Telugu Desam Party President N Chandrababu Naidu, who has risen to power by projecting himself as a CEO-style administrator focused on global opportunities and economic growth, has firmly retreated to playing old-style caste politics.

On Sunday, Naidu announced that if his party comes to power in the Seemandhra region, which will officially be called Andhra Pradesh after division of the state, he would appoint “two deputy chief ministers, one from the Kapu caste and another from the backward castes in the state”. The statement was a last-ditch attempt by Naidu to consolidate caste vote banks before Seemandhra goes to the polls today to elect representatives to both the Lok Sabha and the state assembly.

Until now, the TDP had attempted to impress the electorate by focusing on Naidu’s experience as an able administrator. But as the campaign drew to a close, “there was a certain nervousness that set into the TDP and the party feels Naidu’s past record and the alliance with the BJP is not enough to sail it through”, said Shravan Kumar, a Telugu journalist with the TV9 group.

While Indian politicians have often exploited caste equations, in Seemandhra, this has become even more apparent in the aftermath of the decision to bifurcate Andhra Pradesh.

To start with, after parliament passed the Telangana bill, a great deal of attention has been focused on Telangana as the new state that will assume an autonomous existence in June. However, few people seem to have realised that the division will actually create two new states.

In fact, since the new state of Telangana will retain Hyderabad as its capital, and Andhra Pradesh will have to find a new administrative and legislative centre in a decade, it is Andhra that could be seen as the new state.

The bifurcation did not have much support in the Seemandhra region and the electorate continues to grapple with doubts. “We are certainly worried about the way people from the region will be treated in Hyderabad, which falls firmly within the geographical boundaries of Telangana and has been the focus of economic growth over the last five decades,” said Prasad Rao, a resident of Vijayawada in coastal Andhra.

Given this situation, the TDP simply hasn’t been able “to understand or gauge the clear voter sentiment”, admitted a TDP candidate on condition of anonymity. Hence, the party decided that its best bet was mobilise voters on old caste lines.

Anger against the Congress over the decision to divide the state has turned this election into a clear two-way fight between YS Jaganmohan Reddy-led YSR Congress and the TDP-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance.

In previous elections, the Reddy caste had been the backbone of the Congress. But now, the land-owning caste, which has a concentrated presence in the Rayalseema region, from where Jagan hails, has consolidated behind him. Jagan is the son of late Congress Chief Minister YSR Reddy and split from the Congress after he was refused the chief minister’s post after his father’s death in a helicopter crash in 2009.

In Andhra Pradesh, like in several other parts of South India, people retain their caste identifies despite converting to other religions. Jagan, who is a Christian, has benefited from this.

“This has ensured that the minority votes have consolidated behind him, especially after the TDP allied with the BJP,” said N Bhaskar Rao, founder of the Delhi-based think tank Centre for Media Studies and a keen Andhra observer. He said that Jagan’s party has also built a strong presence among dalit voters.

On the other hand, Naidu belongs to another numerically powerful caste in the state – the Kamma community, which has a concentrated presence in south coastal Andhra and has been the central force in the TDP. But to tilt the balance in his favour, Naidu he needs a combination of other castes, like the Kapus, to back him.

The Kapus are the largest caste block in Andhra Pradesh and are spread out across the state. But they do not actually see themselves as one caste group because they have strong subdivisions that fall under different categories of reservation. In an effort to woo the various Kapu groups, the Congress has projected actor-turned-politician Chiranjeevi, who belongs to one of the Kapu castes, as its star campaigner. In addition, Sonia Gandhi, during her election rallies, has promised other backward class status for all Kapu castes in the state.

But with Congress at its weakest, Naidu wants to ensure that his party gets a major chunk of that vote. “The quest is not just for one caste, but for several other backward castes to come together behind the TDP,” said the journalist Shravan Kumar. “Naidu is desperate to achieve this.”

In the end, caste, religion and sub-regional geographic divisions will be the key factors that dictate voting patterns in the Andhra Pradesh elections today. When the results are announced, though the record book will not register the winning party as the first government of a new state, in spirit and in reality it will be.