The dots are too obvious to not be connected. Ever since K Chandrashekar Rao — also known as KCR — returned from New Delhi after meeting the prime minister on 15 June, all talk of forming a Federal Front has been moved to a cold storage. KCR, despite his presence in Delhi, stayed out of the Kejriwal episode where four non-BJP, non-Congress chief ministers took centre stage. Further confirming that something is cooking between Hyderabad and Delhi is KCR's statement on Sunday that he was ready for early elections in Telangana.
As a result, the power corridors of Hyderabad are speculating over whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi has confided in KCR about the possibility of advancing the general elections to the winter of 2018. Since 1999, united Andhra Pradesh has always voted for its Assembly and the Lok Sabha together. Elections in November-December would mean holding the polls along with Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.
A development that confirmed that KCR's Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) is getting into election mode was the green signal to former Congress minister Danam Nagender to join the pink party. Considered a Congress strongman in Hyderabad politics at one point, Nagender has been a disgruntled soul in the Congress for the past four years, with his efforts to occupy a top party post in the state unit having come to naught. He has been on the TRS waiting list for long, and it appeared as though KCR wanted Nagender on board at an opportune time, closer to the elections. With his entry into the TRS on Sunday and KCR-speak on early polls, it is becoming increasingly clear that Telangana could have an early date with voting machines.
Early elections would favour KCR
KCR has everything to gain with early elections. The Congress is still in disarray, with Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee chief Uttam Kumar Reddy facing an open rebellion from other party leaders who fancy his post. There is resentment over the induction of Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and BJP leaders such as Revanth Reddy and Nagam Janardhan Reddy into the Congress, resulting in the defection of competitors at the district level to the TRS.
TDP, the other Opposition party, is like an abandoned house, with 13 of its 15 MLAs deserting Chandrababu Naidu's ship. Neither the Andhra chief minister nor his son Nara Lokesh, who is also TDP general secretary, have shown much interest in reviving the party's fortunes in Telangana.
The irony is that Naidu remains TDP's biggest strength and weakness. In the absence of big names at present, he is the sole crowd-puller for the TDP, someone who still has a connection with the people of Hyderabad because of the work he did in the city as chief minister of united Andhra Pradesh between 1995 and 2004. However, his Andhra connect means he will end up giving the TRS a handle to, once again, rake up the Telangana sentiment and accuse the neighbouring state of adversely affecting Telangana's interests.
The BJP, the third player occupying the Opposition space, has been trying to spread the story that the Congress and TRS are in cahoots. It is a tale that very few will actually believe, especially in light of the Modi-KCR bonhomie.
Sources reveal that a senior BJP functionary has instructed the party's Telangana unit to not make any allegations of personal corruption against KCR. The BJP is more than aware of the fact that if it falls short of seats in Telangana, it will have to reach out to the likes of KCR, Naveen Patnaik and Jaganmohan Reddy for support. Therefore, state BJP leaders have been told to confine criticism of KCR to policy matters.
Between the TRS and the Congress, the ruling party is clearly better placed at this point. Realising that the farmer vote bank could sink his party, KCR has gone to town with his Rythu Bandhu scheme, which puts Rs 8,000 in a land-owing farmer's pocket every year. His ambitious irrigation projects, which the Congress alleges are a fountainhead of corruption, hold the promise of yielding results for the agrarian community.
For the Congress, the only way for it to match up to the others is to ensure that the Opposition vote does not split. This would mean stitching together a rainbow alliance with the Left parties, the Bahujan Samaj Party, Kodandaram's Telangana Jana Samiti and the TDP. Naidu's Khammam unit has already made noise in favour of allying with the Congress, realising that fighting alone would only help the TRS indirectly. The Congress would also have to launch a campaign highlighting that a vote for the BJP would be a vote for the TRS, trying to neutralise the saffron party's support base.
The semi-finals before 2019
The panchayat polls in Telangana scheduled for July will be a semi-final before the Assembly and Lok Sabha finals. Although held on a non-party basis, it is an open secret that political parties back candidates, and it will give a sense of their clout in rural Telangana.
However, much ahead of the real polls, the election to the post of deputy chairman of the Rajya Sabha before 1 July will indicate whether the TRS and BJP will conduct their business with each other openly. With both the ruling coalition and the Opposition short of the 122 mark to get its candidate elected, it will boil down to the votes of the TRS, YSR Congress and the Biju Janata Dal to tilt the equation. If there is a realistic chance of winning, the TRS could consider lobbying for its MP Kesava Rao to get the post.
If KCR joins hands with the BJP to get Rao the post, it will confirm that the Federal Front plan was a ploy to help the BJP. It is not clear whether the rest of the Opposition, including Chandrababu Naidu will, agree to support a TRS candidate. Also, with Venkaiah Naidu as the Rajya Sabha chairman, questions will also be raised on the propriety of having two Telugus presiding over the Upper House. It will also be interesting to watch how Asaduddin Owaisi, KCR's close ally, will react if the TRS decides to make its relationship with the BJP official.
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Updated Date: Jun 25, 2018 13:21 PM