KC Deo's exit freezes Congress' hopes in Andhra Pradesh; Rahul Gandhi may find it easier to ally with TDP than to revive party

K Nageshwar
Congress president Rahul Gandhi's candidacy from Wayanad has upset the poll strategy of both the BJP and CPM in Kerala as the political discourse has now shifted from women's entry into Sabarimala to national issues

With the possibility of a state-level alliance with TDP almost ruled out, senior leaders in Congress' Andhra Pradesh unit are looking for greener pastures elsewhere. While former Union minister and veteran tribal leader Kishore Chandra Deo has resigned from Congress, another former minister Kotla Suryaprakash Reddy is all set to join TDP. Moreover, with Congress chief Rahul Gandhi seemingly more keen on getting the support of maximum number of MPs from anti-BJP parties in the state (including TDP) at the national level rather than reviving the party ahead of the state Assembly polls, it seems Congress has accepted that it has no chance of making its presence felt in Andhra Pradesh politics at least for this term despite growing people's anger against Narendra Modi. Deo's exit should be seen as part of the political disaster Congress continues to confront in Andhra Pradesh due to the arbitrary bifurcation of the state.

Deo is a six-time MP. He worked as Union minister for Tribal Welfare and Panchayat Raj in the UPA governments representing the Araku (ST) reserved Lok Sabha constituency of north coastal Andhra. In 2014, he lost to Kothapalli Geetha of YSR Congress owing to the Congress' disastrous performance in the elections held post-bifurcation. The strong sentiment in the people of Seemandhra region that now constitutes the residuary state of Andhra Pradesh caused the complete rout of the Congress in a state that catapulted the party-led UPA to power by sending over 30 seats in the Lok Sabha. The pathetic plight of Congress is evident from the fact that the party has no representation in Andhra Pradesh State Legislative Assembly for the first time in history.

As like any other politician, Deo while announcing his decision to leave Congress said that he would chalk out his future political course after discussing it with his followers. But, the political sources are agog with rumours that Deo is expected to join the TDP to contest from Araku Lok Sabha constituency though he is still exploring various other political options. Despite his popularity among the tribal population, Deo had to suffer a humiliating defeat in 2014 due to the outright rejection of the Congress party by the Andhra electorate as the UPA government divided the state against the wishes of the people of this region.

It is significant that Deo defending his resignation from Congress accused that the grand old party has done injustice to Andhra Pradesh by enacting the bifurcation act that has several lapses. Not just Deo, every other Congress leader who left the party since 2014 has been maintaining that their decision to leave the party is the arbitrary bifurcation of the state. This only indicates how the politics of Andhra Pradesh, since 2014, is woven around the bifurcation narrative.

Deo came down heavily on BJP indicating that he may join TDP as the latter's politics is built around the anti-Modi narrative. The TDP has a clear political strategy in luring Deo into the party. The TDP lost most of the Assembly segments in the Araku Lok Sabha seat. By inducting the veteran tribal leader into its fold, TDP would like to boost its chances in as many Assembly seats as possible. Besides, Deo has good contacts across the parties at the national level that can be an asset to TDP leadership at a time when N Chandrababu Naidu is pitching for space in national politics too.

Meanwhile, Deo's exit from Congress is not an isolated political development. The Congress is decimated in Andhra Pradesh due to what people strongly believe a unilateral bifurcation aimed at winning seats in Telangana. Interestingly, with Modi denying special category status to Andhra Pradesh, the electorate of the state is overwhelmingly in favour of Rahul Gandhi as prime minister. This has been made evident from several internal surveys conducted by different political parties due to voters' disenchantment with Modi over a raw deal meted out to Andhra Pradesh. However, at the same time, they are in no mood to give Congress a chance. Sensing this, Naidu had mooted an alliance with Congress-led opposition at the national level.

In the wake of Telangana Mahakutami experiment, fresh hopes arose in Andhra Pradesh Congress leaders that they would have political future, at least in the Lok Sabha election, as there would be an understanding with TDP. But, contrary to their hopes, the TDP-Congress alliance in Telangana proved to be a damp squib. This has strengthened the apprehensions in both TDP and Congress over the electoral implications of an alliance between the two parties that were traditional rivals for decades.

Since 2014, Naidu has been promoting anti-bifurcation narrative to consolidate on the feelings of hurt of the people of this region. Thus, the alliance with Congress does not fit into his anti-bifurcation political narrative. Therefore, it is almost clear that Naidu may not embrace Congress at the state level though he is working with Congress to rally all the anti -BJP parties. The Congress and TDP may have a tacit and strategic understanding to frustrate the chances of YSR Congress. In any case, the Congress leaders find no future in the strategic manoeuvring by Naidu in league with Congress' all India leadership.

The Congress high command, says party sources, has realised that the party's revival is not in the realm of possibility at least for 2019. Thus, the party leadership is keen on ensuring the maximum number of anti-BJP MPs from the state. YS Jagan Mohan Reddy has been hostile to Congress and his political move triggers enough suspicion that YSR Congress is likely to be the post-poll ally of BJP. Thus, Congress is left with no alternative except to ally with TDP in national politics though the latter is not keen on roping in the party at the state level. This seems to be the emerging formula in West Bengal too.

Given the emerging political landscape, Congress' senior leaders who still have some influence at the constituency level are looking towards other parties to eke out a political living. To break Jagan Mohan's stronghold of Rayalaseema, the TDP is keen on inducting another former union minister and Congress senior leader Kotla Suryaprakash Reddy, son of former chief minister Kotla Vijayabhaskara Reddy and field him from Kurnool Lok Sabha seat. Deo's political move falls in the same political pattern shaping up firmly and fastly in the state political landscape in the run-up to 2019 polls.

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