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Political Articulation and Policy Discourse in Elections Andhra Pradesh, 2004

In the Andhra Pradesh elections of 2004, policy discourse displayed a plebiscitary character. The defeat of the TDP government has been interpreted as a ‘vote against anti-people reforms’. The discourse analysis of the election campaigns of different parties however, clearly shows that except for the Left no mainstream party made this election a contest on reforms. The crisis-centric discourse of the Congress displayed possibilities for new discursive coalitions and political alliances, as concerns of marginalised groups gained prominence.

(Article first published in EPW by the author)

 The electoral defeat of the Telugu Desam government
inAndhra Pradesh (AP) has been sought to be interpreted as
verdict on its economic reforms agenda pursued since

mid-1990s.1 The basis of such an interpretation is the reduction

of the TDP’s strength from 180 members in the earlier house

to its all time low of 47 and the enhancement of Congress tally

from 91 members in the earlier house to 186 this time.2 The

examination of this claim is important because of the serious

implications it is likely to have to the political discourse and actual

process of macro reforms in the state. The crucial questions are:

can such a sweeping inference be drawn from the electoral

outcome? How was the electoral agenda framed and what were

the positions of different parties on the economic reforms in the

electoral discourse?

Electoral performance of political parties involves a complex

process and a multivariate analysis is required to understand it.

The factors that are decisive in the making of an electoral outcome

are the organisational strength of parties, structure of party

competition, nature of the political alliances, forms of political

discourse and appeal, strategies of mobilisation, and their impact

on alignment of social forces and support bases of parties. Thus

political and policy discourse forms one of the determining

factors of the electoral outcome. The AP elections provide a useful

vantage point to reflect on the relationship between elections and

policy issues that have wider political significance and implications.

3 For AP under the TDP regime had been in the forefront

of the economic reforms among the states in the Indian federation.

The analysis here is presented in four sections. The first section

discusses the theoretical concerns and perspective of this paper.

Section two briefly reviews the shifts in the policy framework

of the TDP regimes with a view to contextualise the subsequent

developments. The third section analyses the policy discourse

during the 2004 elections. Section four concludes the paper.


Discourse defined as ‘an ensemble of ideas, concepts and

categories through which meaning is given to phenomena’,4 helps

us in appreciating how problems or issues are perceived and

framed, and how certain problems are prioritised vis-a-vis others.

3846 Economic and Political Weekly August 21, 2004

Therefore one can only talk about regimes of truth rather than

a truth. Similarly, the grand notion of power as being vested in

one location – a class or institution – and flowing in a top-down

manner is contested; discourse theory highlighting the ‘microphysics

of power’6 emphasises the significance of local and

micro contexts, institutions, networks, strategies and practices

in policy analysis.

There is a tendency in a society like ours to view policy-making

as an official arena where only the bureaucracy, political elite

and certain influential sections of the industrial and business class

play a key role. It is time that the elite have clear advantage in

terms of influence and access to policy processes involving

agenda setting, networking, lobbying, information channelling

and decision-making arenas. The concerns of marginalised sections

of society go un-represented because of weak civil society, lack

of information and inaccessibility to the channels of communication

with the policy-making bodies.

For the above reasons, the electoral arena assumes significance.

Elections provide important spaces for a debate on policy issues

that tend to draw clear and sharp distinctions between political

parties, different policy options and popular choices. The emergence

of states as distinct political theatres in the post-emergency

period and increasing electoral competition has compelled the

parties and the political elite to expand the possibilities for their

engagement with the marginalised groups and their social networks

which are mostly informal.

With this perspective, in this study we seek to examine the

structure of policy discourse in the 2004 elections in AP with

a focus on the concerns of the marginalised groups, their articulation,

their reflection in the discourses of the contending political

parties, the role of various agents – public intellectuals, civil rights

organisations, NGOs, media – and discursive aspects of electoral

agenda setting. If elections are the occasion when the marginalised

groups matter then it is necessary that social scientists study how

these groups perceive themselves and are perceived, how their

concerns are shaped and received and what spaces are available

(become facilitated and actually get activated) and gravity in the

elite engagement with their concerns and their sense of participation

as a result of the interaction with the political elite. An

examination of these aspects helps us in furthering the expansion

of the space and scope of this interaction so that better democratic

and pro-people policies can be made possible.


The emergence of the TDP7 as a major force in AP politics

brought about a distinct policy orientation in the political discourse

in the state. The policy initiatives pertaining to the administrative

and welfare arenas marked this. The major administrative

reforms in the form of abolition of the traditional village officer

system and the restructuring of the large middle tier panchayat

samitis and introduction of the mandals in their place were meant

to strike at the support base of the Congress and expand the

opportunities for the ambitious backward class political elite to

accommodate them.8

The welfare policies played a major role in the shaping of the

popular perception of and support to the TDP. The TDP could

acquire pro-poor and pro-farmer image mainly because of its

populist policies like Rs 2 a kilo rice scheme,9 Janata cloth

scheme and subsidised power supply to the farm sector. The

weaker section-housing scheme was quite a visible one that

contributed to the popularity of the TDP regime.

The Naidu regime made a decisive departure from this legacy

of NTR by reformulating and gradually phasing out them in his

drive towards the liberalisation of the state economy. The

Janmabhoomi programme, launched by the TDP government

with the twin objectives of facilitating grass roots involvement

in the developmental process and making the administrative

machinery accountable to the people was considered to be the

most prestigious and of course much-publicised programme. This

programme was meant to take the administration nearer to the

people (‘Prajalavaddaku Palana’) and evolve micro-plans by

identifying their needs, assess the availability and requirements

of resources. The execution of the plans thus chalked out are

sought to be implemented by actively involving the local people

through ‘shramadanam’ (voluntary work) and mobilisation of

resources by the people themselves.

In tune with the economic reform, the Naidu regime launched

a number of programmes to promote need-based self-help among

different target groups. Thus water users’ associations were

formed to take care of irrigation needs, school committees were

entrusted with the responsibility of maintenance and supervision

of schools, vana samrakshana samithis (forest protection committees)

were formed for the protection and management of

forests. Apart from these, women self-help groups were encouraged.

The more visible and successful among them are those

formed under the DWCRA (Development of Women and Children

in Rural Areas) programme. Though DWCRA programme has

been in existence in the state, what the Naidu government had

done was to give them the form of a movement: activating the

existing groups and encouraging the formation of new ones. As

part of this campaign, DWCRA bazaars were held in Hyderabad

and also in different towns in the state. The DWCRA thus

accorded high priority by the TDP government. As a consequence,

the local administrative machinery was also geared up

to make it a success.

Further, the TDP government introduced a series of schemes

purportedly for the development of marginalised social groups

with an emphasis on skill development and marketing support.

The ‘Deepam’ scheme, under which the members of the DWCRA

were provided with cooking stoves and gas cylinders, meant to

encourage women’s self-help groups, became quite popular with

the womenfolk. Another popular scheme was the Adarana scheme

under which tool kits were provided to the artisans and occupational

communities to enhance their productivity. Roshini

scheme for the Muslims, under which financial provision was

made for the construction of shadikhanas (marriage halls) and

renovation of old mosques, Cheyutha scheme meant for the

handicapped were all launched prior to the 1999 elections.10

What is to be noted underlining these community identity specific

schemes and subsidies is the political strategy to co-opt the

marginalised caste-communities by rearticulating the identity

political agenda brought on to the centre of political discourse

of the state by the BSP, some CPI (ML) groups and the dalit

and backward caste organisations during the 1990s.


The following developments form the context of the 2004

assembly elections and therefore are relevant to the electoral


Economic and Political Weekly August 21, 2004 3847

(i) There has been a sharp polarisation of the political

spectrum between the TDP-BJP alliance on the one hand and

the Congress-TRS-Left alliance on the other. This obviously has

led to the sharpening of the discursive contestation in the electoral


(ii) This election has seen the marginalisation of small parties

like the BSP, Maha Jana Front,11 etc, which had significant

discursive presence earlier.

(iii) The intensity of political competition and the compulsions

to co-opt the identity politics facilitated and expanded the space

for policy issues in the electoral discourse and participation.

The discourse in the present election is built around the

performance of the TDP regime during its nine-year tenure. The

TDP, as is well known, is a highly personalised party therefore

there has been an overt and excessive focus on the persona of

Naidu. In fact, he has assumed an iconic status with regard to

the state-level economic reforms in the international and national

press and in the eyes of international donors and captains of

domestic big business.

The 2004 elections in AP thus display a plebiscitary character.

Conducted in the aftermath of the assassination attempt by the

CPIML (People’s War) on Naidu at Alipiri near Tirupati, the

entire electoral campaign got centred on him. Naidu only facilitated

this by declaring this election as a referendum on his nineyear

rule. The TDP thus invested all its resources on Naidu.

Reflecting this spirit, the agenda for election was set by the TDP

in sharply polarised terms of development versus violence and

anarchy, separatism versus integration of the state and stability

versus instability.

Development vs Anarchy

This election, advanced by nine months prompted by the

expectation of a sympathy wave following the assassination

attempt brought the question of Naxalite violence in the state

onto the political agenda. The debate on the Naxalite question

is clothed in terms of law and order versus backwardness and

deprivation. It would not be an exaggeration to suggest that the

TDP’s approach to this issue has largely been informed by the

law and order perspective. The number of encounter deaths

during the TDP regime and absence of any comprehensive socioeconomic

programme to tackle the issue of sub-regional backwardness

and socio-economic deprivation of the lower sections

in the backward regions of the state are pointers.

The violence and counter-violence in the state by the Peoples’

War and the police has reached almost maniac proportions.

Responding to this violence, a forum, Poura Spandana Vedika,

comprising of civil rights activists and journalists at the initiative

of a former civil servant, sought to advocate and push for a

dialogue between the government and the Peoples’ War Group

(PWG). The premise on which this dialogue is supposed to be

based is that the Naxalite problem should be viewed as a serious

socio-economic issue. The recalcitrant attitude and lack of patience

created serious hurdles and led to the eventual failure of this

attempt to initiate dialogue despite the initial enthusiasm and


In the post-Alipiri period, with the TDP going aggressively

against Peoples’ War, the Congress and the TRS along with the

parliamentary Left opted to view it as a social issue. The initiative

by the citizens’ forum could be seen to be echoing the larger

sentiment in the Naxalite influential areas. It is fairly well known

that people, especially the youth, in the Naxalite dominated

villages of Telangana are subjected to tremendous hardship.

Unlawful detentions, torture, extortions and fake encounters

have been reported by the civil liberties organisations and the

media. If the perennial drought and unemployment have been

serious concerns of people here then the police repression has

only added to their woes. The citizens’ forum has been instrumental

in bringing forth these concerns onto the political discourse

and policy arena. The impact of this on the Congress and

TRS’ stated position on the process of dialogue with the PWG

is unmistakable.

By posing the Naxalite issue in extremely negative and hostile

terms, the TDP could only sharpen the polarisation of the discourse

in terms of development versus anarchy. Accordingly the

TDP projected itself as a party that stood for development and

the Congress and the TRS as against it and for anarchy. As the

electoral campaign progressed, with its top leadership as well

as its grass roots cadres subjected to tremendous insecurity

through threats and actual killings and its organisational network

virtually paralysed by the PWG, the TDP sharpened its criticism

of and hostility towards the PWG. With its hostile stand the TDP

lost its maneuverability, which is crucial to the shaping of the


Separatism vs Integration

Another contentious issue that was pursued by the TDP

government is related to the demand of the Telangana state. The

Telangana issue has been brought back after more than three

decades on to the mainstream political discourse by the TRS

formed in 2001 by a former TDP leader, K Chandrasekhar Rao.

In the last three years this issue picked up momentum and assumed

electoral significance. If the performance of TRS in the panchayat

raj elections12 held in 2001 was an indication of its growing

popularity, then the popular response to its rallies and meetings

further demonstrated it. This obviously had an impact on the

TDP’s support base.

To further compound the problems of the TDP, the Telangana

issue came to symbolise the condensation of serious policy

concerns pertaining to agriculture, drought, irrigation and of

course Naxalism. As large pockets of Telangana are perennially

drought prone, agriculture here suffers from lack of irrigation.

This region, which has the Naxalite presence in almost all the

districts, is therefore subjected to tremendous repression by the

state. By raising the Telangana question, the TRS sought to reflect

all the above concerns.

The Telangana issue posed a challenge not only to the TDP

but also to the Congress. A section of the Congressmen from

Telangana who have formed the ‘Telangana Congress Forum’

have been raising the issue of statehood to Telangana region.

This voice in the Congress grew in prominence as the TRS

expanded its network and social base. With the demand for

Telangana state both inside and outside the Congress gaining

prominence, the Congress high command was forced to respond

by promising to constitute a second states’ Reorganisation Committee

(SRC).13 With this the ground was prepared for the

electoral realignments in the state.

The Congress always contested elections in AP on its own,

while the TDP from the beginning forged an alliance with one

or the other of the non-Congress forces. With the change in the

Congress national policy in favour of forging electoral alliances

3848 Economic and Political Weekly August 21, 2004

Economic and Political Weekly August 21, 2004 3849

to confront the NDA, the ground was cleared for the alliance

with the TRS and the Left. What brought these parties together

obviously was the main goal of defeating the TDP-BJP alliance.

But differences among them on the statehood for Telangana along

with other issues have been equally important while the

Congress continuously harped on the second SRC, the Left all

along rejected the demand. The differences with the Left are

reflected in the TRS putting up its candidates against the Left

in some places.

On other side of the political spectrum, while the TDP’s stand

has been against a separate state of Telangana, the BJP on the

contrary found itself in an awkward position. For the state BJP

had taken a pro-Telangana stand with its slogan of ‘one vote,

two states’ in its resolution in the Kakinada conference. But since

its alliance with the TDP in 1999 it was forced to keep it in

abeyance. Thus the BJP argued that though in principle it was

in favour of small states, in the context of alliance politics it was

forced to confine itself to the NDA agenda.

The discourse on Telangana therefore is marked by the internal

dynamics and tensions of alliance politics. Given the fact that

Telangana had been an emotive issue, the parties even when they

are opposed to Telangana state had to exercise caution. Though

the terms of discourse on Telangana have been clearly spelt out

and battle lines clearly drawn, there could be noticed a perceptible

difference in the tone and tenor of the political stands of parties

on it between two phases of election- the first phase held on April

20, covering the Telangana region and parts of northern Andhra

and the second phase of poll held on April 26 covering the

remaining coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions. While during

the first phase of campaign the TDP’s chief campaigner Naidu

emphasised the need of an integrated state of AP and reeled out

what the TDP had done and promised to do if elected for

Telangana, in the second phase campaign in coastal Andhra he

sought to rake up Andhra sentiment by suggesting how separate

state of Telangana would lead to a water war as Telangana would

demand a share in the river water resources14 and fertile and

irrigated coastal Andhra would be forced to suffer.

Stability vs Instability

The third theme that dominated the TDP’s electoral campaign

was the question of political stability. The TDP, as it has done

continuously in its two decade long history, equated the Congress

rule with political instability. The Congress’ track record of

frequent change of chief ministers, internal factional infighting,

interference of the party high command into state affairs were

played on by the TDP leadership to paint a picture of instability

in the Congress rule. The Congress and its allies countered this

discourse by pointing to the ‘real’ instability in the AP economy

and society under the TDP rule. The destabilisation of agriculture

and handloom sectors, which constitute the main sources of

employment, caused by the gross neglect of these sectors during

the TDP’s nine-year rule was the theme that the Congress

emphasised in its campaign. Holding the TDP government

responsible for the suicides of the farmers and artisans, the

Congress and its allies put the TDP and its supremo on a public trial.

These broad positions on the questions of development, integration

and stability have informed the TDP’s position on

specific policy issues like agriculture, handlooms, power, etc,

in the fiercely fought elections. The TDP by going in for the

early polls, apparently aimed at seizing the initiative, set the

agenda for the electoral debate. This initial advantage could not

be sustained and in fact turned out negative as it sought to define

the electoral discourse in terms of sharp polarities. If the closed

structure and the implicit negativity in the TDP’s electoral campaign

were striking then the Congress displayed a greater openness and

inclusiveness in terms of agenda. This made the Congress Party

look more responsive to newer issues and demands from below.

Framing and Naming: Congress Policy Discourse

Policy discourse can be likened with story telling. It should

have a beginning, story line, narrative structure and ending. The

entry point in the Congress campaign in AP was the suicides

of farmers and accordingly it built up a narrative that identified

the phenomenon of farmers’ suicides with the TDP rule. The

crisis in the agrarian sector during the last four years, and the

absence of any effective intervention into this by the TDP

government was projected as a clear instance of insensitivity on

the part of the TDP regime.

A serious public debate on such a grave situation was sustained

due to the efforts of the media,15 farmers’ organisations and the

Left parties. In spite of the prolonged public debate on this issue

there was no viable action on this front. The only visible government

response was one of denial of any such suicides; the

suicides if any have been attributed to personal, family or health


The following could be identified as the causes of the agricultural

crisis, the brunt of which is borne by the small and

marginal farmers, mostly belonging to the backward castes:17

(i) failure to control the spread of low quality and spurious seed,

fertiliser and pesticides by fly-by-night companies; (ii) near total

collapse of agricultural extension services which would have

helped the farmers with timely and necessary advice; (iii) the

failure of agricultural credit system forcing farmers to go in

for private moneylenders at high interest rates; (iv) high rise in

the cost of agricultural inputs especially hike in the power

tariffs impacting the dry land cultivation in Telangana and

Rayalaseema regions; (v) decline of marketing support for farm

products leading to huge losses; and; (vi) Lack of and in fact

decline of irrigation facilities as a result of receding of water

table in dry land areas and drought conditions in large parts of

the state.

The most important line in this story, given the TDP’s firm

stand on the power sector reforms, is the galvanising of the

agitation against power tariff hike in 2000. Immediately after

1999 elections, the incumbent TDP government hiked power

tariffs by claiming its victory as a popular approval of its reform

package, which included power sector reforms. The above

agitation, with an impressive rally in Hyderabad, was quelled

by the TDP resulting in the death of two protestors and injuries

to 26 of them. This was meant to be a signal of what was in

store for such protesters. Further, government’s resolve was made

clear through its refusal to rollback the power tariff hike.

Critical to the intensification of the public discourse on these

issues was the Praja Prasthana Padayatra undertaken by Y

Rajasekhar Reddy (YSR) as the leader of the opposition in the

state during the summer of 2003. Covering 1,500 kms on foot,

YSR could bring about a critical shift in the political discourse

and state politics. Firstly, he emerged as a charismatic leader of

the party. Dressed in white shirt, dhoti and a turban,18 walking

in the mornings and evenings and resting under the shelter of

3850 Economic and Political Weekly August 21, 2004

thatched huts and roadside shamianas, YSR could easily establish

rapport with the simple and poor rural folks. YSR’s self-projection

and image was in sharp contrast to that of Naidu clad

in shirt and pants and guarded by heavy security.

Secondly, through the padayatra, YSR could not only gain

public image and sympathy but could activate the Congress cadre

by boosting their morale. Thirdly, the ‘padayatra’ gave an opportunity

to local groups and activists to present their problems

to the leader of the opposition and by rallying together elements

critical of Naidu regime, YSR could bring to the forefront grass

roots issues pertaining to agriculture and handlooms, etc, into

the public gaze and sustain a critical debate on government

priorities like IT, BT and Formula One car races alongside its

neglect of issues of employment and livelihood. The padayatra

all along provided for impromptu discussions on one-to-one basis

with YSR asking the village folk about their problems and

consoling them. The rachchabanda or adda19 participation reduced

the gap between the political elite and the popular classes

and facilitated communication between them. The value of this

becomes very noticeable when it is seen in comparison to the

nature of participation in the TDP’s high profile ‘Janmabhoomi’.

Though started with a promise, soon the Janmabhoomi lost its

voluntary participatory character and became a formality as the

TDP cadre and local bureaucracy came to dominate it.

YSR by undertaking Jaithra yatra on the eve of elections held

almost a year after his initial padayatra was also renewing his

popular contact and his pledge to alleviate their conditions. Such

yatras were made a famous mode of popular contact by NTR

with all the dramatics and glamour associated with it. Naidu had

a big disadvantage in this respect. Travelling in helicopter and

protected by a security cover he could not counter the populist

image accumulated by YSR. On the contrary, he ended up

reinforcing the image of being hi-tech, IT savvy.

If padayatra was an education for YSR as he could learn about

problems at the grass roots then the Jaithra yatra was used as

a means to come back with promises based on the feedback during

the padayatra. The Jaithra yatra was seen as reminiscent of the

one NTR was famous for and reminding the voters how far the

TDP under Naidu had moved away from the founder’s policies.20

This had come to be a very important and effective strategy of

communication for the Congress to establish rapport with the

popular classes and for the latter to have informal dialogue with

the political elite.

What is involved the Congress’ campaign is following Hazer,21

what could be called the ‘mobilisation of bias’. By making

suicides of farmers and weavers a signifier of a deep crisis and

making the TDP’s policies responsible for this a political judgment

in the form of popular verdict was sought. The narrative

contains multiple story lines – drought, Telangana’s backwardness

(resulting in the demand for a separate state implied), TDP’s

surrender to the World Bank. The condensation of the discourse

in the term ‘crisis’ is noteworthy. In other words, crisis had

become a short hand expression of the seriousness of what was

rotten in the state of AP. It is true that the issue of the crisis

during the TDP regime is not as simple as stated by the adversaries.

But it may be noted that simplification of the problem

is a rhetorical device that is often put to an effective use to convey

clear political messages.

The concept of discourse coalition defined as an “ensemble

of a set of story lines, the actors that utter these storylines, and

the practices that conform to these story lines, all organised

around a discourse”22 is useful in this context. The electoral

discourse pursued by the Congress and its allies is characterised

by differences in terms of story lines or rather versions of story,

narrative styles and rhetoric. What is common to them all is that

the chief antagonist in the story is Naidu. These different versions

of the story begin and in fact substantially revolve around Naidu.

In all of them the narrative on agrarian crisis occupies a major

space. But in each of them, the narrative assumes different twists

and turns and the finale is explicitly different. As we shall see,

despite these differences there is an underlying political necessity

recognised by all of them that the TDP must be defeated and

the premise on which that is possible is to accept the Congress

as the leader of the alliance. Therefore it may be suggested that

the political alliance between the Congress, TRS and the Left

be considered as a discourse coalition as well.

The concept of discourse coalition could be expanded to

include a wide range of initiatives, organisations and social

groups. Thus the acute perception of the crisis in a majority of

social groups – apart from farmers and weavers, the students,

unemployed youth and especially the teachers and NGOs –

and an unprecedented sense of insecurity felt by a large

number of them led to the widening of the discourse coalition

associated with the Congress. Thus farmers’ and workers

organisations, students and youth organisations, teachers and

employees associations23 overwhelmingly identified with the

Congress coalition sharing its narrative topography, in spirit if

not in detail.

The TRS, the Left and other organisations pursued their own

story lines that are different from each other and distinct from

that of the Congress. It is curious to note that sometimes their

narrative structures and especially the closures they aimed at were

not compatible with each other. The TDP’s counter-strategy was

to highlight these difference and contradictions and draw the

attention of the voters as to how these differences camouflaged

or played down by the alliance partners, could play havoc in the

state politics. In spite of all this if the alliance is voted to power

then it can only be seen as a vindication of the points of convergence

in the discursive narrative.

TRS and Telangana Demand

To illustrate the above argument, let us look at the discursive

persuasions of the TRS and the Left. The narrative on Telangana

build by the TRS and the different discursive groups even when

they have serious differences with the former24 has an almost

predictable storyline. That the Telangana region has been backward

and the coastal region has developed phenomenally and

that too at the cost of the Telangana region; that the backwardness

of Telangana is the logical outcome of the developmental policy

pursued by the political elite from the Andhra region; this is

evident in almost all the sectors – in irrigation, education, health,

etc. According to this narrative the regional unevenness has

increased with the coming into power of the TDP, which is clearly

a party of the coastal neo-rich, and during the last nine years

of the Naidu regime it has reached huge proportions. In this

narrative there is a silence on the Congress party’s role but this

is sought to be effected by highlighting the culpability of the

TDP. But it cannot be said that the Congress has been exonerated.

What is significant here is not the factual veracity of the above

construction but how through the deployment of rhetorical devices

and powerful imagery it is sought to be imprinted on the popular

Economic and Political Weekly August 21, 2004 3851

memory as an irrefutable ‘fact’. The backwardness of Telangana

and innocence of Telangana people (which is portrayed not as

a lacuna but celebrated as a positive quality) become emotive

devices through which mobilisation is attempted. What is noticeable

about the present discourse on Telangana, in contrast

to that of the 1969 movement, is the deliberate underplaying of

the anti-coastal Andhra sentiment. The choice of target has been

the TDP and its policies. Such a critique has a positive correlation

if not conformity with the critique of the TDP by other parties

in the coalition.

But there are also serious differences and curious convergences

among the coalition partners. While the state Congress maintained

a studied silence on the Telangana issue – giving credence

to the TRS’ claim that it has reached an agreement on the issue

with the AICC – the Left, especially the CPI(M) sticking to its

linguistic nationality thesis, has taken a firm stand to oppose the

demand. The Left instead proposed a special package for the

development of the backward regions. There has been a strong

convergence between the Left and the TDP in terms of their rigid

opposition to the Telangana demand. But the points of divergence

and disagreement that occupied larger discursive space have

overshadowed this common ground.

The Left and Economic Reforms

The Left’s discourse covers a wider policy space and situates

the TDP regime in the macro-policy context. Thus the conditionalities

of the World Bank and the accumulation of external

borrowings during Naidu’s tenure became issues hotly debated

in this election. The Left, during its six years of separation from

the TDP, virtually conducted a public trial on this issue through

pamphlets, booklets, public meetings and agitations. Along with

the Left parties, a number of citizens’ initiatives like, for instance,

the Forum Against Globalisation (FAG) comprising of activists,

academics and journalists have played a key role by bringing

out booklets and informative pamphlets with analyses of the

implications of liberalisation on vulnerable and marginalised


It is true that Naidu’s regime has seen a whopping increase

in loans amounting to Rs 50,084 crore. But the fact of the matter

is that the external loans amounted to only Rs 15,364 crore of

which loan from the World Bank was Rs 8,922 crore. The World

Bank has become a short hand expression of the reforms face

of the regime and that too with a stigma attached to it. The ground

was thus prepared for the populist discourse. Not lagging behind

the Left, the Congress also made it an election issue peppering

it with emotions. Thus asked YSR in his road shows and public

meetings: “Where has this huge money gone? What did the

farmers get? How many irrigation projects were built?” The

answer was obviously in the negative. This rhetoric went well

especially with the rural electorate.

In the same refrain the standard claim of Naidu that his

government enhanced the stature of the state among international

donors and brought huge funds for the development of the state

was clearly turned up side down. The Congress’ response to this

claim was simple, straight and a matter-of-fact one. All the

borrowings made in the name of development have gone into

the pockets of ‘pacha chokkalu’ (yellow shirts), the TDP cadre,

who like ‘bandicoots’ have not only swallowed up the developmental

funds but also the rice allotted by the central government

for the Food for Work Programme (FFW). It may be noted that

there has been a remarkable change in the TDP’s organisational

structure under the leadership of Naidu. While NTR ran the party

on the strength of his charisma and popularity, Naidu lacking

both, sought to build his organisational base on managerial lines

through an elaborate network based on distribution of spoils.

Thus organisational base of the TDP at different levels began

to comprise of people belonging to the class of contractors,

builders and even speculators. This needless to say is in sharp

contrast to the Congress, which counts in its ranks the traditional

dominant caste elite and professional pyravikaars (power brokers).

This contractor class, for whom politics is primarily a

business proposition, the developmental work and even the FFW

programme has become a ‘feeding channel’.

The TDP’s image in fact took a clear beating with the surfacing

of scams involving pilferage of rice meant for FFW programme.

It may be noted that the state government was allotted 55 lakh

tonnes of rice estimated to be of worth Rs 5,500 crore by the

centre for drought relief work. The scams of rice ‘recycling’25

that were in reference when YSR declared, “while the farmers

grew emaciated the TDP men became fatter by eating away

government funds meant for development and drought relief like

bandicoots.” Thus when the Congress and the Left raised the

issue of ‘disappearance’ of the loans meant for development, the

political message was loud and clear.

This put the TDP clearly on the defensive. The already accumulated

voter fatigue with the persona of Naidu was further

intensified when he made it a point to paint a picture of Swarnandhra

(Golden Andhra) through a series of live telecasts of the review

of the performance of different departments on private TV

channels.26 The numbers that were reeled out during these reviews

not only made no sense to everyday life experiences of large sections

of population but increased their distrust of the TDP regime.


Every story must have an ending – preferably an optimistic

one. The discourses of the different parties suggest happy endings.

In this sense the TDP is clearly at a disadvantage, having

been in power for nine long years, its closure was only too obvious

and had nothing to offer prospectively except promising to

continue its earlier policies with a different accent.

The Congress’ discursive diagnosis suggested a series of

solutions. The most significant of them was the promise of the

free power supply to agriculture. It may be recollected that

Congress made the promise of free power supply to agriculture

sector during the 1999 elections as well. But it was an indication

of the low credibility of the party that it could not gain much

on this count. During the last few years, by joining popular grass

roots initiatives and keeping the debate on agriculture live in the

assembly and other fora, the Congress gradually gained a propeople

image for itself.

As in 1999, the TDP took on its stride to oppose this with

all the resources at its command. Naidu, through TV advertisements

and in his speeches sought to convey the message that

the Congress’ promise of free power was impractical and irresponsible.

For free power would only mean no power, as there

would be no power left to supply. Thus he warned, “We will

end up using transmission lines for drying cloths.”27 Free power

will throw fiscal discipline to winds. Naidu repeatedly told his

audience that this was the reason why Sonia Gandhi never referred

to this promise.

3852 Economic and Political Weekly August 21, 2004

Power is crucial to farmers in dry land areas in Telangana and

Rayalaseema. There are estimated to be around 22.82 lakh pump

sets in these two regions. The impact of hike in power tariffs

has been quite disastrous on the poor and marginal farmers.28

The power subsidy is justified on the ground that it would cost

the state exchequer only rupees 300 crore whereas the expenditure

incurred on the publicity by the TDP government was estimated

to be above rupees 350 crore. This is the reason why this promise

went well with the farmers and the poor households.29

The electoral discourse in the state has historically shown a

high proclivity for populism. This is largely because of the sharp

political polarisation and the intense electoral competition the

state has seen since the early 1980s. But none of the elections

have ever seen any informed debate – except for an inclination

to score points in the debate – on the desirability and viability

of populism as the basis of public policy. Thus the populist turn

in the promise of free power. The entire farming community is

treated as a suffering lot and the internal differences are glossed

over, when as a matter of fact the farming community is highly

differentiated and the strata that have suffered as a result of the

governmental negligence and apathy are the small and medium

farmers. The discourse on free power also raises certain other

important issues. The most important one pertains to the propriety

in pursuing such a promise given the fact that the crisis of the

dry land farming to a large extent is due to the phenomenal decline

in the ground water, which in turn is a result of an unchecked

borewell digging. The free power supply would only worsen the

situation for the poor and marginal farmers and play ecological

havoc as there would be much more intensive water exploitation

by the big land owners. Perhaps a comprehensive debate is

required on the control over groundwater usage and the regulation

of the cropping pattern in tune with the agrarian ecological

conditions of different regions. These issues found no place in

the electoral debate. TDP’s argument against the free power

promise was also largely in the nature of a techno-economic

objection based on its non-viability (because of the cost factor

and the inability to maintain quality supply) rather than based

on the invocation of a larger perspective.

The narrative of the Congress was woven around the theme

of evil and anti-people rule (interestingly in the speeches of YSR

and KCR the TDP rule is referred to as ‘Dusta’ and/or ‘Narakasura30

palana’) under which all the sections of the society had suffered

therefore it was time to end it. There are interesting sub-plots

or narratives in the story line of the Congress which are basically

meant to further cement and expand the process of forging a social

coalition that would win it power. If the free power promise to

agriculture and poor households (along with a package consisting

of whole lot of other promises like completion of irrigation

projects, supply of quality seeds, subsidised fertiliser and pesticides,

loans at a low interest rate, revival of extension services, etc),

is meant to stabilise its support base among the farmers and poor

households, then so are the promises to weavers to ameliorate

their conditions with regulation of yarn supply, revival of Janata

scheme and creation of credit and marketing facilities, to the

employees to do away with harassment31 and creation of employment

to the educated youth through recruitment to the vacancies

in the government accumulated as a result of the ban on recruitment

during the TDP tenure.32 Thus the social unrest and discontent

against the TDP rule was sought to be fine tuned by the

Congress to forge a social base with the promise of specific

packages to each of them.


The policy discourse in 2004 election in AP displayed a

plebiscitary character. This was because of the dominance of the

TDP by the persona of Naidu and the political investment of the

party in terms of its image, resources, choices and risks vested

in him. For this reason the defeat of Naidu regime, which gained

an iconic status with regard to the state-level economic reforms,

has been interpreted as a ‘vote against anti-people reforms.’ The

discourse analysis of the election campaigns of different parties

clearly shows that except for the Left no mainstream party made

this election a contest on reforms.

The dominant discourses of the Congress and the TDP are

framed in terms of crisis vs development. While the TDP’s

development centric discourse in view of the multiplier effects

of demand for demonstration of proof hypothetically remained

a closed option, the crisis-centric discourse of the Congress

campaign displayed possibilities for new discursive coalitions

and political alliances. Because of the discursive centrality of

crisis, the concerns of the marginalised groups gained prominence

in the electoral campaign of the Congress and its allies.

Through a continuous focus on the suicides of the farmers and

weavers to demonstrate the TDP’s insensitivity to the people’s

anguish, the Congress sought to deepen the legitimacy crisis of

the TDP regime.

Popular initiatives and grass roots organisations can play a

crucial role in policy discourse. The more dynamic these

organisations are, the more pressure they exert on political

parties to respond to their issues. If any party fails to do that it

does so at its own risk and loss of legitimacy. We find such

organisations playing a catalytic role in discursive terms in

this election – against the TDP for its closed discourse and in

favour of the Congress because of its discursive openness. The

presence of these initiatives is evident in the three crucial issues

of rural crisis, Naxalite question and Telangana demand that

dominated the electoral debate this time. All the above issues

have been shaped and presented as social questions pertaining

to the marginalised sections (in the TDP’s discourse they

were treated as administrative or law and order issues) and

interestingly have been inclusively presented as part of the

discourse of crisis.

Generally, reference to historical personalities and legacies is

a strong element in the political discourses. In this respect the

TDP clearly had a disadvantage. While the Congress invoked

the legacy of Indira Gandhi and promised Indiramma ‘rajyam’

(Indira Gandhi’s rule) the TDP could not draw on the popular

legacy of NTR because the party’s move away from it had been


It is necessary to distinguish between the cooption of the

subaltern concerns by the dominant structures for electoral gains

and providing of spaces to marginalised groups so that they can

participate in policy discourses. It may be suggested that the 2004

election in AP has shown certain degree of convergence of these

two processes of cooption by the dominant and carving a space

for themselves by the marginalised. The sustained activities of

the subaltern organisations have played a key role in making the

crisis visible and a central issue in the electoral discourse. Further

they could be seen expanding the spaces in the policy discourse

as these organisations were accorded visibility and promised a

role in policy-making in the form of consultations and involvement

in the deliberations.

The Congress’ promise of involvement of the farmers’ and

weavers’ organisations in the formulation of policies for agricultural

and handloom sectors and the ‘Poura Spandana Vedika’

with regard to the Naxalite issue are important indications of

the expansion of policy spaces for the marginalised.

Address for correspondence:


[This is a shorter version of a working paper of the Governance and Policy

Spaces Project at the Centre for the Economic and Social Studies, Hyderabad.

Thanks are due to Rajen Harshe, Arun Patnaik, D Venkat Rao and K C Suri

for their comments and to V Anil Kumar, D Subba Rao and Vijay Sekhar

for their research help and suggestions.]

1 The interpretation that the election results are a rejection of the reforms

and World Bank loans is put forward by the Left and not by the Congress.

2 While the Congress- Telangana Rastra Samithi-Left alliance gained

48.37 per cent vote, the TDP-BJP alliance still retained 39.66 per cent

vote. Despite its poor performance, the TDP continues to be a formidable

political force with a strong electoral support and organisational structure.

3 For instance, the Congress victory in AP prompted the AIADMK

government in Tamil Nadu to implement free power for agriculture sector.

4 Des Gasper and Raymond Apthorpe, ‘Introduction: Discourse Analysis

and Policy Discourse’ in Raymond Apthorpe and Des Gasper (eds),

Arguing Development Policy: Frames and Discourses, Frank Cass,

London, 1996, p 2.

5 See, Stuart Hall, ‘ Foucault: Power, Knowledge and Discourse’ in

Margaret Wetherell, Stephanie Taylor and Simeon J Yates (eds), Discourse

Theory and Practice, Sage, London, 2001.

6 Ibid.

7 K C Suri, ‘Telugu Desam Party: Rise and Prospects for Future’, Economic

and Political Weekly, Vol XXXIX, Nos 14 and 15, April 3-10, 2004.

8 For details, see M Kistaiah (ed), Administrative Reforms in a Developing

Society, Sterling, New Delhi, 1990.

9 For an assessment of this scheme during NTR’s first tenure, see, Olsen,

Wendy K, ‘Eat Now and Pay Later: Impact of Rice Subsidy Scheme’,

Economic and Political Weekly, March 28, 1989.

10 For an analysis of the 1999 elections, see, K Srinivasulu, ‘Party Competition

and Strategies of Mobilisation: An Analysis of Social Coalitions in

Andhra Pradesh’ in Paul Wallace and Ramashray Roy (eds), India’s 1999

Elections and 20th Century Politics, Sage, Delhi, 2003.

11 The Maha Jana Front (MJF) is a conglomerate of the backward caste

and dalit organisations with grass roots support base.

12 The TRS won 1,043 MPTCs and 84 ZPTCs. For an analysis of the

panchayat elections, see, K C Suri, ‘Andhra Pradesh: Setback for the

TDP in Panchayat Elections’, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol XXXVI,

No 41, 2001.

13 The first SRC headed by Justice Fazal Ali recommended for the formation

of the Hyderabad state comprising of the Telugu speaking districts of

the Telangana region, “along with Bidar district, and the Munagala

enclave in the Nalgonda district belonging to the Krishna district”. See,

Report of the States Reorganisation Commission, 1955, p 257.

14 The Hindu (Hyderabad edition), March 3, 2004.

15 The role of Vaartha, the Telugu daily is noteworthy in this regard.

16 In fact a BJP union minister from AP even went to the extent of attributing

the suicides to ‘indigestion’.

17 Reports of Farmers’ Commission of Experts on Agriculture in Andhra

Pradesh and Vyavasayaranga Parirakshana Aikya Porata Vedika,

Hyderabad, 2002.

18 It is interesting to note that the generation of politicians not only in the

Congress but also across the parties wearing dhotis is fast disappearing.

YSR is perhaps the only very well known dhoti clad politician in his

age group in the state.

19 A dalit activist insightfully characterised it thus emphasising the informality

and personalised nature of the dialogue.

20 It is instructive to note that NTR continues to be remembered as a pro-poor

CM for his Rs 2 kilo rice and housing for the poor schemes. The interviews

by the TV 9, a Telugu news channel, with the rural poor during the

elections brought this out. Curiously enough there were instances when

people compared YSR with NTR.

21 Hajer, Maarten A, ‘Discourse Coalitions and the Institutionalisation of

Practice: The Case of Acid Rain in Britain’, Frank Fisher and John

Forrester (eds), The Argumentative Turn in Political Analysis and

Planning, Duke University Press, Durham and London, 1993.

22 Hajer, Maarten A, ibid, p 47.

23 The general perception among the employees was that if the TDP comes

back to power it would in its pursue of reforms wind up pension scheme

and lower the retirement age apart from a vigorous implementation of

the voluntary retirement policy.

24 The Telangana Aikya Vedika, a non-election front, has emerged as a

major voice since the late 1990s striving to educate popular classes

through a variety of activities. Telangana Jana Sabha of the CPI(ML)

(People’s War) and Telangana Jana Sanghatan of the CPI(ML) (Janashakti)

and Telangana Maha Sabha are the CPI(ML) wings that actively advocate

the Telangana issue. TRS is an electoral beneficiary of the ground work

done by these organisations.

25 The process by which, the foodgrain allocated for the ‘Food for Work’

programme instead of reaching the poor, gets back into the open market

is called recycling. There was reported to be a widespread practice of

such recycling and in most cases it is the local TDP men benefited from


26 These programmes tried to project an ‘Andhra shining’ image in

correspondence with perhaps not to lag behind Vajpayee’s ‘India shining’

27 The Hindu (Hyderabad edition), March 20, 2004.

28 ‘Power bills have equalled the house rents’ has become a common middle

class refrain.

29 Free power was also promised to single bulb households.

30 Interestingly it echoes the slogan of NTR in the 1994 assembly elections

that he would kill Sarasura (the demon of arrack) by putting his first

signature on the prohibition order immediately after taking oath of office.

YSR made similar promise with regard to the free power order and kept

it by signing in the order immediately after assuming the office of CM

in the huge public presence in the Lal Bahadur stadium in the capital


31 It is interesting to note that the Janmabhoomi, considered to be highly

prestigious by the Naidu regime, has been seen as a major source of

inconvenience and harassment by the subaltern ranks or the ‘street-level

bureaucracy’. (For the concept of street-level bureaucracy, see, Michael

Lipsky, Street-level Bureaucracy: Dilemmas of the Individual in Public

Services, Russell Sage Foundation, New York, 1980.) The bureaucracy

is kept on their toes through regular and close monitoring. For these

reasons, there is a sense of suffocation in the bureaucracy. The teachers

have been subjected to humiliation by being made to undertake ‘all kinds

of surveys’. Field notes.

32 The list of promises includes the revival of Public Sector Enterprises, etc.