Hyderabad, Feb 7 (IANS) The merger of Telugu superstar K. Chiranjeevi’s Praja Rajyam Party (PRP) with the ruling Congress in Andhra Pradesh has changed political equations in the state that has been witnessing instability for more than a year.
This development will bring some clarity to the hazy political scenario in the state but is also likely to benefit rivals of the Congress party in the long run, feel political observers.
Though the merger brought some cheer to the Congress, Chiranjeevi is not expected to fill the leadership vacuum created by the death of its popular leader and then chief minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy in a helicopter crash in September 2009.
The merger of the PRP, which has 18 legislators in the 294-member assembly, will provide some breather to the Congress, worried over the threat posed to its survival by former MP Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy, the son of the late Rajasekhara Reddy.
With 155 legislators, the Congress enjoys a slender majority in the assembly and has been under threat ever since Jagan, as the MP is popularly known, quit the party in November last year accusing the leadership of dividing his family. The young leader, who enjoys the backing of two dozen legislators of Congress party, had been taunting the ruling party that the government is at its mercy.
The merger has provided some temporary relief to the Congress, which was afraid of a no-trust motion in the budget session of the assembly beginning Feb 17. The ruling party is also confident of support from the seven-member Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) if the trial of strength becomes inevitable.
The main opposition Telugu Desam Party (TDP) feels it has one rival less now and hopes there will be no division of anti-Congress votes in the next elections.
TDP leaders said the merger vindicated their stand that the PRP was the creation of the Congress before 2009. “This has proved right our claim that Chiranjeevi was an agent of Congress in the last elections to divide the anti-Congress votes,” said TDP legislator D. Narendra Kumar.
PRP, floated by Chiranjeevi in August 2008, polled 16.12 percent votes in the assembly elections, putting an end to the TDP’s hopes of returning to power. The Congress, which polled only 1.99 percent more votes than the four-party Grand Alliance led by TDP, retained power with 156 seats. TDP finished second with 92 seats.
Political analysts feel the PRP’s merger could also benefit Jagan, who may try to woo its cadres unhappy with the decision. A section of PRP leaders, including many from the Kapu community, are unhappy with Chiranjeevi.
Jagan’s camp has also described the merger as its moral victory. Ambati Rambabu, a close aide, described Congress as a sinking ship. “Chiranjeevi is no match for Jagan. Even if several Chiranjeevis join Congress they will not be able to save it from sinking,” said Rambabu.
The Congress itself is facing criticism from Telangana protagonists, who see the merger as a conspiracy to weaken the movement for a separate Telangana state. Since Chiranjeevi is against the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh, the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) and other parties have accused the Congress of going back on its promise to deliver Telangana.
Pressure is also likely to mount on the leaders of the Congress party in Telangana to speak out against the merger and convince their central leadership to table a bill in parliament for formation of a separate state.
Though efforts to rope in the PRP were initiated by YSR after the 2009 elections, his death plunged the ruling party into chaos and triggered political uncertainty coupled with the revival of the Telangana movement.
The exit of YSR’s son and the open rebellion by a section of legislators had left no choice before Congress but to hasten the merger-process. After failing to come to power, Chiranjeevi, too, was looking for a face-saving gesture.