As Telangana goes to the polls for the Assembly election on Thursday (November 30), there is unprecedented anticipation among the people on whether the Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) can retain power for the third successive time or if Congress is going wrest power, reclaiming its old glory in the State.

The campaign for the election ends on Tuesday (November 28) evening.

BRS President and Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao is facing his toughest election yet this time as Congress is giving him a run for his money with renewed vigor. Unlike in the last elections, which were a cakewalk for the BRS, KCR is sweating it out this time around. In a whirlwind tour of the State, he covered virtually every Assembly constituency, directly or indirectly.

Finding Congress a big challenge, he is targeting the party, blaming Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi for the backwardness of the State. While Nehru was blamed for annexing Telangana to Andhra Pradesh in 1956, Indira Gandhi was held responsible for the suppression of the movement for a separate State in the late 1960s. “She got several poor killed,” he said.

KCR, who targeted Chandrababu Naidu and other Andhra Pradesh leaders in the first two elections (2014 and 2018) for the backwardness of Telangana to cash in on the anti-Andhra sentiments, maintained a stoic silence this time. Neither KCR nor his son K T Rama Rao and nephew T Harish Rao – the three-star campaigners for BRS – decided to rake up the anti-Andhra sentiment.

On the contrary, they are angling for Andhra voters, who are referred to as ‘settlers’ in most parts of Telangana, this time. Fearing that ‘settlers’ and pro-Naidu voters, who can play a key role in several constituencies, might vote for Congress this time, the trio are missing no occasion to convey how they respect the former AP leaders.

They have a reason. A Revanth Reddy, the new PCC chief, has revived hopes for Congress. Besides rallying the scattered Reddy leaders, who have men and financial muscle, he is relatively close to the Andhraites in Telangana as he was groomed by Naidu for most part of his political career. A shift in favour of Congress is not good news for BRS, which is facing a strong anti-incumbancy sentiment in rural and urban areas.

The BJP looks like it has lost the plot after the exodus of several leaders to Congress, who openly criticised the party high command for its handling of KCR with baby gloves. “Their handling of KCR’s daughter in the infamous liquor case was a dampener. This has killed our prospects,” a senior BJP leader said.

Though senior BJP leaders Narendra Modi, Amit Shah, and J P Nadda visited many times in the last few weeks, BJP is not seen as a major contender and is largely seen as someone that is trying to split the anti-government votes to weaken the prospects of the Congress.

Though Congress has significantly increased its mindshare this time as Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi campaigned for its candidates, doubts linger among the voters about the notoriety of the party for its in-fightings.

“They (Congress) are promising to increase Rythu Bandhu to ₹15,000 a year per acre from the present level of ₹10,000. But the thing is, he (KCR) is the single one (as a Chief Minister), while they (Congress) are several. How to believe them,” a farmer from the Vemulavada constituency wondered.

Besides consolidating its erstwhile vote base, the Congress is trying to woo the disgruntled youth and farmers. It released a 42-page manifesto full of promises to voters from all walks of life.

Worried over the likely impact of the Congress promises that can upset their applecart, KCR and KTR are cautioning the voters, reminding them of the ‘horrendous past’. KCR is even asking the voters to become mature (read: don’t fall for the freebie promises made by Congress). “Democracy in our country needs to get mature” – is the message he is leaving in every single public meeting he attended so far on the campaign trail.

Padmaja Shaw, Political activist and former journalism teacher, who is part of the Jago Telangana (Wake up Telangana), sees a strong anti-incumbent sentiment in the State. “We have toured about 60 constituencies in the State, highlighting the anti-people policies of the government,”