In March 2016, the opposition parties in Telangana revisited the adage they had learnt in school " 'United we stand, divided we fall'. The civic elections to the newly-formed Achampet Nagara panchayat in Mahbubnagar district was selected as the battlefield where they would come together to fight the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS). But Achampet did not buy into the grand alliance. It turned out to be a grand failure, with the TRS winning all the 20 wards.
Undeterred by the thumbs down, two months later, the Telugu Desam and the YSR Congress decided not to field a candidate in the byelection to Palair assembly constituency in Khammam district, that had been caused by the death of the sitting Congress MLA and instead supported the Congress candidate. Yet, the TRS that had finished a poor fifth in 2014, netting just 4,035 votes, won by a margin of over 45,000 votes this time. Which is why fingers are crossed over whether the opposition will be third time lucky with its Mahakutami (grand alliance).
The Congress, TDP and the CPI have, in principle, decided to fight the elections together to defeat the TRS. Leaders of the three parties discussed the contours of the alliance in Hyderabad on Tuesday, after TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu on paper allowed the Telangana unit to take the decision in its best interest and ensure opposition votes are not split. This is because Naidu does not wish to be seen as the architect of the alliance and be accused of diluting the anti-Congress DNA of the TDP.
But it will not be smooth sailing. For close to four decades now, the two parties have been each other's principal rivals in united Andhra Pradesh. The emergence of two powerful regional parties - the TRS in Telangana and the YSR Congress in Andhra - has forced them to do business with each other. Which is why the big challenge will be to ensure effective vote transfer from the TDP cadre to a Congress candidate and vice versa.
In Telangana, it is a fight for existence for the TDP that has lost 12 of its 15 MLAs to the TRS in the last four years. For the Congress, it is an effort to ensure K Chandrasekhar Rao does not gain by the split in the anti-TRS vote. The hope is that alliance arithmetic plus anti-incumbency against KCR will have a reasonable chance to cause an upset in Telangana.
The hurdles, however, go beyond the headache of ensuring smooth coordination on the ground. The TDP is asking for close to 25-30 seats but the Congress won't part with more than 15. Already in many seats, Congress aspirants are formulating their Plan B in case the constituency they nurtured is allotted as part of seat sharing to the TDP.
The Congress also wants the TDP to contest mostly in urban constituencies, especially in and around Hyderabad, where there is a significant Andhra settler population. The argument is that TDP's tag of being an Andhra party will work to its advantage in Hyderabad as opposed to seats in the countryside where it will be labelled as anti-Telangana. Apart from the settler vote, this is also to ride on the positive sentiment that the TDP believes exists for Chandrababu Naidu. The Andhra CM never tires of reminding people that he created the modern part of Hyderabad though this did not help the TDP do well in both 2004 and 2009.
The only problem with this prognosis is that names of 20 lakh voters have been removed from the electoral rolls, taking the total number of votes in Telangana down from 2.81 crore in 2014 to 2.61 crore now. The Election Commission claims this is because many of those hailing from Andhra but working and living in Telangana have opted to move their vote to their home district in the neighbouring state. If this is true, this will dent the TDP's ability to make a significant dent in a city like Hyderabad.
Then there is trust deficit as well. Revanth Reddy who moved from the TDP to the Congress has reportedly asked for 15 seats for his camp followers. The apprehension is that if this lot and the TDP win even 12 to 15 seats and go on to join hands with a section of the TRS, they could bring down the Congress-led government if indeed the opposition comes to power. So a jostling is already going on to ensure no one is in a position to blackmail the party at a later date.
Another headache is the number of CM claimants from the Congress camp. In the absence of a towering personality, everyone fancies his or her chances for the top job, spending much time undercutting a rival's claim. The joke doing the rounds is that the Congress has 31 chief ministerial candidates, one from each district. The Kaun Banega Mukhyamantri obsession among Congress leaders may well prevent the party from hitting the jackpot.