KCR's 'anger' at Amit Shah could be a problem for BJP: Saffron party needs TRS to avoid vacuum in Telangana
The last three days have been hard for leaders and workers of the Telangana unit of the BJP.
The last three days have been hard for leaders and workers of the Telangana unit of the BJP. First party president Amit Shah reportedly gave them an earful, berating them for lost opportunities in taking on the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) government. And just when his visit was coming to an end, chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao tore into the BJP chief and the state unit of the party, accusing them of peddling lies.
The BJP versus TRS battle of words is now well and truly on.
During his visit to Nalgonda district, Shah among other things, had accused the KCR government of not spending enough on pensions and Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. Pointing to the 4.5 crore toilets being constructed across the country, Shah said there were no toilets in the homes he visited in the district. "This exposes the government's failure to take the scheme to the grassroots level,'' said Shah.
KCR did an NTR, calling Shah's charges an insult to Telangana atmagauravam (self-respect). The Telangana chief minister accused Shah of broadcasting falsehoods with fake statistics, belittling India's youngest state. Not only that, KCR also claimed he had proof that Shah had done a BS Yeddyurappa, who last week was accused of eating idlis brought from a hotel at a Dalit's home in Karnataka. KCR said Shah posed as if he was eating at a Dalit home when the food was in fact, cooked at the farmhouse of Manohar Reddy, a BJP candidate in the 2014 polls. The next day again, food that was eaten with Dalits was bought from a canteen.
The question is what exactly is cooking between the TRS and the BJP? Is this a fixed WWF-like bout where both opponents are behaving like fierce competitors in the ring or has a falling out seriously happened?
Rewind to November 2016, when KCR was the first non-BJP chief minister to support Prime Minister Narendra Modi's demonetisation move. That signalled a bonhomie between KCR and Modi that left the BJP in Telangana confused on whether to attack the chief minister or stay neutral. The impression on the ground in Hyderabad has been such that should the BJP find itself short of numbers after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, KCR will extend support to New Delhi.
But Shah's three-day visit jolted the Telangana BJP from its stupor. At the meeting of office-bearers, Shah gave them a dressing down asking them why they did not make an issue of KCR building a palatial bungalow for the chief minister, spending Rs 40 crore. He took them to task for not protesting enough over the 12 percent reservation that Telangana assembly passed for Muslims in the state. He marked the Telangana unit for missing the opportunity to corner KCR for spending public money to fulfil a personal vow at Tirumala temple.
Sources say it was obvious that Shah was miffed that the unit, which the gateway to south India, was not fighting fit. He reportedly did not utter a word for most part of the 50-km long journey from Hyderabad to Nalgonda district, adding to the discomfiture of the bewildered state unit leaders accompanying him in the vehicle.
Shah wanted to go from five to 60 MLAs in Telangana. While that may be a pipe-dream, he has hit the ground running by trying to get a first hand feel of things in the districts.
There is a reason why the BJP has fast-forwarded into election gear at least a good two years before the polls are due in the state. It senses a political vacuum in the opposition space in the state. It also knows its cadre base is not as large as the other parties but it wants to punch above its weight so that it can at least emerge as the main opposition player in Telangana.
Telangana offers an opportunity because the BJP's erstwhile ally, the Telugu Desam Party is all but reduced to nothing, with 12 of its 15 MLAs and its sole MP, migrating to the TRS. The Congress strength in the Telangana assembly too is down from 21 MLAs to 12. The YSR Congress shop in Telangana has folded up, so have the BSP and CPI. The opposition space is up for grabs and the lotus wants to take roots.
The BJP believes the Congress with its internal differences in Telangana and a comatose state nationally, will be unable to pick itself beyond a point. So it aims to be the party of choice for any voter looking to vote the TRS out.
What's however adding to the suspicion of match fixing between TRS and BJP is the choice of Nalgonda district as Shah's first stop. This is a Congress dominated district with the party winning five of the seven seats that form part of the Nalgonda Lok Sabha constituency. Both the Telangana Congress president Uttam Kumar Reddy and CLP leader Jana Reddy hail from Nalgonda. So was Shah's 2-day visit an attempt at weakening the Congress in its citadel, even while attacking the TRS?
During closed-door discussions, Shah has assured the state leaders that there won't be any truck with TRS. This even while the party has opened channels of communication with disgruntled Congress leaders who are looking to exit.
Did KCR have to react in the blistering manner that he did? The verbal assault seems to be intended to convey that the TRS has not put its cards on the table as far as the Presidential elections are concerned. In a tight race, KCR's support will be critical and he clearly wanted to convey to Modi that Shah will have to be told to back off.
KCR did not miss an opportunity to get under Shah's skin by taunting him with the results of a survey he claimed to have commissioned on the occasion of three years in office. ``The BJP will not win even a single one of the five seats it holds now,'' he declared. But even while training his guns at Shah, KCR is all warmth when it comes to Modi, highlighting his good equation with the PM.
Last month, amidst the Baahubali fever, TRS leaders claimed KCR is their Baahubali. The BJP and the Congress can now only compete to be the political Kattappa of Telangana.
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