It all began in 1989 with the then chief minister N T Rama Rao helped form the National Front to provide an alternative government to the Congress. In the wake of the Bofors scam, he forced the en masse resignation of 106 opposition MPs. Though he himself lost power in the assembly election in 1989 and his party's strength was reduced to two seats in the Lok Sabha, NTR anointed V P Singh as the National Front prime minister with the support of both the Bharatiya Janata Party and Left Front. It is another matter that the NF experiment lasted a year, eventually leading to mid-term polls in 1991.
In the 1991 election, that were overshadowed by Rajiv Gandhi's assassination, the Congress managed 25 Lok Sabha seats in AP. P V Narasimha Rao, who emerged as a consensus candidate for taking over the Congress leadership, became the first Telugu leader to ascend the prime minister's gaddi. He headed a minority government, but successfully completed the five-year term. But the Congress fortunes plummeted in the backdrop of the Babri Masjid demolition and the hawala scam.
After the 1996 general election, the Telugu Desam Party, led by then chief mnister Nara Chandrababu Naidu, took the initiative in installing the United Front government under H D Deve Gowda's stewardship with the 'outside' support of the Congress. Naidu played the kingmaker as convener of the United Front which saw two prime ministers, including Inder Kumar Gujral, in two years. Then Congress president Sitaram Kesri forced another mid-term poll on the country when he pulled out Congress support for the government.
The TDP went to the polls with the Left parties in the 1998 Lok Sabha elections. But, post-poll, Chandrababu Naidu quietly dumped the United Front and joined the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance. On the strength of the 12-member TDP's letter of support, the then President K R Narayanan invited Atal Bihari Vajpayee to form the government. Naidu once again played the kingmaker role under the NDA dispensation.
When withdrawal of support by J Jayalalithaa's All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam resulted in snap Lok Sabha polls in 1999, the TDP-BJP alliance bagged 36 seats from AP and helped the NDA retain power in Delhi. The NDA, thus, enjoyed power at the Centre for six years, thanks mainly to the TDP's pivotal support from 'outside.'
Naidu prematurely dissolved the AP assembly in 2003 and the NDA too advanced the general elections in 2004 to cash in on the so-called 'India Shinning' factor.
However, the Congress-led alliance swept the 2004 polls in AP and their 37 MPs from the state allowed the United Progressive Alliance to wrest power from the NDA. The reverses suffered by TDP-BJP alliance in AP could be attributed to the anti-incumbency wave against the Naidu regime and total failure of India Shining campaign of the BJP. Soon, the TDP and BJP parted company and Naidu left the NDA.
Much water has flowed down the Krishna and Godavari rivers since the Congress regained power in AP and the UPA came to power at the Centre. The Telangana Rashtra Samiti broke its alliance with the Congress and pulled out of the UPA in protest against the Congress failure to deliver on its promise to carve out a separate Telangana state. The Communist Party of India and Communist Party of India-Marxist, too, deserted the Congress and launched a virulent campaign against its 'misrule'.
In this scenario, AP goes to the 2009 general elections with completely altered political equations compared to 2004. The Congress is fighting these polls single-handedly. The TDP, TRS, CPI and CPI-M have come together under a Grand Alliance with the avowed aim of dislodging the Congress from power here and in Delhi. Telugu megastar Chiranjeevi's newly-launched Praja Rajyam Party is contesting its maiden election on the plank of 'social justice.' A totally isolated BJP is waging a solo battle against all odds.
The 2009 election assumes importance for several reasons. For the third time in two decades, the Lok Sabha polls in AP coincide with assembly elections. In the 1989 simultaneous elections, the Congress wrested power from the TDP led by the legendary NTR and drastically reduced its tally to just two seats in Lok Sabha. In the 1999 simultaneous polls, the TDP-BJP alliance retained power in the state and at the Centre. In the 2004 simultaneous polls, the Congress turned the tables on both the TDP and NDA.
Incidentally, for the seventh time in three decades, the state is poised to witness triangular contests. In the 1978 assembly election, the Congress foiled a serious bid by the Janata Party and wrested power from the Reddy Congress led by then chief minister Jalagam Vengal Rao. In the 1994 assembly polls, the TDP-Left alliance trounced the Congress while the BJP finished a poor third.
In the 1980 Lok Sabha election, the Congress made a clean sweep and the two factions of the Janata Party failed to open their account. Similarly, in the 1991 Lok Sabha polls, the Congress bagged a majority of seats in a triangular fight with the TDP alliance and the BJP.
In 1996, the polls were four-cornered with the Congress and the TDP beating their rivals -- the NTR-TDP led by NTR's second wife Lakshmi Parvati and the BJP. Again, in 1998, the Congress trounced both the TDP-led alliance and the BJP in a triangular fight. However, in these polls, the BJP emerged as a 'third force' in state politics by polling 18.3 percent of the total votes and winning four Lok Sabha seats.
In the 2009 election, the Congress is making a determined bid to retain power both at the state and Centre. The TDP-led four-party alliance is engaged in a no-holds-barred battle to trounce the Congress. The PRP, which has been strengthened with the merger of the Nava Telangana Party of former state home minister T Devender Goud, hopes to beat both the Congress and the Grand Alliance. The BJP is testing the waters by fielding candidates in all assembly and Lok Sabha constituencies in the state.
Understandably, all the three main contenders for power are making tall claims. AP Chief Minister and Congress strongman Dr Y S Rajasekhar Reddy exudes confidence about the Congress retaining power. He predicts 36 Lok Sabha seats and 234 assembly seats for the ruling party. On the other hand, TDP supremo Chandrababu Naidu is cocksure about the Grand Alliance sweeping these polls to put TDP into the saddle in the state and to bolster the prospects of the Third Front to lay claim to power at the Centre.
PRP founder Chiranjeevi is also confident about his party's prospects of storming into power in the state and playing a key role in installing a 'secular coalition government' at the Centre. Chiranjeevi has, however, revised downwards the number of seats that his party expects to win. Notwithstanding its nationwide prospects, the BJP should be lucky to open its account in these polls.
It is too early to assess the prospects of the three main contenders vis-a-vis one another, but the broad indications from the ground reveal that all is not lost for the Congress with very weak signs of anti-incumbency, while the Grand Alliance and the PRP will have to strive very hard to pose a formidable challenge. Dr Reddy already claims the 'gold medal' for the Congress and says that the Grand Alliance and the PRP are fighting only for the 'silver and bronze medals'.