Hyderabad: Buoyed by recent media reports that the Congress has possibly surged ahead of the ruling BJP in the three states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh, Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee (TPCC) president Captain N Uttam Kumar Reddy predicts a larger national trend, which will reflect in the 2018 semi-finals, saying, the battle has turned around and would become a clean five-nil sweep for the Grand Old Party.
Fighter pilot in fight mode
A former Indian Air Force officer and fighter pilot, Captain Reddy flew MiG 21s and 23s before a near-fatal air accident left him unfit to continue with combat duty. He then worked with the Rashtrapathi Bhavan before serendipity led him into politics. As the president of Congress' Telangana unit, he is striving hard to lead Congress to a win and creating its own state government again in south India, after a series of debacles and losses left the national party with its least power representation across 29 state capitals.
Dismissing the "stunt" of dissolving the Telangana Assembly early by Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) chief and caretaker chief minister Kalvakuntla Chandrasekhara Rao aslo known as KCR, Captain Reddy said, "I thank KCR. If his greed and superstition had not led him to dissolve the Telangana Assembly, we would have had only a 4-0 verdict. Thanks to him, the people can show their emphatic support for the Congress with a full five-finger fury."
Dismissing opinion polls and surveys pointing to a TRS win, Captain Reddy explained, "It was basing their faith on surveys that the NDA government went to polls ahead of time in 2004. All surveys predicted their comeback. KCR knows that he has made a mistake and will be routed on 7 December. He can continue to posture till results are out on 11 December."
Turnaround with social coalition
It has been a turnaround since the time TRS shocked Congress in the 2014 elections, where in spite of creating Telangana, Congress did not gain politically from the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh, as per its estimations. It was routed in an angry post-bifurcation Andhra Pradesh. After his win, KCR poached leaders from the Telugu Desam Party and Congress, weakening them in the process. By the end of 2016, the Congress seemed too weak to challenge TRS, which had consolidated tremendously.
Captain Reddy has been able to improve Congress's fortunes, to credibly challenge KCR. The turnaround, coinciding with the rise of acceptance for Rahul Gandhi nationally and, slowly increasing despair within the BJP, has been old-fashioned. Captain Reddy has been working with Dalits, Tribals, Muslim and women, travelling across the state, and building a social coalition.
"The Congress had a traditional support with Dalits. The KCR government humiliated them since coming to power. The Nerella incident on 2 July, 2017, where he had arrested several Dalits, and had them tortured when they protested against the sand mafia linked to his own family, became an emotional issue across the state. When TRS supported the police who illegally detained and tortured the Dalits, it brought to Congress its first major shot in the arm," says Captain Reddy, who, along with several other Congress leaders, have built a Dalit movement across the state since then.
KCR's false promises
"In what is surely a woman's century, KCR has hurt their sentiment by running the first-ever Telangana government without a single woman in the Cabinet. He has stopped all funding and loans to DWCRA women bodies. KCR will learn soon that no power can hold against the fury of women scorned," said the former Indian Air Force Captain.
Listing false promises, he said, "KCR promised to make a Dalit a chief minister once Telangana was formed. He promised two-bedroom houses for all Dalits, tribals, Muslims, OBCs and the poor. He also promised three acres of land to all Dalits and tribals. He promised to bring drinking water to every house and a job to every family. Not one of these have happened."
In fact, the troika of promises of two-bedroom houses, jobs and water were crucial to not only bringing TRS to power but were deeply ingrained into the psyche of the people as legitimate aspirations.
"Forget jobs for every youth or one in every family, even the over two lakh pending government vacancies have not been filled," says Captain Reddy.
While the Muslims are angry that the promise of 12 percent reservations has not materialised, parents are upset that scholarships for their children have not been coming. "During the Congress rule, the government used to regularly remit scholarships to all Dalit, tribal and OBC children. The TRS government has stopped paying scholarships. Far from fulfilling the promise of free education from KG-to-PG, even basic fees are not being paid," he says.
Building on a promise of returning to a welfare-centric but growth-focussed government, Captain Reddy believes Congress has also succeeded in denting the Muslim vote by "exposing" the TRS by portraying KCR as a friend and partner of the BJP.
"He has the elections brought upon early so he can fight the state elections with the AIMIM, and the Lok Sabha elections next year in alliance with the BJP," Reddy said.
The Congress has formed alliance with the Telugu Desam Party, some Left parties and key intellectual leaders. The Dalit-Muslim coalition, along with support of the OBCs who have historically backed the TDP, despite the party having weakened considerably since 2014, believe there are many factors which suggest Congress may have a good shot at challenging or even defeating the TRS.
The simmering anger amongst Dalits and tribals, the rising suspicion amongst Muslims about TRS being an ally of the BJP, besides unemployed youth and unempowered women, are all beginning to reflect as Congress leaders campaign through the state.
"Wherever I go people tell me we are waiting to oust TRS and bring back Congress. It is the same in all five states. This is the beginning of the end for the Modi-KCR axis fashioned after the Hitler-Stalin pact," says Captain Reddy, heading to his next meeting with farmers, for whom his party has announced a loan waiver of Rs 2 lakh in a single instalment.
The writer is the author of the bestselling novel, Autobiography of a Mad Nation, long-listed for the MAN Asian Literary prize, and The Spiritual Supermarket. His next novel, One Farmer Less, will be out next year