In continuing with its politics of regional identity, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi won a second term in office in India’s newest State, pushing the national party, the Congress, to a distant second. TRS leader K. Chandrasekhara Rao, sworn in again as Chief Minister, had made a calculated gamble by advancing the election, which was due along with the Lok Sabha election. The motive was clear: he did not want to fight the Assembly polls alongside the Lok Sabha election, in which the Congress would have been a strong contender at the national level. The gamble paid off handsomely, and the TRS has added 25 seats to its 2014 tally of 63 with an increase of 12 percentage points in vote share. For the second time, the Congress failed to capitalise on its role in carving out Telangana from Andhra Pradesh, allowing the TRS a runaway victory. While it did not get any credit in Telangana for bringing the State into being, it had to take all the blame in Andhra Pradesh for the bifurcation, where it conceded space to its breakaway party, the YSR Congress Party. Mr. Rao is now firmly entrenched in government, and his son, K.T. Rama Rao, is a parallel power centre. In the last five years, far from being able to challenge the TRS politically, the Congress appears to have slipped in voter estimation.
Some of the Congress’s failures will have to be attributed to the national leadership, which hurriedly entered into an alliance with the Telugu Desam Party. Although the TDP does enjoy support in Hyderabad and surrounding areas, it is seen in the rest of Telangana as essentially a party of the neighbouring State of Andhra Pradesh. Congress president Rahul Gandhi may have been looking at the bigger picture when he welcomed the TDP as part of a broad Opposition alliance, but Telangana voters took a cynical view of the coming together of the two parties that were principal rivals just five years ago. Although the People’s Front of the Congress and the TDP drafted a common programme, and held a joint campaign, this was not enough to challenge the TRS, which moved to poll mode several months in advance. The result could also have implications for the Assembly election in Andhra Pradesh next year, as the TDP might be wary of being identified too closely with the Congress, which is still seen as having facilitated the bifurcation. The TRS, which talks of maintaining equidistance between the Congress and the BJP, is more likely to back the BJP than the Congress in the post-election scenario. And given that the TDP, until a few months ago, was an ally of the BJP, any which way the Congress looks at it the twin States of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh remain a difficult terrain.