The sombre atmosphere at the Telangana Bhavan in Hyderabad, the headquarters of the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), on Thursday afternoon said it all. After having boasted that it will win all the 17 seats in Telangana along with ally Asaduddin Owaisi, the TRS cut a sorry figure when it won only nine seats while the MIM won Hyderabad.
The loss of seven seats to the BJP and the Congress that won four and three respectively, meant the gains of the December assembly election when it swept most of Telangana, had been neutralised.
What went wrong? A combination of factors that the TRS leadership would need to analyse in detail during its post-mortem.
(a) A sense of overconfidence seemed to have crept in after the electoral success in December. The claim of a whitewash bordered on arrogance and conveyed the impression that it took `Mission 16′ for granted.
(b) Having seen 11 of the 19 Congress legislators cross over to the TRS in the three months post-December, the TRS was convinced that Congress-mukt Telangana was a matter of a few more leaders embracing pink stoles. The Congress party was indeed cash-strapped and could not match other political parties in terms of spending. But if the results in the three constituencies where the Congress triumphed is any yardstick, the TRS underestimated what some of the party candidates, pushed to the wall, could do.
(c) The TRS believed the BJP had been consigned to the dustbin, having reduced it from five MLAs to just a lone MLA in the Telangana assembly. The BJP had even lost its deposit in 103 of the 119 assembly constituencies. But the TRS had not reckoned with the sagacity of the voter who made a clear distinction between the assembly election and Lok Sabha election. Narendra Modi was not a factor in the assembly election but when it came to Parliament election, the BJP candidates were able to dip generously into the Modi votebank.
(d) Congress and the BJP were like chalk and cheese, is what the TRS thought. It underestimated understanding – or call it match-fixing if you will – at the candidate level to ensure their bigger rival, the TRS did not walk away with the seat. You help me here, I will help you there, was a whisper that the TRS political intelligence sleuths failed to pick up.
(e) Candidate selection and internal dissent was another factor. The fact that lateral entry to newcomers without sufficient political experience was given by way of a ticket to the Lok Sabha (Secunderabad and Malkajgiri being the most obvious examples) was resented by other TRS leaders on the ground. This led to internal dissension and lack of team effort in some constituencies.
For instance, there was resentment among the TRS cadre in Animal Husbandry minister Talasani Srinivas Yadav’s Sanathnagar assembly constituency itself that he had secured the Secunderabad Lok Sabha ticket for his inexperienced son Sai Kiran Yadav. The lack of enthusiasm among the foot soldiers reflected in the polling. Compared to the 66464 votes Srinivas Yadav secured in December in Sanathnagar, his son polled only 37679 votes this time.
Other ministers also failed to deliver. Transport minister Prashant Reddy’s Balkonda assembly constituency in Nizamabad saw BJP’s D Arvind in the lead. Ditto in Sports minister Srinivas Goud’s Mahbubnagar where BJP’s DK Aruna stole the march.
(f) In November, K Chandrasekhar Rao led an aggressive campaign using Chandrababu Naidu as a punching bag. Using Naidu’s presence during the Telangana campaign, he made the election a KCR vs Chandrababu battle, invoking fears of Telangana rule from Amaravati if the Congress-TDP came to power. This time, the electorate did not buy into the `Saaru, Caaru, Padharu, Sarkaaru’ (Sir as in KCR, Car – the TRS symbol, Sixteen in Telugu, Government) as they knew even with 16 TRS MPs, KCR won’t be in a position to govern India.
The chief minister’s friendly equation with the BJP also raised doubts about what the TRS will do post-results. Which is why those who preferred Modi voted directly for the BJP instead of a BJP-friendly TRS. Those who did not want Modi voted for Congress instead of TRS. Unlike December 2018, Modi and Rahul Gandhi were options in April 2019.
But unlike the BJP for who Modi was the X-factor, the Congress High command had virtually abandoned its Telangana unit. It showed no enthusiasm in helping it with quality resources – both in terms of funds and high-profile campaigners. As a result, all the Congress candidates were pretty much on their own and the three who have won and others like Konda Vishweshwar Reddy who put up a good fight, fought lonely battles. Rahul Gandhi and Delhi deserve no credit for the three seat the party won in Telangana.
(g) After he was re-elected for a second term, KCR gave the impression that he wanted to be a national player. Placards were held by TRS activists at his public meetings that said `KCR for PM’. Now in December, the mandate had been given to KCR to govern for five years, not to anyone else in the TRS. The verdict on 23 May was the electorate’s way of telling KCR that he needs to stick to Telangana till 2023.
While it is a setback and a signal of caution for the TRS, this is not a verdict against KCR. He still remains Telangana’s most popular leader. But any decision to migrate to Delhi needs the electorate’s consent on the EVM.