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Telangana Polls 2018: 'Settler’ factor adds twist to TRS-Opposition battle

For the Opposition alliance, subtly amalgamating settlers with the Telangana Congress’ base is a strategic requirement to stump the TRS.

, ET Bureau|
Updated: Dec 04, 2018, 09.26 AM IST
While TRS may whip up anti-settler feeling, Oppn could try to bring settlers into Cong’s Telangana base.
As the campaign for the second Assembly elections in newly-formed Telangana state peaks, the “Settlers” factor (Andhraites settled in Telangana) is acquiring a new electoral dimension.

The settlers form an important electoral segment, with about 20% of the population spread across Telangana. They are densely concentrated in the Greater Hyderabad region –– which accounts for 24 Assembly segments –– with about 30-32% of the population in the region. Khammam, Nalgonda and Nizamabad are the other districts of their influence.

Settlers are an important factor for both TRS and the Opposition alliance for different reasons. For TRS, they are important for whipping up a pre-poll anti-settler feeling to reinforce its pro-Telangana identity and to project the Opposition alliance (Prajakutami) as “untrustworthy” for “Congress’ collaboration with Andhra’s Chandrababu-led TDP”.

For the Opposition alliance, subtly amalgamating settlers with the Telangana Congress’ base is a strategic requirement to stump the TRS. This makes Prajakutami not only an experiment in harmonising the old Congress-TDP cadre-rivalry but also in unifying Reddy-Khamma castes. This makes Chandrababu Naidu, despite the dwarfed stature of the TDP in Telangana, a tactical player in the Congress-led Opposition and, a target of the TRS.

This explains why TRS No.2 KT Rama Rao has now started publicly warning Naidu of “retaliation in the Andhra Pradesh elections” for “TDP encroachment” in the Telangana elections even as chief minister KCR tactically assures settlers of their safety with TRS “despite the greedy Naidu”. This coincides with TRS’ evident worry over the Opposition putting up a spirited fight in Greater Hyderabad.

Here, the clout of the TDP can be gauged from the fact that even in the 2014 Assembly polls post-Telangana birth, TDP (then, part of the BJP alliance) won 10 seats (most of then then defected to TRS), BJP five, TRS 5, MIM 7 and Congress nil with the party mostly coming third.

MIM, a de facto ally of the TRS, is expected to hold its seats in old city Hyderabad areas. For the Opposition alliance, it is important to put up a better show in the rest of the seats here as it is crucial to its pan-state electoral calculation, especially after TRS made a surprise electoral sweep in the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) elections held after the Assembly polls.

Beyond rhetoric, there appears no visible rivalry –– but only practical concerns about resource-sharing –– between settlers and the natives. “The TRS rakes up the settlers’ issue only during elections for votes and diverts focus from administrative issues. Otherwise, since the formation of Telangana, settlers here have never felt any discrimination or cause for social fear even though I may have definite political leanings,” said M Krishna Rao, a shop-owner in Kukatppally of Rangareddy district.

“Right here, I am having my lunch at this eatery owned by a Telangana family. We all mix freely socially and live peacefully. Yet, I must say, as a person belonging to Telangana, I feel TRS may be more politically sensitive to Telangana natives’ economic interests,” said Tejas, a CA student in Hyderabad. But a dominant view is that the Telangana statehood emotion, four years after the bifurcation, has subsided with voters here now focussing more on TRS regime’s administrative record and local issues of the GHMC.

That explains why Chandrababu Naidu is now shedding his initial caution, and launching an all-out campaign in Greater Hyderabad area for the past four days with plans to stay put till the last day of campaign. Naidu, encouraged by the response for his road shows, seems working towards demonstrating his utility to the Congress –– by adding an evident buzz to the Opposition campaign, providing it with his resources and in rallying settlers . Naidu, many believe, is hoping Congress will reciprocate by aligning with TDP in AP polls.

At his roadside meetings, Naidu targets CM Rao’s weak points. “I (Andhra-ruling TDP) am not responsible for CM not fulfilling his promise of making a Muslim the Deputy CM, or for CM not delivering on his promises of two-bedroom houses for the poor and a job per family…”

Despite their long history of past rivalries, Congress-TDP cadres appear to be synching against their common enemy –– TRS. “Initially, I was concerned whether the Congress and TDP activists will work together. By now, I feel, not only they have done so, but the alliance is really working well,” said Congress candidate D Sudheer Reddy of LB Nagar constituency after Naidu addressed a campaign meet for him.

Facing an incumbency test on himself and the TRS, the electoral battles across Greater Hyderabad region is proving to be a crucial test for CM Rao as TRS’ pro-native overpitch runs the risk of a counter-rally.
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