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india today insightThe announcement on June 26 that former minister Jupally Krishna Rao, ex-MP Ponguleti Srinivasa Reddy and 30 other leaders were deserting the ruling Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) for the Congress in Telangana has given a boost to the grand old party ahead of assembly elections due by the year-end.

After back-to-back meetings with president Mallikarjun Kharge, Rahul Gandhi and other senior party leaders in New Delhi, the Congress said the BRS defectors will formally join the party at a rally in Khammam on July 2. Rahul is scheduled to address the event.

Analysts say the Congress, which appeared to be lagging at a distant third position behind the BRS and BJP in Telangana, has gained a psychological edge following its assembly poll victory in Karnataka, the growing desertions from the BRS and internal conflict in the state BJP.

What has lifted Congress spirits is the inward migration of heavyweights. Both Krishna Rao and Srinivasa Reddy are reckoned as leaders with considerable clout in the Khammam and Mahbubnagar regions. They are expected to bolster the Congress’s prospects in the upcoming elections.

For Krishna Rao, it is a homecoming of sorts. He was a minister in the Congress government in erstwhile Andhra Pradesh. Srinivasa Reddy was elected to the Lok Sabha on a YSR Congress (YSRC) ticket in 2014 but defected to the BRS. Other leaders who joined the Congress include six-time former MLA Gurunath Reddy, ex-MLA and zilla parishad chairman Koram Kanakaiah, ex-MLA Payam Venkateswarlu, District Co-operative Central Bank (DCCB) ex-chairman M. Vijaya Baby and current DCCB chairman Thulluri Bramhaiah.

Upbeat Telangana Congress leaders claim the state’s people are yearning for a power change and their party is bracing for the challenge. The Congress is likely to attract more leaders as elections draw near. While the party claims credit for reorganising Andhra Pradesh and carving out Telangana in 2014, it failed to impress the electorate about that, enabling K. Chandrashekar Rao’s (KCR) Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS)—now rechristened BRS—to form the first government in the new state. The TRS retained power in 2018 when KCR called for elections over six months ahead of schedule.

The Congress is determined to avenge those defeats this year. “Those joining us reveal our growing strengths,” says Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee president A. Revanth Reddy.
At a strategy meeting on June 27, the Congress decided to deploy for most part the action plan devised for the Karnataka polls. The poll manifesto is to be simple and direct, with five key guarantees, in order to reach out to voters in an effective manner.

A crucial element is the prospect of announcing the names of Congress contestants for about half the 119 assembly constituencies in July itself. The party aims to bank heavily on constituency-wise strengths and weakness for micro-management.

Rahul has also clarified that the final decision on allotting tickets will be that of the party high command. It implies that the assessment of strategy consultant Sunil Kanugolu—who was also the architect of the planning in Karnataka—based on ground truths will be given greater weight. Rahul also made it clear that the party will adopt a tough line against indiscipline.

For the first time, the Congress is showing signs of systematic planning and determination to win an assembly election in Telangana. In 2014, the party had hoped to ride to power on the fact that it had taken the lead to bring the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act, 2014 but was deprived by the tactful KCR and his party. Again in 2018, the complacent attitude that anti-incumbency will dislodge the TRS, coupled with huge poll spends by the ruling party, enabled KCR continue for a second straight term.

While the Congress is perceived as powerful and confident of coming to power, there are internal challenges. Analysts say the Congress has a bright future if only it were to shed the dead weight of so-called seniors and tap the good rootstock in Telangana as evident during the Bharat Jodo Yatra.

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