A major jolt for TDP

THE RULING Telugu Desam Party (TDP) received a big blow in the elections to the local bodies. Elections were held on July 12 and 14 to 14,591 Mandal Parishad Territorial Constituencies (MPTCs) and 1094 Zilla Parishad Territorial Constituencies (ZPTCs). The TDP displayed its money and muscle power and misused the official machinery to the maximum extent. Still, it could bag only less than 50% of the ZPTCs and MPTCs. The TDP received a drubbing in the Telengana districts and its performance was not good in the coastal region. The two-month old Telengana Rashtra Samiti has performed better than expected, making inroads into the bases of both the TDP and the Congress. The Congress has made gains in the coastal region.

The TDP has won a majority only in the zilla parishads of Srikakulam, West Godavari, Guntur, Krishna, Prakasam, Anantapur, Cuddapah, Karnool, Adilabad and Mahboobnagar. The Congress has won a majority in Nellore and Chittoor and can get a majority with the support of CPI and CPI(M) in Nalgonda and Khammam. The TRS has obtained a clear majority in Nizamabad district and either the TRS or Congress can capture the zilla parishads of Karimnagar, Warangal and Medak if they decide to support each other. Karimnagar is witnessing a tussle between the Congress and TRS for the post of zilla parishad chairperson. In Visakhapatnam district, the Congress has won 19 seats, TDP 16, CPI 1 and BSP 3. To prevent the Congress from capturing the zilla parishad, the TDP has offered to support the BSP. In East Godavari district, the TDP would get a majority with the support of an independent. In Ranga Reddy, the Congress has won 15 out of 33 seats, CPI(M) and TRS one each, TDP 14 and its ally BJP 2. The outcome depends on TRS’ stand. In Chittoor, the Congress has won 33 while TDP has won 32 seats, but the TDP is trying to grab this zilla parishad by getting a Congress member disqualified. In Vizianagaram, both the Congress and the TDP have won equal number of seats.

Thus, the TDP can win a majority only in 10-12 zilla parishads out of 22. In the last elections held in 1995, the TDP had captured all but the Cuddapah zilla parishad. It is in the Telengana region that the TDP has received its maximum drubbing, winning only 2 out of 9 zilla parishads.

On the whole, the TDP has captured – it has either won majority, or its candidates have become mandal presidents with the support of others -- 467 mandals, Congress 412, TRS 76, left parties 35, BJP 7 and independents 37. Elections to the post of president were yet to take place in 60 mandals at the time of writing this. Even in some districts, where the TDP has won a majority in zilla parishad, majority of the mandals have gone to the opposition. For instance, in Cuddapah, Congress won majority in 29 mandals while TDP could win only 18. In Krishna district, the TDP got 23 mandals while the Congress got 26. This shows a greater erosion of the TDP structure at the grassroots level.

The panchayat election results have established a strong anti-incumbency feeling in the state. It shows that a majority of the people have rejected the World Bank-dictated policies of Mr.Chandrababu Naidu. In fact, there was a strong anti-incumbency current even before the last assembly elections but Mr.Naidu could successfully turn the tide through his alliance with BJP and announcing a slew of populist schemes. But the people have quickly seen through his duplicity. The janmabhoomi and all other such programmes have shown that this government is only after cheap publicity. Very little is being done to address the real problems of the people and in terms of substantial and long-term development. Only a thin stratum comprising businessmen, mostly from outside the state, and the TDP leaders and contractors are thriving under Chandrababu’s dispensation. The agrarian crisis is really scorching all sections of farmers in the state. Most notably, the paddy farmers are selling their grains at 20-25% below the MSP to private traders. The steep hike in power tariff, as a result of the power sector reforms, has severely hurt the farmers, especially in the Telengana region, where a large number of farmers are dependent on borewell irrigation. Though, normally, local factors are expected to dominate in panchayat elections, the elections in AP this time were an exception. Issues like farmers’ crisis, hike in power rates and separate Telengana exerted relatively greater, and in some instances, overriding influence.

The newly formed Telengana Rashtra Samiti has performed reasonably well though it could not sweep the polls in the region. The emergence of a mainstream political party with the plank of separate Telengana, and its getting entrenched in the local power structure, would prove to be a big headache for Mr. Chandrababu Naidu.

The left parties have also reaped the benefits of vigorous mass movement they jointly conducted against the policies of the TDP. Though the CPI and CPI(M) initially rejected any truck with the Congress, just on the eve of the elections they tried for seat adjustment with the Congress but that didn’t succeed, except in a few places where there were local adjustments. Surprisingly, the CPI(M) fielded very few candidates in districts other than their strongholds of Nalgonda and Khammam, in a unilateral gesture to “avoid hampering the winning chances of Congress”. Probably this way they wanted to keep the options open for an opportunistic alliance with Congress in the next assembly elections. The CPI(M) won 8 ZPTC seats in Khammam and 6 in Nalgonda. The CPI won 3 in Nalgonda and 1 in Khammam. In both their strongholds, they are now in an unenviable position of having to support the Congress to run the zilla parishads though they succeeded in halting the TRS juggernaut.

The CPI won 204 mandal seats: 44 in coastal region (2 in Srikakulam, 1 in Vizianagaram, 22 in Visakhapatnam, 1 in East Godavari, 2 in West Godavari, 6 in Krishna, 4 in Guntur, 4 in Prakasam and 2 in Nellore); 19 in Rayalaseema (1 in Chittoor, 9 in Anantapur and 9 in Kurnool); and 141 seats in Telengana (6 in Medak, 12 in Adilabad, 11 in Karimnagar, 49 in Nalgonda, 54 in Khammam, 3 in Mahboobnagar, 2 in Ranga Reddy and 4 in Warangal). The CPI(M) won 290 mandal seats: 63 in the coastal region (2 in Srikakulam, 6 in Vizianagaram, 2 in East Godavari, 9 in West Godavari, 18 in Krishna, 10 in Guntur, 3 in Prakasam and 13 in Nellore); 9 in Rayalaseema (1 in Anantapur and 8 in Kurnool); and 218 in Telengana (1 in Medak, 109 in Nalgonda, 79 in Khammam, 7 in Mahboobnagar, 18 in Ranga Reddy and 11 in Warangal). In Khammam, the CPI(ML) New Democracy has retained control over three mandals and they have won the three ZPTC seats from these mandals as well. In this district, the three left parties together control 16 mandals whereas TDP controls only 15 and Congress 11. If there had been proper understanding and seat adjustment they could have won enough number of seats to control the zilla parishad also.

Interestingly, the CPI and CPI(M) together won control over only 32 mandals. In districts other than Nalgonda and Khammam, their performance leaves much to be desired. CPI(M) won two mandals in Nellore and one in Ranga Reddy and CPI won 1 in Karimnagar. This shows absence of concentrated pockets of mass base for these parties in other areas. Of course, they fielded only a few candidates. But such unilateral abstention in favour of Congress will only accelerate the erosion of CPI(M)’s dwindling agricultural labour base in West Godavari, Krishna, Guntur and Nellore, from where they failed to win any mandal despite a reasonably good base. The CPI’s erosion in Rayalaseema has been very marked.

CPI(ML) Liberation contested 10 ZPTC seats (7 in East Godavari and 3 in Krishna) and 41 mandal seats (33 in East Godavari, 6 in Krishna and one each in Visakhapatnam and Srikakulam). We won 6 MPTC seats (4 in East Godavari and 1 each in Krishna and Srikakulam). We also polled about 12,000 votes for ZPTC seats in East Godavari.

The worst hit in these elections is the BJP. Its electoral adjustment with TDP was not complete and the two parties contested against each other in a good number of constituencies. But in terms of seats won, the BJP’s performance is very poor. They party could win only 11 ZPTC seats in the whole of Telengana, and one each in Coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema. Earlier it was vying with the BJP and Congress for the top slot, in Karimnagar but has now been pushed to fourth position.

The new life breathed into the local bodies following these elections and a larger presence of opposition in the panchayat power structure will only add to the ruling TDP’s woes. In fact, Chandrababu Naidu tried to get the elections delayed several times, and was forced to conduct them only after the Supreme Court refused any further extension and firmly told the AP government that the elections were to be held before July end. In the last five years, Chandrababu Naidu had effectively marginalised the local bodies. All the 28 areas identified in the 72 constitutional amendment were not transferred to them. Funds meant for the local bodies – including the funds from centrally sponsored schemes like JRY and EAS – were unconstitutionally diverted to be spent via the bureaucracy through the system of appointing nodal officers. And, under guidance from the World Bank, decision-making powers were usurped by the bureaucracy under the pretext of developing a parallel structure of ‘beneficiaries’ groups’ like DWCRA, Water Users’ Associations, Education Committees etc., and a parallel, ad-hoc style of administration through Janmabhoomi etc. Panchayat presidents belonging to the opposition launched a powerful protest against this, forcing the government to make some partial retreat. With more than half of the mandals and zilla parishads now being controlled by the opposition, this protest is bound to snowball once again.