(Ashok Malik is a columnist and writer living in Delhi)
One of the hallmarks of this Lok Sabha election is that certain big states that had settled into bipolar, two-party or two-alliance contests have gone multi-polar with a vengeance. Bihar, where the BJP, the JD(U) and the RJD are competing with each other, is an example. The trend is most obvious though in Andhra Pradesh.
The verdict of 2009 - when the Congress won 33 of 42 seats in Andhra Pradesh - seems a distant memory. The state has suffered due to the prolonged and clumsy process of its division and the formation of Telangana (17 seats), leaving behind a rump Seemandhra (25 seats). This summer, Andhra Pradesh votes as one state but with the knowledge that it is really electing two separate jurisdictions. Telangana officially comes into being at the beginning of June.
The Congress is on the defensive. It has been crippled in Seemandhra thanks to the revolt of YS Jaganmohan Reddy, an event that preceded the Telangana mess. Thanks to Telangana, individual, constituency-level Congress strongmen, as well as the Congress' outgoing chief minister, N Kiran Reddy, have broken away. Till a year ago, Jaganmohan Reddy and his party, the YSR Congress, were seen as unstoppable. In recent months, the Telugu Desam appears to have decreased the gap. The BJP is a very minor factor in Seemandhra, though Narendra Modi's individual appeal is greater than that of his party.
In Telangana, the party in the driver's seat is the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS). It is exultant that its demand for a separate state has finally been met. Many of those in the TRS were either formerly in the Congress or have strong Congress associations. That is why, after the Telangana legislation was passed in Parliament, Congress spokespersons spoke of a merger or at the minimum, a pre-poll alliance. They hoped a runaway success in Telangana would make up for a hammering in Seemandhra and retrieve at least some of the 33 seats of 2009.
The TRS had other plans. As of now it is fighting alone, with a covert deal with the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen. It hopes this will win it Muslim votes in the Hyderabad region and in the far west of the state, bordering Karnataka. The Congress has been reduced to an alliance with the CPI, which has small pockets of influence.
The potential game-changer in Telangana would be a pact between the BJP and the Telugu Desam. The social constituencies of the two parties are very different. The BJP has an old base in Telangana, going back to the movement against the Nizam and his Razakars and to earlier phases of the statehood movement. The Telugu Desam commands support from the so-called "settlers" - the long-term residents of Telangana who have family origins in Seemandhra. A Telugu Desam-BJP combine could give the TRS a good battle. With the incremental Modi factor, in a Lok Sabha election, the combine may even spring a surprise.
What is holding back this partnership? The Telangana unit of the BJP is unwilling to concede ground to the Telugu Desam. It has a perception of its intrinsic strength that is not shared by the central leadership. This week, it is likely the national brass of the BJP will force the local unit's hand and push it towards the Telugu Desam.
While this would shake up things in Telangana, what would a BJP-Telugu Desam alliance mean for Seemandhra? A new factor there is actor Pawan Kalyan, who has recently launched the Jana Sena party. Kalyan is the younger brother of actor Chiranjeevi, who started his own party with much fanfare but eventually joined the Congress.
Kalyan is a Kapu and is anti-Congress. He would like an arrangement with the Telugu Desam but is worried that party is dominated by the Kamma caste, traditional rivals of the Kapus. If the BJP and Modi enter the frame, Kalyan's comfort with the Telugu Desam heightens. This three-way alliance could take on the YSR Congress.
This then is the Andhra Pradesh jigsaw puzzle in 2014. The Congress, once all-conquering, is playing for small pieces. It has only itself to blame. In the past five years, it has committed suicide in the state.
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