A Friendly Fight: Congress And TDP’s Pre-Poll Rivalry

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A divorce need not always be an unhappy mess. In Andhra Pradesh, the Congress and the Telugu Desam Party have agreed to go their separate ways,  but remain friends. While deciding against any form of an alliance for the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections, they have agreed to work closely in the post-poll scenario at the national level. Going by the disastrous results of their alliance in Telangana, where they lost heavily to the Telangana Rashtra Samithi recently, this arrangement is the best for both.

 Indeed, the TDP, trying to retain power against a resurgent YSR Congress Party, may do better without the Congress, which is still blamed in Andhra Pradesh for the bifurcation of the State in 2014. The Congress, to the benefit of the TDP, could cut into the vote share of the YSRCP, a breakaway party led by the son of former Congress Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy. Traditionally, the Congress and the TDP have been bitter rivals, but the bifurcation dramatically changed the political equations. The Congress vote bank collapsed in Andhra Pradesh as the Congress-led government at the Centre was seen as the architect of the bifurcation.

In Telangana, the TDP, which vacillated on the division, suffered a massive erosion of votes. Thus, for the first time, the Congress and the TDP no longer had geographically overlapping support bases. While the leadership of both parties saw in this an opportunity to work together, the ground beneath had shifted. The vote banks of the Congress and the TDP did not add up in the recent Telangana Assembly election. Voters in the new State saw the alliance between the foes-turned-friends as opportunistic and returned the TRS to power with a bigger majority.

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu, while not keen on an alliance with the Congress, wants the two parties to work together at the national level against the Bharatiya Janata Party. Much of Mr. Naidu’s political campaign is directed against the BJP-led government at the Centre for not granting special category status to Andhra Pradesh. Installing a non-BJP alternative political formation at the Centre is integral to the TDP’s vision for the State. For its part, the Congress, which is in the process of finding new allies in different States to cut into the BJP’s share of the seats, is content with the TDP as a post-poll ally. The tactic of fighting the elections separately need not stop them from forming a government together. In the eyes of the Congress, a post-poll coalition in Andhra Pradesh is just as good as a pre-poll alliance. What matters is the number of seats that parties opposed to the BJP may get in the Lok Sabha. If the disbanding of the alliance makes any difference to that end, it can only be a positive.

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