The penultimate day of vote counting is the only time parties get to reflect on rights and wrongs before politics consumes them again.
By noon on Sunday, 3 December, the people of Telangana will know who will form the next government. Whatever the outcome, politics will not be the same again in the nascent state.
The certainty of the changing dynamics occupies the attention of the principal political parties as they await the poll outcome.
The incumbent BRS is probably in a what-went-wrong mode. It was never in such an unenviable situation as it is today. The exit polls went against it. People angry with its failed promises protested by contesting against the party as independents; some even filed their papers against party supremo and Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao.
The party realised during campaigning that competitive welfarism — freebie culture, in plain words — is a double-edged weapon. Those who benefit from the schemes will vote for the party. Those who don’t benefit may vote for the rival.
If the exit poll analyses are even halfway true, the BRS may have a lesson to learn. Rural Telangana, where KCR invested the most through various schemes, saw a higher turnout, but the people’s degree of disillusionment determined their voting choice.
In the metropolis of Hyderabad, the IT pride of KCR and son KT Rama Rao, people remained largely indifferent and at home.
The ultimate irony for KCR is two-pronged. If the exit polls are anything to go by, the Telangana sentiment he tried to whip up again remained tepid at best.
For the people, it may have been a thing of the past, but their real or perceived economic injustices weighed down their present.
Secondly — this is the bigger irony — KCR remains the most preferred person to be chief minister once again, but the people who say so appear determined to see a change in government.
The strange binary raises a crucial question: Do the people see a distinction between freebies and governance? Is KCR a good person because he got them Telangana and gave them freebies, but not a good chief minister because of the developmental and infrastructural problems they face?
The 2023 Telangana Assembly election will also stand out for the influence of unlettered political alliances. Tongues wagged when Andhra Pradesh unilaterally released Krishna waters from the Nagarjuna Sagar dam barely hours before polling began in Telangana.
There was much talk about the friendship between the chief ministers of the two states. The BRS never had a formal alliance with the AIMIM, but that never stopped their electoral camaraderie.
The partnership with the Jana Sena Party, which went about its campaign non-seriously, was more an attempt to split the Andhra settler vote the BRS thought might be going to the Congress.
The Congress has its share of unseen alliances as well. In 2018, it was part of a four-party alliance with TDP, CPI, and Telangana Jana Samithi. This time, the only formal alliance was with the CPI, in just one seat. The rest of the alliances were based on friendships or mutual needs.
The exit poll figures led to intense speculation that the Andhra settler vote in Telangana may have primarily gone to the Congress even though it is emotionally attached to the TDP and a sizeable section of which comprises pro-TDP Kammas who, in 2018, preferred to vote for BRS.
Another assumption from the exit polls is that the Reddys may have backed the Congress at this time because of the presence of state Congress chief A Revanth Reddy. Being credited for organising the Congress in Telangana as a strong force, this gentleman is also a friend of TDP supremo Chandrababu Naidu. He was once the TDP floor leader in the Telangana Assembly. The TDP’s backing out of the elections is seen as a move to indirectly back Congress.
The social demographics of Sunday’s counting might reveal that the unseen alliances and an unexpected surge in pro-changer votes may highlight Congress’s performance.
Curiously, it might get votes from both Kammas and Reddys, who usually belong to rival political camps, the backward classes, the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SCs/STs), and a section of the Muslims. That might make it the only party with all-round social representation in Telangana.
For the record, the BRS may have pooh-poohed the exit polls and still be expecting the counting to throw up a surprise. No party in the history of united Andhra Pradesh has ever been in power thrice consecutively.
If the Congress wins, it will be a unique moment, coming to power nearly a decade after the new state was born under its supervision as the last government of undivided Andhra.
Of course, these days, securing an electoral majority does not automatically mean forming the government. Past experiences in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Goa and several north-eastern states have shown that the loyalty of legislators is a purchasable commodity. Purchasing power has trumped people’s choices.
That is why any political party claiming to have the chance of coming to power in a state has an unofficially designated “resorts” secretary or a “parenting” secretary whose only duty is to keep the elected flock together till the formation of the government.
That probably explains the presence of a senior politician from Telangana’s neighbouring state in Hyderabad on counting-day eve.