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When the Congress-led Central government bifurcated Andhra Pradesh in 2014, it was hoping to reap the political benefit of the move in the newly created Telangana but nearly a decade later, the party's position appears to have gone from bad to worse.
Series of defections after 2014 and 2018 elections, humiliating defeat in by-elections and infighting has left the grand old party demoralised in its former strongholds.
With Assembly elections a few months away, the party appears to be in a disarray with BJP seeming to have occupied the space as principal contestant for ruling Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS).
Despite the defeats in two Assembly elections even after claiming credit for carving out Telangana, the Congress party failed to learn the lessons and remains a divided house. Repeated interventions and warnings by the party's central leadership also failed to set the house in order.
In both 2014 and 2018, the Congress was at least the main rival for BRS but this time the party will be facing the polls even without this status.
Rahul Gandhi's Bharat Jodo Yatra and his earlier visit to the state and his advice to the party leaders to remain united failed to yield the desired results.
The recent revolt by a group of senior party leaders against state Congress chief A. Revanth Reddy has come as the latest setback for the party even as he was trying to revive party's fortunes by taking up people's issues.
The BJP's emergence as the strong opponent to BRS has pushed the Congress to the third place.
Political observers point out that the Congress is not visible in the mainstream media or even the social media. It's either BRS or BJP. "The BJP has succeeded in building a narrative of BRS versus BJP as such a narrative suits them," said observer Palwai Raghavendra Reddy
Series of defections, a string of defeats in by-elections, disastrous performance in Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) elections and continued infighting have weakened the party.
The resignation of sitting MLA from Munugode constituency Komatireddy Rajagopal Reddy and his defection to BJP to force by-election late last year dealt another blow to the Congress. It faced more embarrassment with its candidate finishing a poor third and forfeiting the deposit.
This was not all. Rajagopal Reddy's brother and Bhongir MP Komatireddy Venkat Reddy, the star campaigner of Congress party, stayed away from campaigning for Munugode. A video clip of Venkat Reddy predicting Congress party's defeat during the campaigning left the party leaders red faced.
After dividing Andhra Pradesh by granting statehood to Telangana in 2014, the Congress was hoping to reap the political dividend by claiming credit for carving out the separate state.
However, K. Chandrasekhar Rao dashed its hopes by rejecting the proposal to merge his party with Congress. He decided to maintain the identity of TRS (now BRS) as a political party.
In 2014, the Congress party could win 22 seats in 119-member Telangana Assembly and was completely wiped out in Andhra Pradesh due to the public anger over bifurcation. In Telangana, several party leaders including legislators defected to TRS.
In 2018, Congress faced another disaster. It could win just 19 seats, though it had forged an electoral alliance with the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), the Left parties and some smaller parties.
Even before Congress could gear up for Lok Sabha elections in 2019, it had lost as many as 12 MLAs to the ruling party. Though the party salvaged some pride by winning three Lok Sabha seats, with the reduced strength in Assembly, it lost the status of main opposition to All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), a friendly party of TRS.
The party suffered a huge embarrassment a few months after Lok Sabha as it failed to retain Huzurnagar Assembly seat, where by-election was necessitated with the resignation of Uttam Kumar Reddy following his election to Lok Sabha.
The BJP wrested the Dubbak Assembly seat from the TRS in 2020 by-election to consolidate itself. The saffron party, which hardly had any presence in the constituency, pushed Congress party to third position.
The Congress suffered another humiliation the same year as it could win just two seats in 150-member Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC).
Owning moral responsibility for the defeat, Uttam Kumar Reddy resigned as the party chief.
The Congress party was pinning its hopes on by-election to Nagarjuna Sagar to revive its fortunes in the state. Its senior leader and former minister K. Jana Reddy lost the contest by over 18,000 votes to TRS candidate.
The appointment of Revanth Reddy as the new state president by the central leadership in 2021 after ignoring several seniors and strong contenders triggered open revolt by a section of leaders, who saw Revanth as an outsider as he had defected to Congress from TDP just before 2018 elections.
The change of guard also could not bring any change in the party's fortunes. Several seniors started openly attacking Revanth Reddy for sidelining them.
In Huzurabad by-election held towards end of 2021, the Congress party's performance was disastrous. Its candidate secured only 3,012 votes and lost the deposit. It was a big slump for the party, which had secured 47,803 votes in 2018 to finish runners-up.
The continuing slide raised new questions on the leadership of Revanth Reddy, whose style of functioning also irked some seniors. Recently when he packed the party panels with his loyalists, the senior raised a banner of revolt and launched a movement to save the party. They called it a fight between real Congress leaders and migrants from other parties.
The allegation by seniors that AICC in-charge Manickam Tagore is siding with Revanth Reddy forced the central leadership to intervene and replace him with Manikrao Thakare.
The new in charge last began his efforts to put the house in order. It will be an acid test for Manikrao.
Political observer Raghavendra Reddy believes that this will be the final opportunity for Congress in Telangana. "If the Congress fails to win big numbers, it will be the end of the road for the party. The Congress party's record across states show that it never made a comeback after losing the status of opposition," he said citing the instances of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal.
(Only the headline and picture of this report may have been reworked by the Business Standard staff; the rest of the content is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)
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First Published: Sun, January 29 2023. 14:24 IST