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Congress storms back to power in Andhra Pradesh

By S. Nagesh Kumar

HYDERABAD, MAY 11. An anti-incumbency groundswell dashed the Telugu Desam Party president, N. Chandrababu Naidu's hopes of retaining power for a third term in the Andhra Pradesh Assembly and swept the Congress led by Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy back to the centre stage.

Riding on the popular support in all three regions of the State, the Congress won 185 seats on its own and a three-fourths majority of 226 seats in the 294-member Assembly in alliance with the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (26), the CPI(M) (9) and the CPI (6).

The debacle for the TDP-BJP is a major setback to the NDA's hopes of returning to power because projections show they can win only three to five Lok Sabha seats against the 36 they held in the 13th Lok Sabha. The TDP could win only 47 Assembly seats against 180 in the last elections. Its ally, the BJP, bagged just two out of the 27 seats it contested.

The Congress alliance made inroads into the Telugu Desam bastion — the coastal Andhra region — where it won 102 out of 134 seats. In the Telangana region, the alliance bagged 84 of the 107 seats. So extensive was the sweep by the Congress-led alliance partners that the TDP slumped to its worst electoral performance since it was founded by N.T. Rama Rao. When it last yielded power to the Congress in 1989, the TDP had managed to win 74 seats. It fared poorly even in Hyderabad, which Mr. Naidu showcased to the rest of the world, by winning a mere two out of 13 seats.

An overwhelming majority of Mr. Naidu's 38 Ministerial colleagues and the Speaker, K. Pratibha Bharathi, fell by the wayside in the wake of the Congress' spectacular victory. Six time-winner P. Ashok Gajapathi Raju could not make it this time and was defeated by an independent in Vizianagaram.

Among the seven Ministers who made it this time were Y. Ramakrishunudu, T. Devender Goud, K. Subbarayudu, N. Janardhan Reddy, P, Narayanaswamy, Ch. Ayannna Patrudu and Uma Madhava Reddy. As a small consolation, Mr. Naidu himself romped home with a massive margin of 59,588 votes over his little-known Congress rival, Subramanyam Reddy, in Kuppam.

As soon as the counting trends showed that the Congress was heading for a landslide victory, Mr. Chandrababu Naidu drove to the Raj Bhavan and tendered his resignation to the Governor, S. S. Barnala, ending his eight year and eight month-long stint as the longest-serving Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh. Declining to discuss the reasons for his party's poor showing, he said he "bowed with humility to the wisdom of the people."

Mr. Naidu's exit has paved the way for the installation of Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy as the next Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh. Dr. Reddy is expected to be elected unanimously as the leader of the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) at its meeting here at 11 a.m. on Wednesday in the presence of AICC observers Shivraj Patil and Ghulam Nabi Azad. The AICC president, Sonia Gandhi, was among the first to congratulate Dr. Reddy for the party's excellent performance.

The Congress leader attributed his party's victory to the antagonism among farmers, agricultural labourers, women, youth and, above all, government employees who resented Mr. Naidu's policies. Dr. Reddy said the "hi-tech governance was full of hype and cosmetic development that did not benefit anyone except the middlemen."

Confident till the last moment that his party would at least scrape through with a simple majority, the TDP supremo apparently did not realise the threat posed by the anti-incumbency factor, which ultimately turned into a wave. The Congress' promise of supplying free power, which contrasted sharply with the stiff power tariffs the TDP Government had imposed, the unrest among farmers over the lack of irrigation facilities coupled with drought and corruption were cited by leaders of the Congress alliance as the reasons for their victory.

These factors evidently contributed to a 7.8 per cent swing away from the TDP against the 1999 Assembly elections whereas a two per cent swing was sufficient to unseat it from power. The TDP-BJP combination had surged to victory in the last elections by winning 47.54 per cent of the votes and 191 seats. This time, it could win only 49 seats and 39.69 per cent of the votes.

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