Taken aback by the narrow majority with which ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) retained Gujarat, TRS (Telangana Rashtra Samithi) and TDP (Telugu Desam Party), the ruling parties in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, are going to follow more populist schemes and caste based quotas in 2018 as they face Assembly and Lok Sabha elections early 2019. There will be no hike in power tariff in both the states.
TRS president and Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR), who was expecting an easy win in the next elections, is in no mood to leave anything to chance. He went into a huddle with some seniors to review the recent electoral trends in the country last week and has decided to address two major issues—focus on rural distress and demands for more caste-based reservations.
An MLC who was present at the meeting told The Sunday Guardian that the Chief Minister is planning a multi-pronged strategy to retain political power in next year’s elections. The recent violent clashes between scheduled tribes—Adivasis and Lambadas—over share within their 6% quota in northern districts is top on the agenda of KCR, said that the legislator requesting anonymity. While Adivasis, who include different tribes like Gond, Koya and Chenchu, are with least literacy and development, the migrant tribe of Lambadas is better placed on all social indicators in Telangana and AP.
KCR’s decision to increase the ST reservations from present 6% to 10% has heightened tensions between the two groups. Lambadas who are politically powerful have issued threats to the government that any attempt to dilute their quota would be strongly opposed.
KCR has promised to include Vadderas (stone cutters), presently in the list of OBCs, in the Scheduled Castes list and to increase the present 15% quota of SCs to 16% in tune with their increased population. Besides, there is another promise to provide 12% reservation to Muslims, a hike by 8%. Presently some Muslim sub-castes are given 4% quota under OBCs.
KCR has gone for a reshuffle of bureaucrats this week and placed senior officials in the SC, ST and minority welfare departments. He created a SC/ST Commission for Telangana which was pending for the last four years. The long pending demand of Madigas, a most backward Dalit caste, for categorisation of SCs, too, is another burning issue KCR now wants to address immediately.
Besides, the TRS chief has decided not to increase power tariff for the next year—April 2018 to March 2019—though the power distribution companies have posted a revenue deficit of around Rs 7,500 crore in 2017-18. “We hope that the government would reimburse the entire amount as it had promised to the regulator,” Telangana Transco chairman and MD D. Prabhakar Rao told this newspaper.
KCR’s decision to provide 24/7 free power to the agriculture sector is another major step keeping elections in mind. The ministers and MLAs of the ruling party are jubilant that the move would fetch them votes as around 19 lakh farmers who depend on borewells would benefit out of it. The CM has also directed officials to execute a scheme to dole out a subsidy of Rs 4,000 per acre for two crops a year to four lakh farmers in the state.
In adjacent Andhra Pradesh, too, the Chandrababu Naidu-led TDP government has taken up a bunch of subsidy schemes targeting OBCs, SCs and STs. CM Naidu has announced 5% quotas for Kapus and this is considered to be his main poll plank to woo politically dominant Kapus in East and West Godavari districts and some parts of Rayala Seema.
Naidu has hastened various development schemes under implementation through a fortnight long “Janmabhoomi” programme from the first week of January. “We know that development alone cannot win us votes and at the same time, only social welfare, too, cannot get us votes. We need to have them both,” L.V.S.R.K. Prasad, AP Warehousing Corporation chairman told this newspaper.
Another major takeaway for both the CMs from the Gujarat Assembly results is the need to split the Opposition votes, thus diluting the anti-incumbency factor. Aware of this, KCR and Naidu are counting on splitting Opposition votes in both the states through the presence of “Power Star” Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena party. His fans fondly call him, “PSPK”.
Pawan Kalyan, younger brother of “Mega Star” and Congress Rajya Sabha member Chiranjeevi, is a major force in Andhra, though his influence in Telangana would be minimal. Pawan Kalyan’s decision to contest all seats on his own would cut into Jagan’s YSR Congress votes in AP. Already, Jagan and his leaders have begun attacking Pawan Kalyan as an indirect ally of Chandrababu Naidu. Pawan Kalyan’s sudden meeting with KCR in Hyderabad on 1 January, too, raised eyebrows.