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AP by-elections: Congress at a disadvantage
The prospects look pretty dicey for the Congress and Telugu Desam parties in the by-elections to the Lok Sabha and assembly seats held today, in Andhra Pradesh. The former, in particular, is at a disadvantage given its poor performance in Karnataka.

ABOUT 35 per cent polling has been reported from Andhra Pradesh until 1300 hrs today (Thursday, May 29) in the by-elections to the four Lok Sabha and 18 assembly seats. These by-elections were necessitated consequent upon the MLAs and MPs representing the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) putting in their papers to register their protest against the government of Indias reluctance to carve a separate Telangana state out the present Andhra Pradesh, as reported earlier in these columns (vide, 'Andhra Pradesh: TDP, Congress in a dilemma', dated May 3, 2008).

For the ruling Congress party of Andhra Pradesh the elections could not have come at a worse time. The backward Telangana region boasts of only two seasons, viz, summer and hot summer. Winter and spring are almost conspicuous by absence. Scorching heat across the region confined many voters to their homes. Political parties had to content themselves with hoping that the voter turnout would pick up later in the afternoon. The recent Karnataka debacle has cast its shadow on the electoral prospects of Congress candidates. Rising prices have not helped matters. The Andhra Pradesh chief ministers flip-flop on the Telangana issue is also likely to affect the Congress partys prospects. His assertion that the Telangana issue is very much alive in our minds and what one has to think about ultimately is how to solve the problematic issue apparently has cut no ice with the people of Telangana region by and large. To top it all, of course, is the anti-incumbency factor, which no ruling party can escape from.

Happily, polling was by and large peaceful until the afternoon, barring stray incidents of clashes amongst workers of various political parties. Malfunctioning of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) was reported from many booths. The complaints were promptly attended to, though.

Meanwhile, the Telugu Desam party (TDP), which has also been dilly-dallying on the Telangana issue is keeping its fingers crossed. Its hopes of netting film actor Nandamuri Balakrishna and his nephews, Junior NTR and Kalyan Ram on the birth anniversary of the founder of the TDP, the late NT Rama Rao (NTR), have been dashed. The trio donated blood at the Indo-American Cancer Hospital at the posh Banjara Hills area of Hyderabad to mark the birth anniversary of the late NTR. They made it a point however, not to visit the TDP headquarters nearby, contrary to what party president Chandrababu Naidu said earlier. But the TDP president can draw some comfort from Balakrishnas statement that he would campaign for the TDP next year. After all, he had campaigned for the TDP earlier. Jr NTR and Kalyan Ram said they would follow the directions of their uncle (Naidu), father (Harikrishna) and uncle (Balakrishna). They were too young to take a decision on anything, according to Kalyan Ram.

Political observers, however, maintain that the Karnataka debacle has definitely affected the prospects of the Congress candidates in the AP by-elections. Coupled with the Congress Partys reluctance to carve a separate Telangana state out of the present Andhra Pradesh, the Congress Party is bound to run for cover. A similar reluctance on the part of the TDP too has prompted the trio of Nandamuri Balakrishna, Jr NTR and Kalyan Ram to stay away from the TDP headquarters. After all, these youngsters are film actors first and politicians next. They have to put down roots in the film world and only then think of risking a political career. Aligning at this point of time with TDP, which is definitely not pro-Telangana, could spoil their film career too. The pro-Telangana politicians, notably the TRS party members, could ensure that their films are not screened in the Telangana region and that will be a big blow. These observers point out that NTR, for all his popularity and stature, ventured into politics after establishing himself in the film world. In fact, a la MGR (he was frequently referred to as the MGR of Andhra Pradesh) he owed his popularity and stature to the Telugu film world. NTR was street-smart and had squirreled away a fortune before entering the political arena. His children and grandchildren could not be different, could they?

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