Padayatras are the mass contact programmes of Indian politicians. Whether to highlight one dominant issue or merely to ask for the voter’s indulgence during a low phase, politicians, especially those in the opposition, take to walkathons like a fish to water. But even so, Andhra Pradesh is getting more than its share of padayatras this season. While Telugu Desam Party president N. Chandrababu Naidu is on a ‘Vastunna Meekosam’ (“I am coming to you”) campaign, YSR Congress leader Sharmila is on ‘Maro Praja Prasthanam’ (“Another journey to the people”). The opposition space seems to be up for grabs as the TDP and the YSR Congress target the Congress government of Kiran Kumar Reddy for failing to implement, and even diluting, schemes beneficial to the people. Mr. Naidu’s yatra is part-apology, part-boast, and part-promise. He admits to past mistakes, speaks of successful projects implemented while he was in power, and promises change for the better if voted to govern again. With the rise of the Telangana Rashtra Samiti in Telangana, and the YSR Congress in Rayalaseema, the TDP is struggling to keep its share of the anti-Congress votes. Popular disenchantment with the Congress will not automatically translate into votes for Mr. Naidu. Quite strangely for an opposition party, the TDP found itself being asked to spell out its stand on bifurcation of the State as Mr. Naidu entered the Telangana region.
As for Ms Sharmila, who is hoping to revive memories of her late father Y.S. Rajashekhara Reddy’s long march, the task is to attack both the Congress and the TDP at the same time in order to project the YSR Congress as a viable alternative in the next election. While laying claim to the YSR legacy, Ms Sharmila is also taking credit for the schemes implemented by the Congress government under her father. However, all this does not mean the people of Andhra Pradesh are spoilt for choice at election-time. Political fragmentation means that different issues will be the focus in different areas of the State. The TRS is a one-issue party as of now with statehood for Telangana as its sole concern. The YSR Congress is seeking to politically encash the YSR charisma, but with its leadership deeply mired in corruption charges the party is not an automatic choice as an alternative to the Congress beyond a certain geographical reach. The TDP, in the years since it was voted out in 2004, has done little to win back the people’s confidence. Thus, while the erosion of support for the Congress is evident, no one opposition party is the gainer. In such a situation, post-poll alliances could decide the contours of the next government in Andhra Pradesh as much as pre-poll seat adjustments.