Former union minister Renuka Chowdary of the Congress is locked in a straight fight with Nama Nageswara Rao of Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) in Khammam Lok Sabha constituency, where "settlers" in two assembly segments bordering neighbouring Andhra Pradesh could well hold the key to poll outcome.
It is turning out to be a prestigious battle -- the Congress pinning lot of hopes here, while the TRS President and Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao is determined to assert his party's supremacy here as it had a poor outing in the district in the 2018 assembly polls.
The CPI-M and the BJP have also put up their candidates for the April 11 Lok Sabha elections in this segment, where the Congress has won 11 times since 1952 and others on the remaining four occasions.
This is the third time that Rao, promoter of diversified Madhucon Group, and Chowdary are fighting against each other in Khammam. Chowdary won 2004 and Rao in 2009.
The Khammam Lok Sabha seat was bagged by P Srinivas Reddy on a YSR Congress Party ticket in 2014 with a margin of about 12,000 votes. Later, Reddy defected to the TRS. The YSRCP has not fielded candidate this time, and it's no secret that it would back the TRS this time.
Rao unsuccessfully contested on TDP ticket in Khammam in the assembly polls in December 2018 but defected to the TRS last month.
The fight has generated a lot of interest. The constituency has seven assembly segments. In the December 2018 Assembly polls, the Congress bagged three seats and the TDP two, and the TRS and Independent one each.
But in a boost to the TRS during the last month, two of these Congress MLAs, one TDP lawmaker and the independent announced their decision to join the K Chandrasekhar Rao-led party.
A large chunk of settlers in Sathupalli and Asawaraopet in Khammam Lok Sabha segment who voted for the TDP in the last assembly polls may support the Congress this time, according to political observers.
These people from Andhra Pradesh are now settled in Telangana.
The defection to the TRS of S Veeraiah who won from Sathupalli on TDP ticket may not go down well with voters, who may work against their legislator this time, one of them said.
Aswaraopet TDP legislator Macha Nageswara Rao has extended support to Chowdary and is canvassing for her.
The lone TRS MLA from Khammam, Puvvada Ajay Kumar, who went door to door and campaigned against Nama Nageswara Rao in the last assembly elections, is now seeking votes for the MP candidate of his party.
"In Khammam, TRS government carried out development work worth Rs 1000 crore. Many admired the work and joined the TRS. There is a notion that TRS is strong (only) in north Telangana. But by winning this seat, I am going to prove that it is strong even in Khammam," said Nama.
Chowdary said she has been getting good response from voters and Telugu Desam Party (TDP) workers and leaders.
Though Telangana Jana Samithi, TDP and CPI were part of the Congress-led "Prajakutami" (People's Front) in the assembly elections in December last year, there is no formal alliance for the April 11 Lok Sabha polls among them.
"It is heartening that even Telugu Desam Party cadres are coming out and supporting me. As daughter of the soil, I developed this constituency. My opponent (Rao) contested on one party ticket just a few months ago and now switched to another party just for the sake of ticket. He was not to be seen anywhere after he was defeated in 2014 elections. I think people see and understand that," Chowdary said.
The BJP has fielded Devaki Vasudeva Rao and the CPI-M Boda Venkat for Khammam which has voter base of over 15 lakh. As many as 23 candidates including independents are in the poll race.