THERE ARE MANY stories on how the word Telangana came into existence. One of them, which the Telangana Tourism Department and some historians endorse, is that it was derived from trilinga desa or the land of three lingas―three Shiva temples located in different parts of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Only one of them―the Kaleshwara Mukteshwara Swamy Temple―is within the state borders of Telangana. The town of Kaleshwaram, therefore, draws devotees in their legions. The temple town has taken on an additional significance this election season.
The narratives of both the ruling Bharat Rashtra Samithi and its principal opponent, the Congress, revolve around the Kaleshwaram irrigation project, which is the largest lift irrigation project in the world. The BRS hails the genius of its creation, while the Congress screams corruption at its mention. The BRS points out how it fulfilled the needs of parched lands and throats. The Congress alleges that kickbacks to the tune of thousands of crores satiated only Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao, his family and party leaders. Caught in the middle are the voters who have to make a choice on November 30.
Formal alliances in the political landscape of Telangana are blurred. The BRS has no pre-poll understanding with any party. But, as a “friendly party”, the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen is doing its best to help the BRS. The BJP has an alliance with actor Pawan Kalyan’s JanaSena Party, but that is unlikely to help it win any seats. Its priority, it is believed, is to ensure that the Congress does not win.
But, the Congress has received support from regional parties. Y.S. Sharmila’s YSR Telangana Party has thrown its weight behind the Congress and is not contesting. The Telugu Desam Party has also backed out of the elections and is indirectly supporting the Congress. At many places, Congress leaders have campaigned with TDP cadre. It has not been all smooth sailing for the INDIA alliance, though. It accommodated the CPI by giving it one seat, but could not prevent the CPI(M) from walking out.
There are 2,290 candidates in the fray for the 119 assembly seats. Rao is contesting from two constituencies and these two have one of the highest number of nominations―an indicator of anti-incumbency. His traditional seat, Gajwel, has 44 nominations and his second seat, Kamareddy, has 39, mostly independents. Unemployment and charges of corruption against local leaders and other issues may hurt the BRS this time. But it would be difficult to assess to what extent. The BRS is visibly suffering from political fatigue having ruled for nine years, but it still has the goodwill created by numerous cash welfare schemes that benefitted farmers, the elderly, women, scheduled castes and backward classes.
On the other hand, the Congress’s resurgence post its Karnataka victory is making it appear overconfident, according to some poll analysts. Its leaders are going around declaring themselves chief ministerial candidates and making other controversial statements, like state Congress president Revanth Reddy saying KCR’s community was not from Telangana as they migrated from Bihar. However, the Congress could benefit from an anti-Modi stand taken by a section of the voters, especially the minorities. In light of the Congress’s fight against the BJP at the national level, these voters want the Congress to be in power in the state, too.
This time, there is another crucial vote bank that every party is after. After the arrest of former Andhra Pradesh chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu, tremors have been felt in Telangana, too. Many settlers from Andhra, especially the Kammas, the community to which Naidu belongs, have expressed sympathy for him and is consolidating in a big way. It is estimated that this pro-TDP group has substantial influence in 12 to 15 seats. As a result, BRS and Congress leaders have gone out of their way to condemn the arrest and show empathy to Naidu.
Over the years, a salient feature of Telangana electioneering has been poll management. The expenditure has shot through the roof. As per rough estimates gathered from sources close to election managers, each candidate is preparing to spend between Rs20 crore to Rs40 crore. Not to forget the frequent and lavish community feasts, with the choicest non-vegetarian dishes and alcohol, which are a norm in rural areas. Every public meeting costs between Rs1 crore to Rs2 crore.
Then there is also the social media aspect. The BRS was the first mover. It roped in a number of social media influencers to literally dance to the party’s song―Ramakka―and went viral. Though the Congress started a little late, its video campaigns showing a KCR double’s car (BRS poll symbol) getting punctured have also gained attention.
As the poll date approaches, the big guns―Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and Congress leaders like Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra―will descend on Hyderabad more frequently.
If the BRS wins for the third consecutive time, a party would have done that in the Telugu states for the first time in four decades. If the Congress wins, it will be its first time in power in these lands since the formation of Telangana. If the verdict is a hung assembly, even that has not happened in the Telugu states in five decades. So, whatever the outcome, history will be rewritten in Telangana.