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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 46-47 November 11 & November 18, 2023

2023 State polls - Toughest contest for the Congress in Rajasthan | Papri Sri Raman

Saturday 11 November 2023, by Papri Sri Raman


Elections in three key States including Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Telangana will be held in a single phase on November 17, November 23 and November 30 respectively. Results will be announced on December 3.


Telengana will be the last State to go to the polls this year. There are 119 seats in the Telegana assembly, 60 seats give a party the right to rule. The State was carved out of northern Andhra Pradesh in June 2014, immediately after the Narendra Modi government came to power in the Centre. Agitating for separate statehood since the 1950s, Telengana has been home to various peasant movements, directed mainly at the Congress-ruled Centre and left movements, many of them armed struggles against the state. At the same time, many left groups here helped local elections, allying with one or the other contesting party, which were the Congress and the Telegu Desam Party in the first decade of the century. This is how prisoner exchange worked between the then governments and the left groups. When we discuss Telengana, therefore, we cannot talk of it in isolation, it carries the baggage of left history and all that happened to the region in united AP.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist), called the People’s War Group (PWG), in this part of the country was an underground party, rural and forest-based. It was a group that had broken away from the Central Organising Committee of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) in 1976. The party was founded in Andhra Pradesh in 1980 by Kondapalli Seetharamaiah and Kolluri Chiranjeevi. In August 1998 CPI (ML) Party Unity, a Bihar group merged with CPI (ML) PW, and spread its wings all over India.
In October 2002 CPI (ML) PW threatened sitting Chief Ministers of three Indian States – Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee (WB), Chandrababu Naidu (AP) and Babulal Marandi (Jharkhand). A year later, in 2003 the group attempted to kill Chandrababu Naidu and thankfully failed. In September 2004 CPI (ML) PW merged with the Maoist Communist Centre of India to form the Communist Party of India (Maoist). In November 2004, the group held a mass rally of some 150,000 people in Hyderabad city in support of the CPI (ML) PW.

The Naxal movement was at its peak in early 2000s in north Telangana, when it was still part of united Andhra Pradesh, ruled by the Congress. Congress stalwart in AP at the time, Y S Rajasekhara Reddy (YSR) contained Left Wing Extremism so successfully during his tenure (2004-2009) that when AP was divided in 2014, Telengana did not really inherit any extremism that the region saw in the previous decade.

YSR came from a devout Christian family, was a qualified physician who first did a lot of charity work before entering politics and created his charisma and following at the grassroot. Reddy, a staunch Congressman, was elected to the 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th Lok Sabha from the Kadapa constituency. He was then elected to the united AP Assembly for five terms from the Pulivendula constituency. He won every election he contested. In 2003, he undertook a three-month-long walking tour, covering 1,500 kilometres (930 miles) in 60 days during the very hot summer months, across eleven districts in United Andhra Pradesh as a part of his election campaign. He led his party to victory in the following general and assembly elections held in 2004, and 2009. He steered the Jala Yagnam project to irrigate 4,000,000 hectares (10,000,000 acres) of land through irrigation projects. In 2009, his slogan was Development and Credibility. In Telegana region, the Congress has to hold up to this kind of legacy but it does not have another YSR in this State to guide it to a better performance than what the 2018 poll diagram shows.

Telengana having taken the IT city of Hyderabad as its capital, Andhra strongman Chandrababu Naidu’s clout has decimated considerably. In Andhra Pradesh which sees assembly polls in 2024, Naidu (Telugu Desam Party leader) is said to be desperate for an alliance with the BJP, that is alleged to have a hand in the recent arrest of Naidu. Andhra is ruled by YSR Congress Party (the party led by YSR’s son Jagan Mohan), which swept the 2019 elections with a majority of 151 seats. The Bharatiya Janata Party, however, wants an alliance with YSRCP and has kept Jagan Mohan Reddy in good humour so far.

In neighbouring Telengana, Telengana movement leader K Chadrashekhar Rao renamed his party, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi as the Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS), which won 88 seats in the 2018 assembly polls. As the poll diagram shows, the Congress won 19 seats and the BJP just one seat. On the eve of this assembly polls, prime minister Mody has attacked KCR on grounds of corruption and Amit Shah alleged the BSR wanted to ally with the BJP but BJP did not want BRS. With this kind of bad blood flowing, the BJP is unlikely to find allies in Telengana. BJP has said it will contest more than fifty seats. Three Lok Sabha MPs, including its former Telangana president Bandi Sanjay Kumar, are in the BJP list. Sanjay will be contesting from Karimnagar. Controversial Hindutva leader T Raja Singh will be contesting from his Goshamahal seat. What happens in Telegana on 30 November will determine what happens to the BJP in Andhra Pradesh in 2024.

At play here, in Asaduddin Owaisi’s home turf, will also be his All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen Party, which won 7 of the 8 seats it had contested in 2018. AIMIM will contest as many as 50 seats, Owaisi has announced. His support will go either to the Congress or the BRS, post-poll. Are Priyanka and Rahul’s efforts to woo voters in Telengana enough, one cannot say. It is how the Congress chalks up alliances to keep the BJP out, will be a factor. At a poll rally in Kollapur recently, Rahul Gandhi alleged that the BRS, the BJP and the AIMIM were ‘working together’ with the ‘aim to prevent Congress from winning elections in Telangana’. ‘Here, the contest is between BRS and Congress. BRS, BJP and AIMIM are working together. Your CM helps the BJP in Lok Sabha. Your CM fully supported GST and Farm Laws. All the CMs of the Opposition have CBI, ED and IT cases against them. But your CM has no such case against him…. On the other side, there is AIMIM. They help BJP wherever they can. Wherever BJP tells them to contest election, they do it and field candidates helpful to BJP.’ The charge is, the BRS is playing the same game in Telengana as the AAP in Congress-ruled States.

The PWG has now mellowed and many of its former leaders will contest the assembly polls in 2023. Seethakka, a dalam commander of the Chandra Pulla Reddy (CP) faction of the CPI (ML), gave up arms in 1997 and surrendered to the government. A tribal leader, Danasari Anasuya, known popularly as Seethakka, studied hard, became a lawyer and earned a PhD and has worked for her community for the last 26 years, her contribution to Covidcare is unforgettable. Her thesis was on the social exclusion and deprivation of the Gotti Koya tribe, her tribe, especially in Warangal and Khammam districts.

She fought the United Assembly polls in 2009 on a TDP ticket and won. When KCR’s then TRS won 11 out of 12 assembly segments in the undivided Warangal district under which Mulugu then fell, Seethakka was the lone TDP winner. When Telegana was formed, Seethakka did not want to side with KCR. She joined the INC and won the 2018 assembly polls and this has proved to be a big gain for the Congress. When 12 of the 19 MLAs who won in Telengana under the Congress banner defected to KCR’s BRS after the 2018 elections, Seethaaka stayed with the Congress. She is a down-to-earth and trusted leader for her community and will fight for the Mulugu reserved seat this November.

To face Seethakka, the local girl, BRS has fielded Nagajyoti, also from a Maoist family. Her father was a commander of the Eturinagaram dalam and mother too was a dalam member.

Even the revolutionary balladeer Gaddar was close to the Congress in his last days and his daughter, G V Vennela is now a Congress candidate for the Secunderabad Cantt-SC constituency. Other Congress candidates include former cricketer Mohammad Azharuddin and ex-MPs Madhu Yashki Goud, Ponnam Prabhakar, Ponguleti Srinivas Reddy (formerly BRS) and former BRS minister Tummala Nageswara Rao.

Besides Sithakka and Nagajyoti, there are several ex-militants from different Naxal groups who are fighting assembly election with the BRS. The present Energy minister Guntakandla Jagadish Reddy, Rasamayi Balakishan, a BRS lawmaker from Manakonduru, and Naradasu Laxman Rao, an MLC of the BRS, are among the prominent ex-Naxals supporting the ruling party.

The BJP too has its quota of former revolutionaries. Etela Rajender’s story is the strangest, he joined forces with KCR and became a senior minister in his government. He then fought with KCR and joined the BJP. All poll-tellers predict another term for BRS, perhaps this time with fewer numbers and post-poll alliances, perhaps more formally with the BJP than so far.

Madhya Pradesh

Madhya Pradesh borders Chhattisgarh on its east; Rajasthan, another poll-bound State in its north-west and Maharashtra in the south. The border districts in the east and south of MP are forested and technically home to Left-Wing Extremism (LWE) in the eyes of the law enforcement agencies, of both State as well as the Union Government.

After independence in 1947, what was the British Central provinces united with many princely States and became the State of Madhya Pradesh in 1956. In 2000, when the State of Chhattisgarh was carved from it, I became an assembly of 230 seats. The INC ruled the State from 1998 to 2003. Uma Bharati brought the Saffron party its longest tenure here, from 2003 to 2018, when Shivraj Singh Chouhan became the chief minister for ten years (2006-2016). More than five crore voters will vote for the assembly polls in this State, BJP will fight 115 seats and the Congress 114 seats. AAP will fight the Congress in more than 60 seats and surely lower the number of seats the Congress finally wins.

The 2018 assembly elections give people the actual picture of how people voted here and are likely to vote again. Between 2018 and 2023, the Congress and the BJP have been fighting a battle here that comprise who can lure away how many MLAs from the opponent party. This is because, both the BJP and the Congress were almost equal in strength when number of seats each won were counted. The INC won 114 seats and the BJP 109 seats, with Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party 2 seats, Samajwadi Party, 1 and independents 4 seats.

The Congress did form a government here, but it lasted just about a year. So, for the last five years a continuous tussle has gone on between the two as to which party will rule Madhya Pradesh, and MLAs have been merrily switching sides, as and when they felt like. The magic number is 128 seats, so the BJP has acquired 14 MLAs in these five years to install Shivraj Singh as CM for a fourth term since March 2020, for three years now. This was engineered by Madhav Rao Scindia’s supporters.

The BJP has fielded seven sitting MPs from here for the MLA polls, which speaks for the lengths it is going to, to win a majority here. Of the 71 seats which were decided by less than 5 per cent margin, 11 are Tribal seats. Of the 114 seats won by the Congress in 2018, 30 were Tribal seats and Congress in charge, Kamal Nath has been focussing on the tribal vote in his campaigns. In 2013, the BJP emerged as the clear winner, securing a commanding tally of 165 seats in the legislative assembly and aims to do a similar feat as its campaign is managed by the Centre. A few smaller parties like the JDU and BSP too are contesting a few seats, who they support post-poll will matter. BJP may not have it as cushy as in 2013, this time however and the contest will be tough, as tough as in 2018.


The Rajasthan Assembly has 200 seats and 101 is the majority seats needed to form government here. Unlike the half-half verdict that the voters of MP dealt the Congress Party in Chhattisgarh, in neighbouring Rajasthan, the Vasundhara Raje government was ousted by voters in 2018 and a Congress government has been ruling here under Ashok Gehlot. The State elections take place here on 23 November.

The diagram will tell our readers, the BJP has a better chance of winning more seats in Rajasthan. The Congress had won 100 seats here in 2018. It needs to raise this number to more than 110, to retain Rajasthan. The results diagram does not really look strong, though the BSP has allied with the INC in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.

One of its problems is that INC has not projected Sachin Pilot as CM candidate, nevertheless, Gehlot has been a popular CM. AAP is likely to contest more than 40 seats in Rajasthan and will reduce the number of seats for the Congress. The enemy’s enemy principle holds here too but by making Kejriwal an Enforcement Directorate target so close to State elections, the BJP’s attempt to pressurise AAP has not gained any bonus points. The BJP has not projected Vasundhara Raje as a CM candidate and Gajendra Singh Shekhawat and Satish Poonia are no match to Raje’s popularity and the advantage remains with the INC.

A year ago, Arvind Kejriwal had said, his AAP would contest 200 seats in Rajasthan, but so far has named less than 30 candidates, and most are fighting the Congress seats.

Unlike in 2004, as the Congress has really not managed to convince the Left parties of its ‘share and care’ policies, the Left has decided to contest assembly polls independently in all four States. In Rajasthan, the CPI will contest 12 seats and the CPI(M) 17 seats. In Chhattisgarh, CPI will contest 16 seats and the CPM, three seats. In Madhya Pradesh CPI will contest nine seats and CPM, four seats. Telangana, as we have noted earlier, has various shades of left-leaning candidates in both the Congress and the BRS.

The BJP had won 163 seats in 2013, the assembly poll here was clearly a precursor to the saffron wave in the 2014 general elections. In 2018, it was down to 73 seats. Here, the BSP and others hold about 25 seats, whose value to the Congress has increased immensely in the last five years. The Congress has the manpower to engineer a win, it did win 153 seats in 1998. That was a quarter of a century ago when the BJP was a nascent force. The BJP’s purchasing power too has increased in the meantime. Even if all those greys, reds, blues and greens close to the halfway mark increase, the Congress will have to depend heavily on its friendships with Mayawati and the left parties to retain power. If the BJP manages to do what the Congress did in Karnataka, the colour saffron will laugh all the way to the general elections in 2024. So, Rajasthan will be the toughest contest for the Congress, among the five States.

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