Will anti-Congress Telugu Desam Party ally with rival to checkmate K Chandrasekhar Rao in Telangana?

Politics makes for strange bedfellows and Telangana politics, it would seem, is likely to make even strangers into bedfellows. After decades of fighting each other, it seems the Congress and the Telugu Desam are warming up to each other in India's youngest state. So much so that if the initial interest shown in each other stays till 2019, the two could even contest elections together.

Imagine a Chandrababu Naidu-Rahul Gandhi combination taking on K Chandrasekhar Rao and Narendra Modi. That will be a tectonic shift in politics in the Telugu states. Because do not forget, the Telugu Desam owes its birth to an anti-Congress position in 1982.

For the last three years, since the formation of Telangana and the Telangana Rashtra Samiti, the Reddy community has felt left out of the power equation. The Velama community to which chief minister KCR belongs, has been wielding dominance and the Reddys, who were used to positions of absolute political authority when the Congress was in power, want to get back to centre stage.

But the present Congress leadership does not inspire the confidence that it can upstage KCR two years from now. Though two Reddy leaders — PCC chief Uttam Kumar Reddy and CLP leader Jana Reddy — lead the party unit in Telangana, they do not have the killer instinct and the kind of sharp and colorful polemical faucet that KCR employs.

It is here that TDP leader Revanth Reddy scores. He is easily the most popular and aggressive non-TRS leader who manages a connect with the crowd. This despite being sullying his name in the cash for votes scandal where he was caught on tape, allegedly trying to bribe an independent MLA to vote for the TDP candidate in the MLC elections in May 2015.

 Will anti-Congress Telugu Desam Party ally with rival to checkmate K Chandrasekhar Rao in Telangana?

(L-R) File images of Chandrababu Naidu, Rahul Gandhi and K Chandrasekhar Rao. PTI and AFP

It was senior Congress leader and former Union minister Jaipal Reddy who spilled the beans on the possible understanding when he said the party is ready to fight against the TRS with the help of other non-BJP political parties. That essentially boils down to the TDP and the Left parties, who have limited presence. Revanth Reddy has expressed similar views that TDP's fight is against the ruling party in the state.

The indications have been in the air for some time now. During the crisis over the chilli crop earlier this month, Uttam Kumar Reddy praised Chandrababu Naidu, something that may not find favour with the moribund Congress unit in Andhra Pradesh. Taking a jibe at KCR, he complimented the Andhra Pradesh chief minister for giving bonus to chilli farmers who were not getting minimum support price.

But this move has not found support among many Telangana Congress leaders who see in this political understanding an ideological issue. How can the Congress tie up with a party that is an ally of the BJP at the Centre, goes the argument. But the flip side is that the BJP and the TDP are not allies in Telangana. In fact, if you look at both Telangana and Andhra together, the picture is like a Housefull movie screenplay. While fighting against each other in Telangana, the TDP and the BJP will be allies in Andhra where the Congress will be a rival.

The driver for this decision is also spurred by the suspicion over the real nature of the TRS-BJP dynamics. While Amit Shah's criticism of the KCR regime and the CM's sharp retort would make it seem the two parties are at daggers drawn, there are few takers for the theory. "Modi se dosti aur Amit Shah se kushti (Friendship with Modi and tussle with Amit Shah)" asked Jaipal Reddy. He believes there is more than what meets the eye given KCR's equation with Narendra Modi and the enthusiasm among many TRS MPs to be part of the NDA in New Delhi. The TRS will be more than happy with a situation where the BJP ends up short of a few seats post 2019 and has to take a lift from the pink party's ambassador car to get past the 272 mark. The Congress thinks the TRS will be happy with a stronger BJP in Telangana so that it cuts into the anti-TRS vote that otherwise would come into the Congress kitty.

It is not clear if the TDP Reddy-Congress Reddy bhai bhai has the blessings of the Congress High command or Naidu but should it take place, it has both advantages and disadvantages. On paper, the math looks good as it will prevent the split of votes. But the minus is that the TDP has an anti-Telangana image in the state and the TRS will go all out to tar the Congress with the same brush.

This is because even now Naidu does not hide his resentment against the bifurcation of united Andhra Pradesh. Moreover, many of the contentious issues over division of assets as per the Bifurcation Act have not been satisfactorily settled between the two states and it will be used by TRS to embarrass the TDP-Congress combine should it take place.

For Naidu, the fear would be that the leftover part of the TDP would be poached upon by either the TRS or the BJP if he does not take any steps to ensure its longevity. Already 12 of its 15 MLAs have joined the TRS in batches in the last three years and the party is a pale shadow of what it used to be in united Andhra Pradesh.

But if Naidu allows the polarisation to take place, it will be embarrassing for him to share the platform with the Congress in Telangana. It will expose him to charges of political opportunism. Either way, it won't be an easy decision to take. The only relief he has two years to take the call. And on a lighter note, it will be a ghar waapsi of a kind for Naidu as he was a Congress minister in Andhra Pradesh before he joined father-in-law NT Rama Rao's TDP.

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Updated Date: May 29, 2017 10:41:09 IST

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