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Telangana: Why the BJP will find it tough to replicate the Uttar Pradesh template

With Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand done and dusted, Gujarat and Karnataka are next on Amit Shah's radar. But work has simultaneously begun on another important state where the BJP will fancy its chances. Telangana goes to polls in 2019 along with the Lok Sabha elections. That gives the BJP a good two years to get its act together.

 Telangana: Why the BJP will find it tough to replicate the Uttar Pradesh template

File image of PM Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah. AFP

Even though the BJP shares power with the Telugu Desam in Andhra Pradesh, the party is considered stronger, at least on paper, in Telangana. But for most part of the last two decades, it played second fiddle to the TDP, curbing its potential for growth. Now with the alliance dumped for good in Telangana, the BJP is in a mood to play its natural game.

At present, the BJP has just one MP out of 17 that Telangana sends to the Lok Sabha and five legislators in the Assembly. The thinking in the party is that the UP template could be replicated in Telangana.

Lucknow was won because the polarisation of Hindu votes in BJP's favour was coupled with the split in minority votes between the SP-Congress and BSP.

Those arguing for this approach advocate taking a strident position on K Chandrasekhar Rao's proposed Bill to provide 12 percent quota for economically backward Muslims in education and employment.

The plan is to accuse KCR of indulging in minority appeasement and hope to get the Hindu vote, especially young voters, to rally around the BJP in protest. KCR's equation with ally Asaduddin Owaisi too will be attacked to make the focus on the Hindu vote sharper. Modi's development plank, the BJP believes, will simultaneously be presented as an alternative to the TRS.

But that is easier said than done given that the cadre base of the BJP in Telangana pales in comparison with other states. Also to label KCR as anti-Hindu would be a trifle difficult given his penchant to perform elaborate yagnas and pujas, according to the Hindu tradition.

In December 2015, he conducted a yagna for five days at his farmhouse, 60 km from Hyderabad, on which a sum of Rs 7 crore was reportedly spent. Last month, even in the face of severe criticism, he got the Telangana exchequer to fund the fulfillment of his private vow to gift Rs 5 crore worth of jewellery to the Tirumala temple.

The clincher for KCR could be his decision to develop the Lakshmi Narasimha Swamy temple at Yadadri, making it Telangana's answer to Tirumala-Tirupati. The redesigning of the temple is likely to be completed by Diwali this year, at cost of Rs 2000 crore.

The temple city spread over 1000 acres is expected to be a major tourist attract once complete, and will enable KCR showcase the power of soft Hindutva, making it tough for the BJP to criticise him. BJP leaders admit the temple project will in fact, establish KCR as more Hindu than the BJP.

Add to that also is the leadership dilemma at the Centre on how much KCR can be attacked. On the no-no list are terms like 'jungle raj' and 'goonda raj' though Amit Shah last year labelled KCR regime as one of the most corrupt.

KCR's position on demonetisation in November altered the equation a bit. The Telangana CM was one of the first non-NDA chief ministers to support the move. Also the BJP knows that should it fall short of numbers in the Lok Sabha in 2019, KCR can be on speed dial and be a possible post-poll ally.

So the BJP leadership does not want to use intemperate language that could become an impediment later. The cementing factor should the two parties need to get together post 2019 Lok Sabha polls, will be the carrot of berths in the Union cabinet to TRS MPs.

But for the moment, to broadbase the political attack on KCR, he will also be labelled as pro-Nizam, alluding to his reluctance to celebrate 17 September, the day Hyderabad was liberated from Nizam rule, as an official function. But the party is divided over the traction of an issue like this with the electorate.

KCR, in addition to his penchant for religious functions, has also been focusing on his pet programmes, hoping that the development and welfare agenda will pay electoral dividends. He is on record saying that if he does not provide piped water to every household in Telangana and not construct 2 lakh two bedroom houses by 2019, he will not ask for votes.

The caste factor is also being looked at closely, with the TRS seen largely as a Velama caste party. The Reddy community that has traditionally backed the Congress in united Andhra Pradesh, finds the present Reddy crop of leaders uninspiring and is looking around for options like Prof Kodandaram.

KCR is aware of this, which is perhaps why the state budget presented last week was virtually gift-wrapped for the Backward Classes (BCs), especially the fishermen and shepherd communities. That was followed by a show of strength, with MLAs belonging to the BC community mobilising crowds to thank the CM at his residence.

The big problem for the BJP also is lack of a pan-Telangana face. Its present leadership has failed to take advantage of a political vacuum created by large-scale poaching of opposition TDP and Congress leaders by the TRS.

The recent episode where its leader G Kishan Reddy showed off his 84 percent popularity in his constituency, in a survey ironically, conducted by KCR, was embarrassing. Because while individually Reddy came out smelling of roses, the same survey showed the TRS will find it quite easy to return to power in 2019.

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Updated Date: Mar 21, 2017 07:42:59 IST