Reading between the lines isn’t easy. And it’s tougher when there are no lines in the first place.
This has been the case with Telangana chief minister K Chandrashekar Rao (KCR) and YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) leader Jaganmohan Reddy in Andhra Pradesh for some time. A deafening silence has been the strategy of both on the issue of backing an NDA government after the elections, which has been widely speculated and even taken for granted.
But with their silence speaking louder than any words they might have uttered, analysts have been adding two and two — in this case, probably rightly.
And in the case of KCR, his actions always revealed more than concealed. On most of the issues that the Opposition took the BJP to task — ranging from demonetisation to lynchings — the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) leader either supported the Modi governemnt or simply said nothing. On his part, Jagan was cosying up to Modi in an oblique fashion around the same time when his mail rival Andhra Pradesh chief minister and Telugu Desam Party (TDP) leader Chandrababu Naidu’s relations with BJP were beginning to take a knock last year.
Then, KCR was the first to break this silence, in time for the December 2018 Telangana Assembly election. He had to necessarily attack Modi and Congress, which he did. Then came the turn, more recently, of Jagan to speak up. He began to sing a song which, on the face of it, looked different from KCR’s. Jagan began praising Modi even while attacking BJP sometimes. These are tactical moves by both leaders more in the nature of local strategies in their respective states than being indicators of their national game-plans.
Opinion polls predict that both Jagan and KCR will do exceedingly well in Andhra Pradesh (25 Lok Sabha seats) and Telangana (17 seats), respectively.
Why Jagan ‘forgives’ Congress
Confounding the confusion, Jagan dropped a bombshell in an interview to CNN-News18, saying he has “forgiven” Congress, which he ditched in 2011 to lead his new party. After the UPA government broke the state in 2014 and created Telangana, Congress got nearly decimated in Andhra Pradesh.
Jagan said in the interview: “As of now, I will be very candid to say that I don’t have any vengeance or any grievance against anybody. I believe in God. And I do read Bible every day. And I have a lot of faith in God. I strongly believe that vengeance is not mine...it’s for God to decide. And I have forgiven them (Congress) in my heart. As far as I am concerned, my state is my priority...Special Category Status (SCS) is priority.”
Andhra Pradesh has been demanding SCS to compensate for its loss of resources following the 2014 bifurcation.
— Marya Shakil (@maryashakil) April 5, 2019
This is no random shot. This is a sequential culmination of what Jagan has been saying — or not saying — for a while. After Naidu began to accuse Jagan, KCR and Modi of being an evil triumvirate out to destroy him, the YSRCP leader’s initial silence first led to these comments:
— What’s wrong if I support or accept support from KCR — since he is also backing SCS for Andhra Pradesh?
— We’ll support whichever party (at the Centre) gives SCS to the state.
— Modi is a good guy. He has done well, though his party has come a cropper in the state.
Jagan had to necessarily utter these things. Denying his obvious nexus with KCR would have been poor strategy. Even KCR was referring to him as a friend. Refuting it would also have amounted to a political inconsistency of the kind that is getting Naidu into a load of trouble with people. The TDP leader’s shifting stands towards BJP and Congress are among the reasons for his dwindling fortunes in the state.
And the good certificate of performance that Jagan hands out to Modi these days is again a well thought-out move. It’s meant to tap into the pro-Modi vote that exists in Andhra Pradesh to some degree despite the strong anti-BJP mood there. But this goes with the risk of keeping away minorities. Besides, this raises the question about his support for Congress, since that party has pledged to accord SCS to Andhra Pradesh if elected.
These questions have now been taken care of by Jagan’s new inclination to "forgive" Congress.
KCR eyes anti-Modi vote
If Jagan is angling for part of the pro-Modi vote in Andhra Pradesh, KCR is trying to mop up some anti-Modi voters in Telangana. Unlike in Andhra Pradesh, where Congress is all but gone, the party still survives in Telangana and is the main rival of KCR there. The Telangana chief minister hopes that his fulminations against Modi will, besides keeping his impressive minority vote bank intact, shift at least some of the anti-BJP votes from Congress to TRS.
In other words, while Jagan is trying to keep both Modi and Congress in good humour, his friend KCR is attacking both — each for his own well-calibrated reason. So who will the two Telugu leaders support at the Centre in case of a hung Lok Sabha? Jagan evades a direct reply, saying he will back any party that gives SCS to the state. KCR ducks the question by talking about his dream of a victory for regional parties.
All this doesn’t preclude the possibility of either Jagan or KCR or both backing Modi after the polls in case he needs numbers and they have them. For the time being, however, the two leaders are keeping their options open As they walk the tightrope, they should hope that they wouldn’t slip and fall from it.
The author tweets @sprasadindia
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Updated Date: Apr 07, 2019 15:39:38 IST