Naidu vs KCR: If BJP does not return to power in LS polls, it'll be because one of these Telugu leaders kept party out
Who will rise out of the confused mandate, a knight in shining armour, to put together a story, the numbers, and a leader, to stake claim and form the government keeping Modi and the BJP at bay?
Chandrababu Naidu has successfully helped cement alliances and build support for the HD Deve Gowda and IK Gujral governments, and in forging the NDA with Atal Bihari Vajpayee at the helm
KCR has no direct experience at it, although he did jump out of the queue after the 2009 Lok Sabha election and even before the results were declared, joined an NDA rally in Punjab declaring support for the prime ministership of LK Advani
Unless Modi repeats his 2014 performance, a Telugu leader will play a crucial role in putting together the alternative and hold the remote control over Delhi sitting comfortably in Hyderabad or Amaravati
It is unlikely that political analysts make flow charts of their ideas, assumptions and arguments. If they did, we would have an easy-to-understand graphical representation of different political views in India on what may happen on 23 May, and its likely consequences.
A set of those who think Narendra Modi will return to power with a clear majority are in Box 1. Then, those who think Modi will win a few seats fewer than in 2014, but along with pre-poll allies, have adequate numerical power to instal a stable NDA government will be in Box 2. And then there are those who believe Modi will lose and fail to even touch the 200-mark, for which to happen, the Congress would have to cross the three-digit mark. This last possibility, in other words, is a hung Parliament. Enter coalition possibilities.
The line in our flow chart drawn from this box, portending a hung House, begs a question: Who will rise out of the confused mandate, a knight in shining armour, to put together a story, the numbers, and a leader, to stake claim and form the government keeping Modi and the BJP at bay?
Given their age, energy, ambition, political stature, skill set, and above all, their willingness to forgo a high-risk stake at prime ministership, instead happy with a "different" kind of clout in an alliance government — across India, the most likely choices will be between the current chief ministers in the two Telugu states, K Chandrashekar Rao and N Chandrababu Naidu.
Naidu versus KCR: Pre- or post-poll alliances?
Naidu has successfully delivered on this sort of scenario before, helping cement alliances and build support for the prime ministership of HD Deve Gowda and IK Gujral, and when they both failed to complete a term, in forging the NDA and placing Atal Bihari Vajpayee at the helm.
KCR has no direct experience at it, although he did jump out of the queue after the 2009 Lok Sabha election and even before the results were declared, joined an NDA rally in Punjab declaring support for the prime ministership of LK Advani. But in the five years since, KCR has interacted with the leaders of almost all major parties to build nationwide support for the cause of Telangana.
Both leaders have already put forth their idea of an alliance. Naidu pitched for a Rahul Gandhi-led pre-poll alliance of the UPA to throw the BJP and Modi out of power, including most regional satraps. KCR backed the idea that a pre-poll alliance would not make a difference, and therefore, let each leader fight and win their own state, and hope the numbers would throw up a possibility of a non-Congress, non-BJP front.
Both of them tested their theories early last year during the Assembly election in Telangana. When KCR took the fight to both the Congress and BJP in the state and scored a win, defeating the Congress-TDP alliance, the first verdict was out: KCR understood politics in 2018-19 better than Naidu and was placed in a stronger position. To make matters worse for Naidu, despite the Congress winning three states against the BJP, there was no scramble for the mahagathbandhan led by the Grand Old Party, as proposed by Naidu.
Mamata Banerjee ignored the Congress in Bengal, even dismissing Rahul Gandhi as a 'kid'. In Delhi, the alliance with AAP is not clear and may not happen. The Congress-TDP electoral alliance idea is dead, and ironically, even in Andhra Pradesh, Naidu is not staking political capital on his own idea.
Alliances that have worked have been at the state-level, the way KCR viewed it, with the Samajwadi Party and BSP coming together in Uttar Pradesh, and Congress successfully working out a seat-sharing equation in Tamil Nadu with the MK Stalin-led DMK-led multi-party coalition, and in Maharashtra, where the Congress and NCP are likely to contest as partners.
Even before the first vote is polled, KCR's political idea that the game of 2019 will be played post-23 May proved to be a winner.
If not Modi, the question is not who, but how?
From the beginning, the logic of KCR's narrative has been that numbers will decide the way forward after results. By pushing a narrative that the elections give the electorate of Telangana an opportunity to vote in 16 seats for him (out of 17) and another for his friend and ally, Asaduddin Owaisi of the AIMIM, and enable him to play a larger role in national politics. KCR has no keenness to be prime minister; but he keeps the state guessing to merely ensure the leftover energy in the Telangana pride card gives him maximum seats.
That achieved, he will start work on building his "non-Congress, non-BJP alliance", or Federal Front, as opposed to Naidu's insistence that the core motivating principle of the alliance should be anti-Modi. The crux is when KCR says non-Congress, non-BJP, he means build a pressure group or mini coalition of over a 100 seats and arm-twist one of the national parties to play ball.
KCR believes his friend across the Telugu land border, YSRCP chief YS Jaganmohan Reddy will win most of the 25 seats up for grabs in Andhra Pradesh, giving him two advantages — Naidu is relegated to a position where no one wants him, and KCR's own stature as the leader of not just Telangana but of all the Telugu people, with a base of 42 seats rather than a mere 17, is elevated.
KCR will try to build this initial thrust rocket, in the first stage of his post-23 May operation, by trying to rope in some young leaders, who, given their age, are not aspirants for prime ministership, and happier with a few ministerial positions and the pride of having stopped Modi — like Reddy, Stalin, Akhilesh Yadav, Omar Abdullah, Tejashwi Yadav and Supriya Sule. If this ploy works, his total rises to over 125 and gives him lead negotiator status on behalf of this pack.
At that stage, KCR begins the second phase of his operation — coercing the Congress to back this group with its 100 odd seats, and considering the other option for Rahul is Modi or the BJP, the Congress will give in to providing outside support.
At that stage, KCR will start the third phase, with over 225 seats of a set of regional leaders, and Congress, and makes the offer to Mamata and Mayawati to close the target and make one of them a candidate for prime ministership, while managing the political aspirations of the other.
Naidu's coalition is weaker, both as an idea and in practice, because he does not hold the bluff card of KCR — that he can always swing the other way and support Modi and be part of the NDA if needed. KCR is also stronger because he has already won the state Assembly elections, which he rescheduled to last December; while Naidu, possibly set to lose in Andhra, both in the 175 Assembly seats and the 25 Lok Sabha seats, may not even find a prominent place on the negotiating table anymore.
But one thing is certain: Unless Modi repeats his 2014 performance, a Telugu leader will play a crucial role in putting together the alternative and hold the remote control over Delhi sitting comfortably in Hyderabad or Amaravati.
The author has written two acclaimed books, The Spiritual Supermarket (non-fiction) and the bestselling novel, Autobiography of a Mad Nation. His next book, One Farmer Less, will be out soon.
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