In most states, the BJP and the Congress are in competition with each other, either directly or in alliance with a regional party, for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. However, in Andhra Pradesh, both national parties are floundering, fighting hard to avoid hitting rock bottom. The BJP faces mass desertion of cadre. Despite the saffron party’s best attempts to convince people that they have not neglected the state—the issue of special category status comes to the fore—voter anger is clearly directed towards the Centre. Having assessed the ground situation well, party leaders are gearing up to shift loyalties. In the 2014 elections, the BJP, in alliance with the TDP, won four assembly and two parliamentary seats. The Modi wave, along with transfer of TDP votes, seemed to have helped the party in the last elections. This time, the party has neither of these factors to pull them out of the rut.
Reportedly, a majority of MLAs and MPs are in talks with other regional parties. Former BJP president and Visakhapatnam MP, K. Hari Babu, is known more as a TDP sympathiser than a hardcore BJP worker. Ever since TDP walked out of the NDA, Babu has been treading cautiously and has refrained from aggressive attacks on the TDP. Babu, who belongs to AP Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu’s community, is known to be close to him. Since there is no strong contender for Vizag from TDP’s side, speculation is rife that he will switch sides at the last minute. If this does not happen, it is highly likely that he may not contest. The second BJP MP, Gokaraju Rangaraju, is an industrialist representing Narasapuram constituency. It is learnt that his son may contest next time, but not on BJP ticket. According to sources, the father and the son are already in talks with the YSR Congress Party.
Among the four legislators, one MLA, Akula Satyanarayana, joined actor Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena last month. Another leader, Vishnu Kumar Raju, MLA of Vizag North, is looking towards either YSRCP or Jana Sena. According to BJP sources, it is only a matter of time before he jumps ship. Former state minister Kamineni Srinivas, the MLA of Kaikalur, has already declared that he is not keen on continuing in politics. Srinivas is known to be in good terms with Naidu and it is unlikely that he will contest on behalf of the BJP. There are also rumours that, if asked, he is ready to join TDP. The only MLA who has been vocal about the saffron party’s stand is Manikyala Rao, a long-time BJP activist.
“The BJP never really had a base in Andhra Pradesh. Whatever little vote share they had also went down because of the negative impression that was created against it. The leaders know that it is difficult to win even one seat in the present circumstance, so they are looking to save their careers,” said an analyst, who had recently done an extensive survey in AP on behalf of a political party, who wished to remain anonymous.
The Congress is now groping in the dark after their decision to part ways with the TDP for the upcoming elections. They had brought their campaigns and publicity drives to a grinding halt after the TDP showed interest in forging a friendship. Till the Telangana results were declared, the AP state Congress was of the impression that there will be seat-adjustment with the TDP. However, things did not work out as planned.
For 175 Assembly constituencies and 25 Parliament seats, around 1,300 applications have been received. The local Congress leaders are clueless about how Chandrababu-Rahul friendship will be perceived by the local voters, and if it will even help.
For now, there is friction between senior leaders, junior leaders, the state unit and the Congress high command. In the Dharma Porata Deeksha organised by the TDP government in Delhi, not a single senior Congress leader was seen.
“Senior leaders and former MLAs of our party were happy with the TDP tie-up as they felt they stood a better chance at winning. The youngsters were not happy at all because they would be denied tickets since majority would go to the TDP. Now, the situation has reversed. The senior leaders are worried whereas first-time contestants are happy,” said a senior leader of state Congress.
The grand old party will hold ‘Pratyeka Hoda Bharosa Yatra’ from February 19 to March 2. Congress president Rahul Gandhi is expected to participate in the programme in Rajahmundry, and Priyanka Gandhi is also likely to make her presence felt.
The local Congress leaders have decided that they will criticise the TDP on local issues and lack of transparency in the administration, and go after the BJP on national policies.
The Congress, like BJP, is also not aiming for the moon. All they want is to open an account in assembly and parliament from this region.