Rahul Gandhi’s visit to Tirupati has failed to inspire them to fight the elections.
HYDERABAD: Congress is facing a peculiar problem of finding it difficult to field strong candidates for the coming Lok Sabha and the Assembly elections in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, even as the election notification is expected to be issued next week. In both the states, Congress is contesting all the seats without alliance with any party.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s visit to Tirupati last week failed to inspire the party seniors to contest for the Parliament and Assembly polls. The situation is the same in Telangana, which faces Lok Sabha elections. Andhra has 25 MPs and 175 MLA seats, while Telangana has 17 MPs. The party high command has asked the state units to send a shortlisted panel of three names for each seat by 2 March.
However, the lists are unlikely to be sent by the time as most of the seniors proposed by the Pradesh Congress Committees (PCCs) are unwilling to jump into the fray in view of the adverse conditions at the ground level. In Telangana, the situation is far from satisfactory for the Congress as it is yet to recover from the drubbing it received in the 7 December Assembly elections in which it won 19 out of the total 119 seats.
The party’s screening committee met in Hyderabad this week in which most of the seniors were reluctant to contest the polls on the ground that they would prefer to campaign for the candidates. Former Union minister S. Jaipal Reddy, who lost the 2014 LS polls from Mahabubnagar seat, was not ready to contest this time in view of all his Assembly segments being won by the ruling TRS in December elections.
When PCC president N. Uttam Kumar Reddy told the panel that Jaipal Reddy told him that he was not interested in contesting the parliamentary elections this time, another senior former minister D.K. Aruna, also from Mahabubnagar district, criticised the latter for not coming forward to fight the elections when the party was in a bad shape. TRS MP A.P. Jitender Reddy represents Mahabubnagar seat.
She remarked: “Seniors like Jaipal Reddy had enjoyed power as long as the party (Congress) was in power at the Centre, but now are afraid of fighting the election as they are not sure of winning.” Her comments may have evoked loud protests from the supporters of the former Union minister in the panel, but they reflected the reality at the ground level.
Similarly, another former Union minister Renuka Chowdary, too, has told the party panel that she was not keen on fighting the LS elections from Khammam seat, which she represented twice earlier till 2014 in view of TRS focusing its energies to win the seat this time. Here, Congress will have to fight sitting MP Ponguleti Srinivas Reddy, a moneyed businessman.
Khammam is the only district in Telangana where TRS failed to secure a majority of MLA seats in December elections. The ruling party won just one out of the total 10 seats, while Congress won seven Assembly seats and ally, TDP won the remaining two. However, Renuka Chowdary wants to be the unanimous choice of Congress to fight the election, but she is opposed by many within the party.
TRS MP Konda Visweswar Reddy, who defected to Congress just before the Assembly elections, has been nominated for his Chevella LS seat, but he is in two minds on contesting in view of the TRS bagging six out of seven MLAs in his segment. But the party screening committee unanimously recommended his name and he acquiesced to jump in the fray.
The Hyderabad Lok Sabha seat, too, faces the same fate as former Indian cricket captain Mohammad Azharuddin, whose name has been recommended for the seat, is averse to lock horns with AIMIM’s strongman and sitting MP Asaduddin Owaisi here. Azharuddin wants a safe seat like Secunderabad, but the party wants him to fight from Hyderabad seat as he belonged to the Muslim community to take on Owaisi.
The situation is worse in Andhra as Congress has lost three senior former Union ministers—Kishore Chandra Deo (Araku), Killi Kripa Rani (Srikakulam) and Kotla Surya Prakasha Reddy (Kurnool)—in a span of a week. The party counted on these three senior leaders and planned to field them their previous MP seats. Now the party has to search for new candidates.
Kripa Rani joined YSR Congress, while Kishore Deo and Surya Prakasha Reddy joined TDP. The exit of three seniors came as a blow to Congress at a time when the party wants to stage a comeback in Andhra on Rahul Gandhi’s promise that he would grant special status to the state, if his comes to power at the Centre.
Seeking a sort of revival ahead of the elections, Congress leaders in Andhra have taken up a “Bus Yatra”, but the unabated defections from its ranks indicate its indifferent fortunes. N. Raghuveera Reddy, AP PCC president, told this newspaper on phone: “These senior leaders had enjoyed minister posts when our party was in power, but are not ready for any sacrifices.”
Absence of any alliance with another party and scarcity of funds, too, are coming in the way of several seniors being reluctant to fight the polls, said a PCC office-bearer. The unwillingness of these heavyweights is causing concern to the Congress leadership which wants to get a decent vote share, if not seats in Andhra and at least three or four MP seats in Telangana.