Demonetisation: Narendra Modi and K Chandrasekhar Rao's new political friendship amid note ban

He may not found a place in the sub-committee of six chief ministers formed to suggest ways to move towards a digital economy but K Chandrasekhar Rao won't lose sleep over it. In any case, being part of a committee under the chairmanship of bete noire Chandrababu Naidu would have been anathema to the Telangana chief minister.

KCR's initial reaction after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes won't be legal tender for the intervening night of 8-9 November, was one of dismay. He rushed to Raj Bhavan to reportedly tell Governor ESL Narasimhan that Telangana would face major financial pressure due to the demonetisation move. The loss of revenue was pegged at between Rs 1,000 and Rs 2,000 crore every month. Add to this, the slowdown in the construction sector, in which a workforce of 10 lakh is engaged in and around Hyderabad. The chief minister says they have been left without work for ten days now. The poultry industry, where Telangana is the country leader, has seen business dropping by 70 percent as most of the chicken and egg business is cash-based.

Around the same time, opposition to the demonetisation decision started building up, with West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee leading the charge. Some of the parties marched to Rashtrapathi Bhavan, others disrupted Parliament.

Sources say it was around that time that Modi reached out to KCR. The inference is that the prime minister was conscious that a larger group of chief ministers taking him on, won't make for good optics.

KCR immediately flew to Delhi and a 40-minute audience with the prime minister followed, after which the chief minister decided he won't be part of the opposition chorus against demonetisation. Now, KCR is not part of the NDA and therefore is under no compulsion to support every decision taken by the Modi sarkaar. The fact that he has chosen to cast his lot with Modi instead of the vocal opposition, is both political and administrative.

Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

KCR realises that it makes little sense for him to oppose Modi, if he is to get financial goodies from New Delhi for Telangana. He also has one eye on Amaravati to ensure political rival, Chandrababu Naidu does not out-manoeuvre him.

But the Delhi meeting was not the only time Modi and KCR met. Over the weekend, they met twice when the prime minister arrived in Hyderabad to attend the meeting of DGPs at the National Police Academy. No one missed his gesture of buttonholing the Telangana chief minister and Governor on the tarmac of the Hyderabad airport. The duo met again when the prime minister left for Delhi the next day.

Ever since the three meetings, KCR has been singing Modi's tune. The fight against black money, corruption and cashless economy — the buzzwords are same, making people wonder if the BJP's saffron and TRS's pink lines are blurring.

In terms of profile, KCR has gained. Modi needs all the political support that he can within 'Team India' and the support of a non-NDA chief minister looks better than support from an NDA chief minister. In that sense, KCR is as valuable as a Nitish Kumar or a Naveen Patnaik.

Congress leaders believe both Naidu and KCR want Modi to help them in increasing the number of assembly constituencies in Andhra and Telangana. From 175 to 225 in Andhra and from 119 to 153 in Telangana. Was this part of the quid pro quo, they wonder. It is critical for KCR to have a larger pool of assembly seats as he can then accommodate all the turncoats from the TDP and Congress to contest the 2019 assembly election. Likewise with Naidu, who has admitted a whole lot of YSR Congress MLAs into the TDP.

It also suits KCR and Naidu to focus on how to make India go cashless. The battle against black money is no longer the main target, the goalpost has conveniently been shifted because politicians like KCR and Naidu know they can look good, projecting a modern outlook by ushering in a digital economy. KCR has taken the lead by announcing that Siddipet, the assembly constituency that he once represented and now has his nephew Harish Rao as the MLA, will be the first segment to go completely cashless.

The desire to be by the prime minister's side is also governed by real politik. KCR sees no sense by being seen with a disjointed opposition, especially when the Congress is his principal foe in Telangana. The BJP in contrast, does not have the cadre to match up to either the Congress or even the TDP in Telangana.

Reports from rural Telangana are mixed. There is genuine anger at the misery those without bank accounts are being put to, especially among farmers who are not getting loans for their rabi crop. Many of them are having to trek long distances to access an ATM or a bank. The central team that toured different states also sent back a similar feedback to the PMO. KCR is a smart politician to realise that while the dissatisfaction will be directed at Modi, he can showcase himself as a chief minister who cares by trying to help sort out matters. KCR sees a win-win situation in this crisis.

Will this new-found friendship lead to TRS joining Modi's cabinet? It is known that members of the TRS parliamentary party won't be averse to joining the NDA. Modi does not need any extra support in terms of numbers but a lot could depend on how things pan out politically post the Uttar Pradesh elections.

So while it is fairly certain that something is cooking between Modi and KCR, nothing has been put on the table as yet.

Updated Date: Dec 01, 2016 17:52 PM

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