The Congress’ hope for revival in Andhra Pradesh, a state it ruled for 10 years till its humiliating loss in 2014 at the hands of N. Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party, was crushed when it polled only 1,382 votes in the Nandyal Assembly by-poll, held on 23 August, and 602 votes the Kakinada Municipal Corporation. The results were declared on Friday.
In Nandyal, where the minorities comprise 30% of the electorate, the Congress had fielded a Muslim candidate, whereas both the ruling TDP’s and opposition YSR Congress’ candidates were from the Reddy community. Still, Congress candidate G. Abdul Khader secured only slightly more than the NOTA option, which got 1,231 votes. Khade lost his deposit, bagging less than 1% of the votes.
This poor show is a matter of concern for the Congress high command, which wants to stage a comeback in states where the BJP is not a major force, in 2019. AP, which accounts for 25 Lok Sabha seats, is crucial for Congress, if it wants to improve its present tally of 44 in the Lower House of Parliament.
The Congress has been an outcast for the people of Andhra Pradesh since 2014, for its role in the bifurcation of the combined state and creation of Telangana. Of course, it is a different matter that the party failed to win even in Telangana. Congress which contested all the 175 Assembly seats had drawn a zero and lost its deposits in 60% seats.
It is not that the party hasn’t done anything in the last three years to win back the confidence of the people of AP. AP’s Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) president N. Raghuveera Reddy has carried out a series of agitations and meetings demanding special category status for AP, as was promised by then PM Manmohan Singh in the Parliament at the time of Telangana’s creation.
APCC has gathered one crore signatures by people from 13 districts of AP and submitted them to the President last year. Now the voting trends raise doubts over the authenticity of the one crore signatures the party had claimed to have secured. Even Congress MP K.V.P. Ramachandra Rao made a lot of efforts to raise the special status issue in Rajya Sabha through a private member bill. Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi visited AP twice in the last two years and claimed that people were with his party. He deputed his confidant and AICC Scheduled Caste cell in charge and former IAS officer K. Raju to revive the party in AP. Raju toured extensively in the last three years and tried to build a base of Dalits for Congress in AP.
Raju also camped in Nandyal for several days and personally monitored the poll campaign. But, none of these efforts paid results. In Kakinada municipal corporation elections the situation is even worse. The party which ruled the civic body for over a decade cannot even field candidates in all the 48 divisions. The party contested from just 17 divisions and lost deposits everywhere.
Raju and senior Congress leaders like former Defence Minister K.M. Pallam Raju canvassed in Kakinada civic body polls and tried to rope in Dalit and Kapu community leaders into their fold by fielding them from many divisions. Pallam Raju, who twice represented Kakinada LS seat, had claimed that the Congress would stage a comeback in Kakinada.
APCC president Rahuveera Reddy simply issued a statement saying that he would respect the verdict of voters and acknowledged that people were still angry with the Congress for its role in the division of the combined state. Some senior Congress leaders in the party who spoke to this newspaper Friday evening said that it was difficult for the Congress to stage a comeback in AP in the near future.
“It is evident that people of AP are very angry with us (Congress) and they are not going to forgive us anytime soon. No amount of our efforts to gain their confidence will work. For people of AP, our biggest mistake is to divide the combined AP hastily,” said APCC spokesman J. Gautham. It would be difficult for the Congress to find a poll partner in the coming elections.