong contenders triggered open revolt by a section of leaders, who saw Revanth as an outsider as he had defected to Congress from TDP just before 2018 elections.
The change of guard also could not bring any change in the party’s fortunes. Several seniors started openly attacking Revanth Reddy for sidelining them.
The continuing slide raised new questions on the leadership of Revanth Reddy, whose style of functioning also irked some seniors. Recently when he packed the party panels with his loyalists, the senior raised a banner of revolt and launched a movement to save the party. They called it a fight between real Congress leaders and migrants from other parties.
The allegation by seniors that AICC incharge Manickam Tagore is siding Revanth Reddy forced the central leadership to intervene and replace him with Manikrao Thakare.
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