In just one season, the Telangana Congress has gone from a probable ruling party, to the one on the verge of losing the main opposition party status. In the just concluded state elections, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) romped home with 88 seats, while the Congress won 19 seats. Its ally, TDP, got just two out of 119 assembly seats.
The biggest challenge, ahead of the 2019 parliament elections, for the Congress is to retain its opposition party status. As per the rule, any party which has 10 per cent of assembly seats can qualify as an opposition party. The Congress needs 12 seats to qualify as an opposition party and they have more than that. However, within the Congress camp, the fear of poaching looms large.
According to sources in the Congress, the ruling TRS has approached a number of Congress legislators to cross the fence. Speculation is rife that more than half a dozen MLA’s are ready to switch sides and TRS is hunting for a few more. The plan will be to make 12 MLA’s elect a legislature party leader and then merge the group with the TRS so that there is no opposition in the state.
“We are aware of what is going on. The TRS has reached out to our leaders and some of them have even participated in the negotiations. The attempts seem to have failed as the TRS is finding it tough to accept the conditions of some of the Congress MLA’s. We are hopeful that 12 MLA’s would not leave the party,” said a Congress leader on condition of anonymity.
Evidently, the morale of the party is low. The senior leaders seem to be resigned to the fact that it is almost impossible to keep the flock together despite their efforts.
“In our Congress office, we have been switching off electricity on time to save bills. That's our financial condition. How can we stop our MLA’s from resisting tempting offers. And even if we do, how do we convince them? The TRS has money and power on their side and it is easy for them to poach. They will rule the state for next five years which will be the biggest pull. Those who are loyal will stay back and those who are hungry for power will go to the TRS,” said a member of All India Congress Committee (AICC), who did not want to be named.
Senior Congress leaders from Delhi and Hyderabad are meeting the new legislators on Wednesday where they will be ‘counselled’ to not leave the party. “This is a dictatorship and not democracy. How can the ruling party kill an opposition party? If the party in power is elder brother then opposition party is like a younger brother. Do you kill a brother?” questioned G Narayan Reddy, treasurer, Telangana Congress.
“Keeping politics aside, if we talk in a philosophical tone, nature will teach a lesson to those who indulge in dictatorial ways as we have seen in the past,” he added.
Reddy is confident that none of the party leaders will go to the TRS even though serious poaching attempts are underway.
Another headache for the Congress party are the cases of the senior and influential leaders who have lost elections or were denied tickets. It is learnt that they have also been approached keeping the upcoming parliament elections in mind.
“We have not been in power for five years and will not be in power for another five years. Even a junior government officer wont listen to us. For many, there is no point in staying in the Congress as they are unsure of it winning any parliament seat in the current situation,” said another senior Congress leader.
The TDP, with just two legislators, seems to be better off. The TDP Telangana president, L. Ramana, said that his party MLAs have not been approached and there is no way they will even consider going to the TRS.
In case the TRS is successful in relegating the status of the Congress in the assembly, two of the TRS dreams may come true—TRS founder and Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao’s wish to win 16 out of 17 parliament seats, leaving one for MIM, KCR's son and current working president of the TRS, KT Rama Rao’s prophesy that the MIM will be the second largest party in the assembly.