With the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) opting out of the upcoming Assembly elections in Telangana, a slew of leaders from other parties are now attempting to woo pro-TDP voters of Andhra Pradesh-origin in the state, praising TDP supremo and ex-chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu and condemning the YSRCP-led AP government’s crackdown on him.
When Naidu was granted a temporary bail on October 31 after being imprisoned for 53 days — following his arrest by the Andhra Pradesh police in the alleged State Skill Development Corporation scam — there were celebrations across Hyderabad and Khammam regions in Telangana with many leaders joining them.
The first Telangana leader to come out in support of Naidu after his September 9 arrest was the Bharat Rashtra Samiti (BRS)-led government’s senior minister, Talasani Srinivas Yadav, who not only attended an “I am with Chandrababu” protest organised by the AP-origin tech industry workers in Hyderabad, but also praised the TDP chief as a “visionary” while calling his arrest “unfortunate”.
Yadav, who started his political career with the TDP and was a minister in Naidu’s government in united AP, is seeking re-election from the Sanathnagar constituency, where a majority of the residents are from the neighbouring state. In 2014, despite a massive wave in favour of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS, as BRS was then known), Yadav won on a TDP ticket but subsequently switched to the BRS. In 2018, the AP-origin voters backed him again, ensuring his comfortable win.
BRS transport minister Ajay Kumar Puvvada also praised the TDP leader last week. Puvvada, who is seeking re-election from Khammam, said he supports Naidu, who is close to his father. “I support Chandrababu because he is a great leader. He and my father are very close. When he was arrested, I had said it was illegal and motivated. His supporters took out several rallies in Khammam and I supported all of them,” he said.
When the first protest by tech workers was held on September 12, Telangana minister K T Rama Rao, CM and BRS supremo K Chandrashekhar Rao’s son, said it would be better if pro-Naidu protests are held in AP rather than Hyderabad, but neither the BRS government nor the Telangana Police dispersed the protesters, which blocked metro stations in the city for several hours.
Congress leader Madhu Yashki Goud, who is contesting from Hyderabad’s Lal Bahadur Nagar, another constituency dominated by the AP-origin people, recently condemned Naidu’s arrest. “I think it was illegal the way he was arrested by the YSR Congress Party government,” he charged.
Thummala Nageshwara Rao, a former TDP MLA who joined the Congress and is contesting from Khammam, joined the celebrations in Khammam town after Naidu was granted bail. “I am happy for Chandrababu and the people who adore him here. I shared their happiness when he was released on bail, and I requested his supporters here to support me in the election,” Rao said.
In Hyderabad and its surrounding areas, and in the border districts of Khammam and Nalgonda, there are a sizeable number of AP-origin voters who support the TDP and Naidu, even though many have now shifted their allegiance to the BRS, which has become the dominant force in Telangana since the 2018 Assembly polls.
Sensing this shift in its vote base, in the 2018 polls the TDP contested just 15 seats out of 119, which have AP-origin voters in large numbers, and won two seats while getting an overall vote share of 3.5%.
In contrast, the TDP had contested 72 seats in 2014, when polling for the two states was held jointly. The party won 15 seats and garnered 14.7% votes despite a pro-TRS wave. It also finished second in 17 seats and third in 33 seats.
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However, after forming the first Telangana government, K Chandrashekhar Rao or KCR and his ministers told the AP-origin residents that some comments against them were made during the Telangana statehood movement and in the heat of the election campaign, assuring them that they will not have to worry about their safety and security in the new state. Since then, a l majority of the erstwhile TDP supporters have shifted to the BRS.
For instance, in Hyderabad’s Kukatpally Assembly constituency, which is known as “mini Andhra Pradesh” and where more than 95 per cent of the residents is of AP-origin, the TDP’s M Krishna Rao won in 2014. Ahead of the 2018 Assembly elections, he shifted to the BRS and trounced the TDP’s Nandamuri Suhasini, daughter of TDP leader N Harikrishna and granddaughter of the party’s founder N T Rama Rao. She lost despite Naidu campaigning for her extensively.
“A number of BRS supporters like Chandrababu for what he has done for Hyderabad. It doesn’t hurt to acknowledge it. A positive impression is created when we praise Naidu and condemn his arrest,” said Tandra Ravi Yadav, one of M Krishna Rao’s campaign managers.