Seven years after formation of Telangana as a separate state, Congress party is still struggling to regain the lost ground in its former stronghold.
The party’s defeat in the recent by-election to Nagarjuna Sagar Assembly constituency shows that its fortunes in the state continue to plummet.
Reeling under defections of a dozen MLAs to ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) since 2018 Assembly polls and series of electoral debacles since, Congress is facing its worst crisis.
The emergence of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as the main opposition party following its victory in Dubbak Assembly by-election and its impressive performance in Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) polls late last year has only added to woes of Congress party.
With the central leadership of the grand old party taking no step to set the house in order in Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee (TPCC), which remained virtually headless following resignation of Uttam Kumar Reddy in December last year, the party appears to be in a total disarray.
Political analysts say that bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh by granting statehood to Telangana was itself a political gamble by the Congress to arrest the slide in its traditional stronghold. The party was hoping to remain afloat at least in Telangana by claiming credit for carving out the separate state.
However, TRS chief K. Chandrasekhar Rao dashed its hopes by rejecting the proposal to merge his party with Congress. He decided to maintain the identity of TRS as a political party and vowed to transform newly created state into ‘Bangaru Telangana’ or golden Telangana.
KCR, as Rao is popularly known, succeeded in claiming credit for achieving the goal of separate state by winning the public mandate. In 2014 elections, held just before formal bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh, TRS won 63 seats in 119-member Telangana Assembly.
The Congress party, which was completely wiped out in Andhra Pradesh due to the public anger over bifurcation, could win 22 seats. However, the party failed to keep its flock together as several of its leaders defected to TRS.
In 2018 Assembly elections, held a few months before the term of the Assembly was to end, Congress faced a disaster. It could win just 19 seats, though it had forged electoral alliance with the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and other TRS opponents.
However, the worst was yet to come for the party. Even before it could gear up for Lok Sabha elections in 2019, it had lost as many as 12 MLAs to the ruling party. Though the party salvaged some pride by winning three Lok Sabha seats, with the reduced strength in Assembly it lost the status of main opposition to Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM), a friendly party of TRS.
The party suffered a huge embarrassment as it failed to retain Huzurnagar Assembly seat, where by-election was necessitated with the resignation of Uttam Kumar Reddy following his election to Lok Sabha.
The TRS wrested the seat from Congress as its candidate S. Saidi Reddy was elected with a huge margin of over 43,000 votes. Uttam’s wife N. Padmavathi Reddy finished a distant runner-up.
It was in September last year that the AICC named Manickam Tagore as new incharge for Telangana, replacing R. C. Khuntia. However, even his appointment could not stop the party’s slide in the state.
The BJP, which became aggressive following its impressive performance in Lok Sabha polls by winning four seats, added to the worries of Congress. Projecting itself as the only viable alternative, the saffron party started making inroads with ‘Mission 2023′.
The BJP wrested Dubbak from TRS to further consolidate itself. The saffron party, which hardly had any presence in the constituency, pushed Congress party to third position.
The Congress party suffered another humiliation a month later as it could win just two seats in 150-member Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC). In its best-ever performance in the civic body, the BJP bagged 48 seats to deny the TRS a clear majority.
The emergence of BJP as the main opposition party sent alarm bells ringing. Owning moral responsibility for the defeat, Uttam Kumar Reddy resigned as the party chief.
The party suffered more blows as it lost several leaders to BJP. They included D. K. Aruna, who was later made national vice president of BJP and actress Vijayashanti.
The beleaguered party faced another jolt late last year when its MLA Komatireddy Rajagopal Reddy announced that he would quit the Congress and join the BJP soon.
Rajagopal Reddy stated that the BJP is the only alternative to TRS, as the Congress party had failed to put up a strong fight.
If Rajagopal Reddy defects to the BJP, the Congress will be left with just five MLAs in the Assembly.
Former MP Konda Vishweshwar Reddy, who resigned TRS to join Congress on the eve of 2018 elections, recently quit Congress party and is now working to bring together non-BJP and non-Congress parties against TRS.
Even after six months, the central leadership of Congress party has not named a new state president. The groupism in the party came to fore with leaders lobbying for the posts publicly targeting each other to mar the prospects of their rivals.
Fearing that change of leadership would impact the party’s chances in Nagarjuna Sagar by-election, the high command delayed naming Uttam Kumar Reddy’s successor.
The Congress party was pinning its hopes on this by-election to revive its fortunes in the state. Its leaders were confident that senior leader and former minister K. Jana Reddy will wrest the seat from TRS to give the party a new hope.
However, Jana Reddy, a seven-time MLA lost by over 18,000 votes to TRS debutant Nomula Bhagat, whose father Nomula Narasimhaiah had defeated the Congress leader in 2018.
Narasimhaiah’s death in December last year caused the vacancy and the by-election was held on April 17.
The only solace for the Congress party was that it finished runners-up and BJP was distant third with its candidate forfeiting his deposit.
Political analysts say while it’s not all over for the Congress party, it is facing an uphill challenge to revive past glory in the country and especially in Telangana.
“The party’s decline at the central stage has weakened its position in this State too. But it can revive its position, and the upcoming elections could be one last opportunity to not lost further ground,” said analyst Palwai Raghavendra Reddy.
“Congress still has a fixed vote bank in the country, and more so in Telangana. The party has to ensure it does not slip further and lose its loyal cadre to the ruling TRS or the BJP, which aims to occupy at least the position of main opposition in Telangana,” he said.
The analyst says Congress was suffering due to the delay in naming the new leader and lack of a popular face. “Congress needs to first decide on who would be the face of the party in the next elections, bind all leaders together with the common goal to win in the State. The party should try to ensure that no more prominent leaders leave Congress, but if there are any trojan horses in its ranks, they need to be weeded out sooner than later,” he added.