The 2018 Telangana legislative assembly election saw the incumbent Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) win with a 47 per cent vote share and 88 seats (see Table 1), riding on the platforms of pride in the newly formed state and a slew of welfare measures—both of which earned it support from a broad spectrum of social sections. The outcome has produced yet another state-level party that aims to play an important role in national politics.
The assembly was dissolved on September 6, 2018, and the Election Commission decided on early polls. The contest was largely between the TRS and Prajakutami—an alliance of the Indian National Congress (INC), Telugu Desam Party (TDP), Communist Party of India (CPI) and Telangana Jana Samithi (TJS). Also in the contest were the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Bahujan Left Front (BLF) and other smaller parties.
Chief minister and TRS chief K. Chandrashekar Rao (KCR) went into the campaign riding on welfare schemes such as support for marriages of girls from poor families (Kalyana Lakshmi/Shaadi Mubarak), support for neonatal health through KCR Kits (Ammavodi) and a programme to assist farmers (Rythu Bandhu). According to the pre-poll data of Lokniti-CSDS, there was a very high level of awareness among voters about the TRS government’s welfare schemes (see Table 2).
About 80 per cent of voters expressed a liking for KCR—compared to 46 per cent for Narendra Modi. The percentage of voters satisfied with the state government is almost double the number who are dissatisfied (see Table 3).
Dalits were expected to go against the TRS as the government could not fulfil its promise of distributing three acres of land to each Dalit family. However, the party has garnered support from 53 per cent of voters from SC communities and 43 per cent of ST voters (see Table 4). Converting all Lambada habitations into gram panchayats, and deft dealing with dissension between Adivasis and Lambadas over the fifth schedule, could be reasons for this higher ST support.
OBC communities, traditional TDP supporters, may have moved to the TRS, with half of OBC voters expressing their preference for the latter. Using a household survey conducted in late 2014, the TRS government targeted its welfare programmes with greater precision. It started distributing sheep and goats to the shepherd community, and provided assistance to the fishing community for freshwater fishing.
Almost half of upper-caste voters were inclined to vote for the TRS, while 39 per cent of voters belonging to the Reddy community—traditionally a Congress support base—also leaned towards the TRS. The majority of the Kamma, Kapu and people from other peasant proprietor groups (who might have benefited from the agriculture welfare schemes) were also tilted towards the TRS. Upper-caste landed groups benefited considerably from the number of districts in the state tripling, as this triggered a boom in the realty sector in all the new district HQs.
Among the Muslim community, one-third were inclined to vote for the TRS. The All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM)—allegedly an ally of the TRS—had the support of 22 per cent of Muslims. The TRS has maintained friendly relations with the AIMIM, has promised twelve per cent reservations to Muslims in education and employment, and opened a number of residential schools for Muslim children, which might have earned them considerable goodwill.
The Congress failed to oppose the government effectively over the past four years. For example, when the government did not attend to the welfare of distressed tenancy farmers under Rythu Bandhu, the Congress made no real push for the implementation of the Land Licensed Cultivators Act, 2011, which would have provided recognition and a credit facility to such farmers.
As per the Lokniti-CSDS data, close to 56 per cent of all respondents, including nearly half of traditional Congress voters, disliked Chandrababu Naidu. About 24 per cent of traditional Congress voters and 30 per cent of old TDP voters did not approve of the Congress-TDP alliance.
As a result, the Congress lost 15 per cent of its old voters to the TRS. Similarly, a large proportion of traditional TDP voters also switched to the TRS (see Table 5). The alliance with the TDP—popularly thought to be opposed to the state’s formation—gave KCR a chance to use the Telangana sentiment and decry the alliance’s ‘unholiness’.
In a way, this election is not only a victory for the TRS, but also a strategic failure of the opposition. Prajakutami took a very long time to finalise its list of candidates, and was left with little time for campaigning. This was no match for the systematic TRS campaign. To sum up, the welfare face of the TRS defeated the lack of strategic vision and unwise alliance choice of the main opposition party. The move to hold early elections has thus paid rich dividends to the TRS.
(H. Vageeshan teaches at NALSAR University of Law. E. Venkatesu teaches at the University of Hyderabad. Jain works at CSDS.)